The MBS Group
is Europe’s leading executive search boutique operating exclusively in consumer facing industries.
Going against the tide: Building a luxury brand in a shifting market
Although it was a very wet and gloomy Tuesday morning, our spirits were lifted by listening to Bonnie Takhar, who has recently returned from New York to London as Chief Commercial & Merchandising Officer of footwear brand Charlotte Olympia. The MBS Group was thrilled to host a breakfast with such an inspirational leader in the fashion industry. Having undertaken a variety of projects with labels such as Earl Jeans, Jimmy Choo and Halston, it was a privilege to hear Bonnie’s experiences of building luxury brands in different markets.
The first question posed to her was why she joined such a small, relatively unknown, virtual start-up after working for global brands?
The reasons behind Bonnie’s decision to join Charlotte Olympia enabled us to gain a clear insight into the successful creation of luxury labels.
- Product: as Bonnie so succinctly and accurately summed up, ‘the fashion business is about product’. As a contemporary footwear brand, which embraces e-commerce, Charlotte Olympia matched Bonnie’s criteria for partnership. These factors, coupled with Charlotte’s mesmerising creativity, made Bonnie want to back this as a sure-fire winner. She also believes strongly that there is a gap in the market and that Charlotte Olympia is the perfect vehicle to fill it.
- Privately-held company: Charlotte Olympia is highly unusual in that there are only three board members of the company: Charlotte; her husband, Maxim Crewe; and Bonnie, so decisions are made quickly and decisively.
- People with long-term vision: this tight-knit partnership, married with an ambition to create a brand for the long term is key to Charlotte Olympia’s success. With a store in New York opening at the time of going to press, and a vision to target other gateways such as Hong Kong, Dubai and Brazil, not to mention staggering revenue growth in the last 12 months, the brand’s long-term aims are clear.
Moira Benigson posed the question of whether private equity is a suitable vehicle for luxury brands. Bonnie’s stance was logical and insightful, and her answer referred to the size of a business. We learnt that if it is a small business, such as Charlotte Olympia, for instance, private equity is not a viable option, due to the fact that the company will need to launch with a long-term view. This, because of the nature of private equity, will never work, resulting in a conflicting and, thus, challenging relationship. If, however, one considers a medium-sized business, which is looking for working capital and distribution, private equity can, in fact, be a very useful method of funding.
It was fascinating to hear Bonnie’s thoughts on celebrity endorsement, which so deeply pervades our culture nowadays. Charlotte’s family background can hardly be ignored, with her sister Alice the face of Chanel’s Boy handbags, and her mother a Brazilian model. In response to Moira’s question, ‘Does it help that Charlotte is from such a high-profile family?’ Bonnie thinks that talent, passion and commitment count more than anything, explaining that Charlotte went to Cordwainers and was trained to do this, channeling both her childhood passion and her family’s entrepreneurial drive into learning the trade formally. Furthermore, the fact that celebrities readily don Charlotte’s creations is purely down to the product itself, and the common premise that ‘success breeds success’. Indeed, in America, Charlotte’s background is new to retailers but they are very excited by the product.
It is thanks to this subtle combination, blending Bonnie’s expertise with Charlotte’s creativity and commercial awareness, that Charlotte Olympia owes its prosperity. We at The MBS Group found it a thoroughly stimulating and inspiring morning, with hope for similar success stories from others in the future.Download PDF
Category: Event: Panel debate
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