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The Inside Look at Lingerie: an Interview with David FinlaysonArticle by: Veronica Baesso

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Image From Winter 12 Chantal Thomass Collection- Courtesy of APM AGENCY.

David Finlayson was formerly the president of Sales and Marketing for Calvin Klein Underwear Europe and now has his own company APM AGENCY handling brands such as Marlies Dekkers, Chantal Thomass, Claudette and ID Sarrieri. For more info visit www.apm-agency.com

What is your background and how did you get started in the lingerie industry?

While studying French at Edinburgh University, I took a weekend job at a local fashion retailer to make my extensive social life possible. As a young man from an island in Scotland, I threw myself in to big city life thoroughly!
The retail group was called Cruise Clothing and I ended up staying for 14 years on and off and becoming Buying Director for them. We were at the forefront of early 90s fashion and we  were buying Prada, Gucci, Paul Smith and Calvin Klein, direct from the US. I got on very well with the CK team and was asked to join them in the start-up of the European launch as VP, eventually becoming President of Sales and Marketing for Europe. It was an amazing time for underwear brands as “Designer“ underwear was in its infancy and CK was the hot name. I worked with every European territory in depth and learned lessons by default that still stand me in good stead today.

What is your current role in the industry?

After several years of corporate life, I made the move to self-employed, starting a business with my friend and colleague, Bok Goodall. We still work together today as she is Director of Brand Development for Claudette, one of the brands APM represent. We launched as sales agents with Roberto Cavalli, Vivienne Westwood swim, Chloe swim, Guess, Replay and several small UK designers. I think, in those days, we identified that there was a lack of fashion led lingerie and swim in the market and also it was my interest, coming from a high end branded background.
Nowadays, we are still in the same area but have become a lot more commercial in our brand selection process. APM Agency is a family owned business and I work alongside my brother Alan Finlayson and travel between London and Scotland to implement the business. Alan is also the Head of Energy for the British Museum and at the weekends, we strategize and plan the lingerie business together. A contrast for him but he loves the energy of the retail trade almost as much as he loves air conditioners.
Our brand mix consists of Marlies Dekkers, Chantal Thomass, Claudette, ID Sarrieri and new signing, Supertrash from Holland. We also mentor up and coming brands in the UK and help them through the process of launching a brand. In addition to this, we have partnered for the last 5 years with Kelly Isaac on the Lingerie Collective Trade Fair which is now established as the premier fashion lingerie fair for mid to high end brands and emerging talent in the lingerie, swim and lounge world.

What are some interesting trends you are seeing in the lingerie market?

The lingerie market is subject to trends, like the Ready to Wear market but has its own variations. Of course there may well be associations between the two – for example, shape wear works well if RTW is trending towards body conscious product. In addition to those similarities, we have our own themes which you see featuring throughout the market seasonally. In the last 5 years, we have gone from Burlesque inspired product to Erotic Chic and now I see a strong trend towards strong vivid colours in clean and contemporary shapes as shown by Marlies Dekkers, Claudette and Damaris. There will always be a retro vibe like Gilda and Pearl or Fifi Chachnil which reference the strongest periods in lingerie design.

Is there anything lacking nowadays in the lingerie market?

There are so many brands in the market so I couldn’t say that there is much missing but if I was to identify one area with an opportunity for expansion it would be very high end, extremely decorative product like Bordelle or ID Sarrieri which ran to larger cup sizes. The large cup market has had lots of new brands joining the traditional favourites like Freya and Fantasie but I don’t see anything servicing DD – K in the luxe market.

What do you love most in the industry?

I love the lingerie industry as it almost has a family feel to it. Generally you see the same faces at the fairs in Paris and London every year and I like the feeling of familiarity. I like the way that buyers can become friends starting with a mutual love of great product. There are some great innovators in the market, especially in the UK and I respect that sense of risk and love the excitement of new concepts.

What are retailers looking for in new brands?

These days, buyers are looking for innovation, design, quality, fit and price – all in the one package. It has never been more difficult to launch a new brand as to achieve competitive price points, you need volume sales and that is difficult to do from scratch. That’s why you need a good agent! You need to have a strong and definite signature that will distance you from the pack but yet, not be too far away from the expectations of the lingerie customer who errs on the safe side in general. That is where someone like Marlies Dekkers has to be respected as she has created her individual look but combined it with the highest levels of fit and quality. There is wealth of competition out there but every season there are always a few new names that stand out from the crowd so it can still be done. I love Minuit Douze from France, Supertrash from Holland and Lucile in the UK – all new but defined in look. Have a look at the recent articles on how to launch a brand on www.lingerie-stylist.com .

