Charlie Bucket spent his last coin on a chocolate bar in the hope that it would contain a golden ticket and gain entry behind the guarded gates of Wonka’s magical factory. If Roald Dahl were to write the story, today, Veruca Salt, the spoilt brat with the "I want it NOW, daddy!!!" attitude, would probably want to see behind the walls of Louis Vuitton or Chanel rather than Cadbury’s or Nestlé.
Her wishes were granted, last month, when LVMH expanded the fourth edition of its ‘Les Journées Particulières’ open days event. Seventy six venues across four continents held 'open days', with 38 never having been open to the public previously.
The event saw 56 fashion houses, including Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior, Givenchy, Tag Heuer and Nicholas Kirkwood, taking part. New experiences included the opening of the Les Fontaines Parfumées in Grasse, the perfume creation workshop shared by Parfums Christian Dior and Louis Vuitton, the Louis Vuitton prototype workshop in the centre of Paris and the Louis Vuitton workshop in Ducey, Normandy. It was also possible to reserve an exclusive tour of La Colle Noire, Christian Dior’s last residence in Montauroux.
Left - Inside Private White V.C. in Manchester
‘Les Journées Particulières' launched in 2011 and is a LVMH marketing exercise in harnessing the desire and interest from people to see the inner workings of brands they admire and respect. It’s this element of being able to see things you feel aren’t usually on display, demystifying the processes and laying bare the inner workings of these brands that gets people to make the effort to visit.
Watchmaker, Vacheron Constantin, recently tapped into this enthusiasm by auctioning the ultimate watchmaking experience by putting two VIP tours of its workshop in Switzerland up for sale. The brand hired Sotheby’s to auction the experiences, which comprise two separate lots that it claims represent a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to witness its work up close. Each involves a behind-the-scenes tour through the Vacheron Constantin Maison, accompanied by style and heritage director Christian Selmoni.
It’s this ‘magic’ that people want to see and the attraction and interest in seeing how things are made and a celebration our industrial history is expanding as more brands open up their factories to the public. It gives products a halo effect of ‘special’ and really cements the brands into people’s minds and memories in a positive way.
I always say, when you go to a factory, it’s a bit like going to a friend’s house for the first time: you really get a fully rounded and immersive experience and a lasting memory. It’s a familiarity you can’t get in a shop or by simply wearing the product.
Solovair produce their shoes in Northampton under their parental badge of The Northamptonshire Productive Society (NPS) founded in 1881 by five men in Wollaston, Northamptonshire. Ashleigh Liversage, Online Marketing Manager, NPS Shoes Ltd. says, “As more and more brands move their manufacturing outside of the UK it is important to us that our customers can come see for themselves how their footwear is made by our skilled workers in our factory in Wollaston, Northamptonshire.
Right - Exterior of the Private White V.C. factory in Manchester
“Our Managing Director takes the group on a tour through the factory offering an exciting insight into all areas of shoe production,” says Liversage. “The NPS Factory tour follows specific content-related criteria, giving guests access to all shoe production technologies: the ‘Clicking’ or cutting Room, Closing room, Levelling / Making Room, Shoe Room, while machines have made production more efficient, the fundamental process has remained the same at our factory for over a century,” she says.
“The feedback from our customers is why we continue to offer the tour, they love to see how and where their footwear is made and hear about the history and heritage of NPS Shoes,” says Liversage. “Even those with no particular interest in footwear have commented how interesting the tour is. We have people come from all over the UK to attend our tours and even had visitors from Canada once!” she says.
Over in Manchester, Private White V.C., has the last remaining clothing factory in the world’s first industrial city. Mike Stoll, Factory MD, says the reason they have a factory tour is, “To raise awareness: we actually are real and make our special garments near Manchester City centre.”
“Most people that make the tour either make a purchase or send someone who does. It spreads the word,” says Stoll, but, “It only works if you have something to see. This building is unusual and the way we currently manufacture is unique.”
North of the border, Johnstons of Elgin produce some of the world's finest knitwear and blankets. George McNeil, Johnstons of Elgin, Retail Managing Director, says, “Rarely does the public get an insight into how their products are made, and the entire craft behind the process, and so this is a chance to see quality in the making and also to understand our rich and unique history.”
Visitors get to see “Everything!” says McNeil. “Our cashmere goes from raw fibre, through dying, teasing, carding, spinning and hand finishing by the latest generation of craftsmen, all in our Elgin mill.”
“If a brand has the personal touch to each and every product, like ours, it is hugely beneficial to educate the consumer,” says McNeil. “We are in fact the last remaining vertical mill in Scotland to take raw fibre to finished product – from goat to garment – making this traditional process unique in current times. As consumers continue to prioritise where their belongings come from, and become more curious about the work that goes into them, they will demand to know more and brands will answer.” he says.
Not all brands can offer this openness though. Brands often produce for other people, called ‘Private Label’, and many brands like to keep their producers and suppliers out of the public domain.
“As a manufacturer for over 160 different brands, we actually don't allow factory visits because of the issues they can cause,” says Rob Williams, Founder & Chief Financial Officer, Hawthorn International, who produce apparel for various brands. “Many fashion brands prefer for their manufacturer to keep their identity private, so that their costs cannot be revealed and so that their designs can't be shared between brands who all use the same manufacturer,” says Williams.
