CEO Simon Jablon on reviving Linda Farrow
Linda Farrow is the ultimate insider’s eyewear marque. Remarkably, in an era of rapid consolidation in this industry, Linda Farrow has managed to thrive as a cool indie label.
The beginning of its revival was pretty fortuitous, coming thanks to the unexpected discovery of thousands of pairs of vintage Linda Farrow sunglasses in the family warehouse in 2003 by her son Simon Jablon. A treasure trove of eyewear, from which Jablon has rebuilt the brand.
Originally a fashion designer, Linda Farrow was the first creator to treat eyewear like a sophisticated accessory. Going on to dress leading designer brands in epic runway shows in Milan and Paris.
But after she retired, the brand drifted in somnolence, before Jablon – a design afficionado – began restoring its luster. Today, Linda Farrow retails in about 500 top-line, exclusive eyewear specialists and boasts a small but smart chain of its own boutiques. By comparison, runway designer brands can retail in over 20,000 points of sale. Linda Farrow remains a very niche brand, and one managed with several rather distinct stratagems, particularly how it handles its wholesale clients.
Design wise, Linda Farrow manages to be very classy and highly directional – not an easy feat to achieve. Produced in Japan and made in materials like titanium and nickel, its glasses are not cheap – often running to over 1,000 euros. But their striking lines and graphic punch mean they reek rich and chic.
But how does a brand, still privately owned by the founding family, manage to navigate eyewear in an industry dominated by truly massive players? From Luxottica, a giant vertically integrated behemoth, to LVMH with Thelios and Kering Eyewear, each of whom represent more than a dozen luxe labels, how does it face down this competition?
FashionNetwork.com: Why and when did you decide to revive the brand Linda Farrow?
Simon Jablon: My mother founded Linda Farrow, and led the whole eyewear fashion movement, supplying fashion greats like Balenciaga, Saint Laurent and Pucci. She turned eyewear from an optical product to a fashion accessory. And offered a feminine perspective that did not exist. Before her, everyone was a doctor! But she stopped in the mid 80s to concentrate on her family. So, 20 years ago, we decided to revive the brand and in April we just celebrated 50 years of Linda Farrow.
FN: What’s been the most exciting element in the relaunch?
SJ: It wasn’t a case of a detailed business plan or big idea. More an organic must do list. After I found the archive, all it needed was a blast of fresh air. A lot of brands back in the 90s were all about diffusion. But that category disappeared with D&G and Marc by Marc. While eyewear had gone back to a very engineered look. And the fashion side was taken over by generic licensing groups. They were very cheap and all about squeezing margins for the licensing group.
But then I found the archives we had at our property in Islington. Pretty much locked up for 20 years. I had really grown up in eyewear and I was aware of it; but I was more interested in product design. I knew that mother had worked with Balenciaga and YSL but didn’t appreciate its importance. I went to the warehouse to fix up the property and I discovered an Aladdin’s cave of designs and ideas. It was the year LVMH bought Pucci and then put Lacroix in charge. Pucci was hot and we had vintage Pucci glasses! So, we went and had a great meeting with Harvey Nichols. Our first appointment and we unveiled vintage Pucci and blew their minds. Right away they placed the order.
At the time, designers had stopped putting eyewear in any shows. But stores kept on placing really big orders. One senior buyer had déjà vu and remembered being a junior buyer and seeing the same collection! Next it was Browns, and we were on a roll.
FN: Define the DNA of Linda Farrow?
SJ: London and 1970. We are a British firm yes but no; we are a London firm. All about that melting pop and creative London. Not rosy cheek horse riding. Our customer stretches from Mayfair to Shoreditch.
FN: What’s been the trickiest part of the relaunch?
SJ: Loads of things. Recently, Covid of course. But also working out the supply chain while putting product and customer first. And figuring out the back end is tricky, especially for a luxury brand.
FN: How do you compete with the likes of Kering Eyewear and LVMH Thelios?
SJ: I’d say Kering and LVMH are doing great jobs but with massive budgets. So, you have to make your voice heard and stand out from the crowd - but match the customer experience. Customers expect those standards which Kering and LVMH have set. That’s the challenge - being better at design and being more agile with special boutiques. Like our shop in Mount Street. The point being it is not Bond Street but Mount Street – with a flagship that says heritage and design and London. A core shopping street where we go toe to toe with LVMH – they have Celine nearby.
FN: What is your distribution and price strategy?
SJ: We have about 500 wholesale accounts. Plus, we want to stay high end – priced at 500 to 1,000 euros. We have concessions in Selfridges and Harrods and in Hong Kong, Shanghai and Taipei. Pre-covid we were in Bal Harbour, Greene Street in New York and Melrose Place in LA. But the LA store was completely demolished in the riots. Frankly, operating costs are too huge in the USA.
Our products are Made in Japan - the best source without doubt. It’s like making a suit in Naples. The Japanese are quite special and very technical and love design with technical excellence. I put eyewear in the watch category - no self-respecting customer wears a fashion watch. They want a real watch brand, and our educated consumers want a real eyewear brand too. Our goal is product excellence. The biggest challenge is that the Japanese are very slow. If you hurry them, you can have quality issues. Some of our frames take 12 months to manufacture. Titanium gold plated moldings need a lot of time. Especially as we do shortage runs.
FN: How do you manage your wholesale business?
SJ: We like to travel to places for our sales campaigns. Like Rome or Barcelona this summer – showing in private spaces. We are taking about 20 clients to Rome, Berlin and Barcelona and more to Paris.
FN: You have been pretty busy with collabs?
SJ: I am proud to say that we are the Godfather of Collabs. I worked with Jeremy Scott when he went into retirement, which I think helped him re-start design. We have also done great collabs’ with Eley Kishimoto, Bernhard Willhelm and Dries Van Noten. Dries is a quiet dreamer and I idolize him. It’s 16 years and still going strong. Dries is very precise - but working with him is an ideal. His lifestyle, textures, coloring, fabrics and palette look so beautiful. Collabs now represent 20% of our yearly turnover of over 25 million pounds.
FN: What sort of year are you having?
SJ: We pretty much doubled business this year – by implementing change. From packaging to product to sample bags to trade show booths. I see Covid as a time for change, for busy long-time rethinking. We have 40 people working for us in London and with further retail and external sales teams we have about 75 people worldwide.
FN: What’s the thinking behind your ad campaigns?
SJ: This season we went to St Tropez – with a lady driver concept. Lots of vintage cars, rivers, roads, beaches and a shoot that puts a woman in the driving seat. Linda Farrow was a feminist who appreciated a strong woman.
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