What do women want when they purchase lingerie?

In my opinion, women I know want a combination of factors when they are buying lingerie. There are so many different uses for it – in a way it is almost like fragrance. You may have a smell that you wear during the day, something for parties and then a full on seductive perfume for those special nights in!
I think lingerie is much the same and you have an everyday range which is chic but comfortable like Mimi Holliday or Claudette. For parties you want something special that you may show off a little but not too much. Perhaps then you would wear Sarrieri or Chantal Thomass. And for the more intimate moments in your life, perhaps something a little cheekier like Lascivious or Maison Close. Whatever time it is, the basics always apply – fit, quality and comfort are paramount.

Could you list 3 qualities that characterise a successful lingerie brand?

1. Clearly defined signature –Chantal Thomass, Fifi Chachnil, Bordelle, Agent Provocateur
2. Functionality, design and fit – Freya, Curvy Kate, Mimi Holliday, Claudette
3. Client awareness – All successful brands know their client intimately.

What should be avoided in order to be a successful brand?

1. Trying to be all things to all people. You need absolute clarity of vision of your brand and sector.
2. Treating everything as a marketing exercise – always examine the profitability of every step you take. The days of vanity projects are over. It’s cutthroat out there.
3. Not delivering 100% satisfaction whether in quality, service or deliveries.
4. Not communicating – Even if it’s bad news, communication with the client is paramount.

I have seen very many brands crash and burn throughout the years by not delivering to the best of their abilities. Buyers really want brands to work and need the injection of newness, but they will have no compunction about cancelling an order if it impacts on the store profitability. You must strive to achieve the highest level of performance from all aspects of your business.

Are there differences between the UK and American lingerie markets?

There is a distinct difference between American and UK markets although that gap is gradually narrowing. In terms of design, the USA is definitely less risqué overall, apart from the obvious pockets of NYC and LA. What the UK might consider to be standard for example, fashion bras above a DD+ are much less common in the USA .I think the retail consumer‘s perspective on size is slightly different due to a lack of fitting knowledge and product availability. The UK was much the same even 5 years ago but brands like Freya have set the bar high and expectations have grown accordingly. Brands such as Claudette are adding that level of interest in to the USA home market as well as becoming very successful here.
Conversely, lingerie bloggers are very much more vocal in the US than here – they can be very influential in making or breaking a brand and they take no prisoners!

Are there lingerie trade shows that you would recommend to attend worldwide?

My top 3 list of trade fairs in descending order:

Designer and emerging brands:
1. Lingerie Collective London
2. Salon de Lingerie Paris
3. Curve New York (with Lingerie Collective New York coming soon.)

Commercial, price pointed brands:
1. Salon de Lingerie Paris
2. Curve NYC
3. Moda Birmingham

You have to think on a case by case basis as all of the shows have much to offer. There is also Curve Las Vegas for West Coast USA clients as well Pure Body London and they are both also relevant depending on your requirements.

What is your advice to young entrepreneurs that want to start a lingerie business?

My advice to young entrepreneurs starting a lingerie business would be to recognise that it can take 3 seasons to build a business. The first season, the client is buying blind and is attracted by your design, price points, sample quality and marketing materials. Season 2, they will normally still be buying blind as you will be about to deliver the first season. Season 3 is when they have a feel for retail sell through, fit, your delivery performance and continuing direction of the brand. This will be when you should receive your best orders and know what the future holds for your brand. Always strive for excellence – think laterally about all aspects of the business. Little touches make a massive difference. Gilda and Pearl put rose scented sachets in their delivery boxes so when the client opens it, their expectations are already high . Cultivate relationships with buyers in a professional way – ask their advice and take it on board. Continually refine product and look backwards to bestsellers and forwards to develop the next step for the client base. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel every season, stick to what you do best and keep your signature evolving.

It’s a fast moving and exciting world we work in and every day throws up new challenges but honestly, I wouldn’t change it .

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