“Because privacy and confidentiality is so important to our clients, we found that it caused a huge logistical problem to organise factory visits without the visitor seeing any intellectual property of our other clients,” he says.
Left - Johnstons of Elgin's mill in Elgin, Scotland
Factory tours work because of a growing niche of people’s fascination with being educated about the things they buy. It works for brands who want to tell their story and, often, explain why you are paying a premium for the products. Admittedly, you get shown what they want you to see, but, it's this openness and sharing that creates an atmosphere people want to buy into.
This is the National Trust for the fashion geeks amongst us and it’s growing in popularity. Johnstons of Elgin has tea shops and restaurants attached to their mills which can also be a revenue maker for the company.
The tour makes the product come alive, you can picture what you’re buying being made and this really is the ultimate souvenir. People love a factory tour with a final stop at the factory shop for a bargain. Who needs a stately home when you can have a Victorian shoe factory?
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Quite possibly the collab. of the season. One of the finest mills in Scotland, Johnstons of Elgin, has been trying to move into the ready-to-wear menswear market for a few seasons, now. They have the finest cloth and it makes sense to want to control the final product. Scotland’s answer to Zegna, maybe?
Finding the skills to manufacturers garments to the high standards these fabrics deserve isn’t easy in the UK, so it’s great to see they’ve teamed up with one of the best coat manufacturers, Private White V.C. in Manchester.
Left & Right - Black Single Breasted Ventile Men’s Trench Coat & Gilet - £1795
The new collection features two jackets: a single-breasted trench coat featuring a seam sealed waterproof external fabric with a detachable quilted gilet complete with a contrasting lambswool tartan lining and cashmere knit collar and the waxed country jacket using a 1402 Halley Stevenson premium wax fabric boasting weatherproof and thornproof qualities. Lined with Johnstons of Elgin 100% cashmere velour, it features details of punched leather elbow patches and trim on the collar. Both jackets feature Johnstons of Elgin’s 100% cashmere velour.
Alan Scott, Creative Director at Johnstons of Elgin said: “I am very proud to present these two key men's outerwear pieces from the Private White x JoE collaboration for AW18. We are very excited to showcase and celebrate the best of British quality garment manufacturing and specialist cashmere textiles all made entirely in the U.K. We value the unique expertise and authenticity that Private White embody and for helping to bring our cloth to life. Our parallel stories and family owned history create the perfect partnership.”
James Eden, Brand Director at Private White V.C said: “We’re delighted to be collaborating with one of the most esteemed cashmere manufacturers in the world; Johnstons of Elgin. Together we have struck the perfect blend of luxurious fabrics and quality craftsmanship- these are pieces of outerwear that have been made to last a lifetime and I believe they will be cherished by whoever is lucky enough to wear them for just as long.”
The only negative, these jackets are crazy expensive and I almost wish they were bursting with more Johnstons’ fabrics. If you do want a beautiful Johnstons of Elgin blanket type coat look at Gieves & Hawkes’ new AW18 collection.
Left & Right - Olive Country Style Men’s Wet Wax Jacket - Private White Collaboration - £1795
Why do things cost what they do? This is a question few ask when items are cheap, but, move up the pricing scale, and we feel like we need some explanation. Many brands cite the ‘luxurious’ materials and use the ‘made in…’ tags, and, think that is sufficient to justify higher and higher prices. But, some brands are going a lot further and not just explaining, but dissecting their costs and offering ‘Pricing Transparency’.
Left - Private White V.C. - Ventile Raincoat - £495
One of the pioneers is Manchester’s Private White V.C., known for its selection of premium outerwear. Made in ‘Cottonopolis’, Private White V.C.’s product isn’t cheap and they feel the need to tell you why. Calling it their ‘Pricing Manifesto’, it sets out how many minutes each garment takes to make and even down to how much thread is used.
Co-Founder and CEO, James Eden, says, “With the advent of the internet there is so much access to information now. It’s at the tips of people’s fingers and customers are more inquisitive and curious about how and where things are made. Country of origin has become county of origin and, now, factory of origin. People are interested in who makes their Private White V.C. coat, and for many years we have celebrated our workforce and their craft. The next step is to show people, our customer exactly how much that craftmanship is worth in pounds and pence.”
Certain brands are expensive because they can’t make their products any cheaper. They want to prove they’re not being greedy by taking huge mark-ups and margins, and that their goods are worth paying the price for.
Right - Explaining what goes into your Private White raincoat
“As a brand the most important thing is retaining, fostering and maximising the trust and confidence of our customers. This is done by offering great products, tremendous customer service and being honest and transparent in our approach – there is no room for smoke and mirrors!
“Our customers know they are not being misled or charged what we would consider to be an unfair price for a product. The economics of a direct to consumer business means it is far more contemporary and a much leaner model; and we think those benefits should be passed onto the customer.” says Eden.
This is a reaction against wholesaling and discounting too, which has become tougher and tougher for smaller manufacturers and brands. Private White V.C. is at that point where the brand is recognised and can, therefore, pull back on wholesale and take it direct to consumers. Smaller brands, like pilot fish with a whale, need a vehicle to be presented to people, particularly online.
“So far I am happy to say the response has been extremely positive. We all acknowledge it is a bold move, but we think it is essential for businesses, like ours, in such a crowded market place, to differentiate ourselves first and foremost by quality, but also in our philosophy which champions: transparency of sourcing and price transparency.
“We are striving for a full price policy, so there are no inflated prices prior to an ad-hoc sale for example; I just don’t think this is sustainable. It is very much educating the customer to never to pay full price. There is so much investment in the quality of our people, the materials and the process, we want our prices to properly reflect that - we want our customers to know that we have made this fair and correct. No discounts or promotions also gives people confidence that the product that they buy today will be sold for the same price in 6 months’ time.” he says.
This is fashion’s reaction to field to fork labelling. Many supermarkets, now, tell you the name of the farmer or even the number of the animal. It’s about traceability and re-educating the consumer into buying better and feeling good about paying more.
Private White V.C. has the luxury of owning its factory and not making anything anywhere else and you're not paying for a 'name'. It’s a simple formula.
Alessandro Agazzi, fashion business expert and blogger at www.thestyleism.com says, “I think it's a smart move. People/consumers want to know more about what they are buying. And with that, many people are like ‘look how good they are, they show want to show us that they are very fair’”.
“They are not the first ones to do it. Again, I think their move is to create a stronger engagement with existing and new clients. You can't compare the costs of a luxury/designer brand to the ones of a manufacturer. But, yes, people are more and more price-conscious and this is a fact.” says Agazzi.
“I think this is mainly a marketing thing from them; and their consumers seem to like it - from the comments on their IG feed. I’m not sure others will follow. It is a delicate move to do it. I asked Private White a couple of questions, the answers were very polite, but, again I am not too convinced how they calculate the costs of the garment. They have not considered costs that they're bearing - retail, logisitcs, PR, photography. And their 2x is even lower when you deduct the VAT from the SRP.” he says.
It’s important to be fair, but it’s also important to make a healthy profit. If you’re working on very small margins it doesn’t take much to tip the whole thing over. I think the majority of people outside of the fashion business don’t know the typical mark-ups on luxury goods and it's often a closely guarded secret.
Will other British brands following suit? I asked, Alice Made This, a British jewellery company specialising in artisan techniques and precious metals, their thoughts.
“Private White V.C. are fortunate, in this instance, that they are a factory and a retailer in terms of transparency. This allows them to disclose costs and stick to prices to allow these stats to remain true for a long period of time. We use a variety of British factories and, for us, to disclose our factories prices in such a granular way may be a breach of their confidential information. Our pricing varies per batch as metal prices fluctuate daily and our factories have to pass these onto us as their customer.” says Alice Walsh, Co-Founder, Alice Made This.
“I think it is interesting, but difficult for us to be accurate, therefore I feel it becomes not as transparent as it may appear! I believe customers expect honesty, integrity and transparency. This can be offered to them in a number of ways.” she says.
There is an element of marketing here and you don't get exact figures, but I also think the attitude is, why not try it? In this fast changing retail landscape you want to shout about your product and this is a way of standing behind it. It builds trust and creates an honest halo over the brand. ‘Pricing Transparency’ only works if you have nothing to hide. Very few brands can do this, but, the ones that can, should.
Below - Private White V.C. comparing its model and 'Traditional Luxury'
Danielle Grantham, Menswear Buyer, Harvey Nichols
“This season, we’ve introduced New York label Saturdays NYC to our casualwear offer. Look to this brand for effortlessly cool lifestyle pieces to upgrade your weekend wardrobe. A parka is always an essential autumn/winter investment and this olive cotton one from the brand is no exception.”
Left - Saturdays NYC – Olive Cotton Parka - £530
“Logomania isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Buy into this trend with Parisian cool brand A.P.C that is renowned for its simple yet stylish staples. Paying homage to the brand’s first collection; this white flocked T-shirt is part of the Hiver 87 capsule collection celebrating the brand’s 30th anniversary and will undoubtedly be a future classic.”
Left - A.P.C – White Flocked Cotton T-shirt - £80
“Manchester based brand Private White VC nails luxury casualwear. All its collections are sourced and handmade in England, creating contemporary classics designed to last for years to come. This season, their rich ochre corduroy shirt ticks two key autumn/winter trends in one.”
Left - Private White VC - Orange Corduroy Shirt - £260
“Elevating our casualwear offer is Officine Generale, champions of classic wardrobe staples, beautifully designed and made out of the finest fabrics, the brand offers core pieces to be worn in everyday life. This brushed blush pink jumper can be worn with tailored pieces or dressed down with jeans and trainers.”
Left - Officine Generale - Shetland Pink Wool Jumper - £235
“Danish label Norse Projects is an expert in pared back functional basics for the modern wardrobe spanning across RTW and accessories. This merino wool beanie is undoubtedly an essential purchase for the winter months, it’s so soft that you’ll never want to take it off.”
Left - Norse Projects - Navy Merino Wool Beanie - £50