How Johnny Coca Saved Mulberry
The fashion industry is buzzing about Johnny Coca and how, in just three years, he has turned the Mulberry brand around with his innovative business strategy, his inventive and exuberant collections and some seriously covetable bags and accessories. As such, in this interview, we focused our attention more on his visions for the future of the house rather than his disguised past having worked alongside Phoebe Philo at Céline and, before that, at Louis Vuitton. Because, for the Spanish-born designer, the past is the past, and the future of fashion boils down to one word – Mulberry.
A version of this exclusive interview first appeared in the pages of the 15th issue of ODDA Magazine.
The focus for the next issue of ODDA is really talking about the future of fashion. I thought it was a great opportunity to speak with you because you have a business model at Mulberry that is really very different. Could you talk a little bit about the thinking behind your strategy?
It’s quite delicate because it takes some time to place everything for the next season. But the idea was to present the collection to the customer, but at the same time to make sure that when we do a show we’ll have 100% of the looks available.
So many brands are doing shows where sometimes 60% are part of the sales and the rest is just made for the show and is never actually produced. I am trying to make sure every single look is available from the shoes to the jewels: everything. It’s frustrating for customers to see a look they love in a show and to later discover that it will never actually be made; it’s quite sad. I am trying to make sure every single look with every single product is available. So when I present the collection, there is no frustration and I am also trying to make sure all the collection is delivered. In a normal schedule, you have to wait 6 months to have your piece. But, for some people, it’s frustrating because they can’t have it right away: if they see it now, they would like to buy it now. It is a strategy that is more related to the customer. Also up until now the brand was more focused on the United Kingdom. The idea has been since I got here, to see how to extend the brand internationally.
So, educating the world about the new Mulberry?
Yes. We are a normal brand, not a giant brand. And we are not making a lot of money, which is not a problem, but the goal for us is all about finding our own rules. How to make the brand popular and make it special, in terms of education. How to talk about the brand and make a really close connection to our clients.
I thought it was just such a brilliant idea to have Sharon Stone wearing a yellow Mulberry hat on the cover of the last issue of ODDA and, as the issue was coming out, that is when the outfit she was wearing was available in the stores, and on the catwalk in your show. It feels just organically right to me and that seems the way fashion is going.
Yes, it’s one of the reasons lots of brands are working on new ways to approach sales; they make a lot of capsules. It’s to give more desirability and have a lot of moments during the year.
If you don’t do that, you will only have two shows with kind of the same pieces throughout the season. So brands do a lot of collaborations that generate new stories and products. Basically, all the brands are just trying to find different ways to talk about the label.
I know Mulberry is a British brand, but that identity is maybe not as strong as some other brands. Are you trying to make the house stay really focused on its British heritage? Are you trying to enlarge this?
From the beginning, it was tricky because you have your own classic customer from the UK and what they want from the brand. We also have 82 stores, which is quite a lot for a brand. I think, in the past, they chose to put all the strategy behind the country, which was perhaps right for the moment, but it’s not right for me. When I started, I said that I needed to make the brand more international. I need to design products for everybody. So, it’s really about architecture, volumes, sizes and colors.
You’re now three years into this job, and it is around that time when you really start to see the fruit of all the work you have put into a brand you are rebuilding. How are you feeling? Are you happy with how things are going?
Yes, what I am really happy about is that all the major product that was carried over for years has been now replaced with new products. Customers are trying to understand my direction and the quality of what I am doing in terms of design.
It’s a new, younger generation. Before, they used to be very classic; but now the offer is wider in terms of ages. That was my key direction, to make sure I design for younger and older. I wanted to make sure they could all find something they could identify with at Mulberry.
Your online sales are really strong compared to many other luxury brands. Why do you think you’re so successful online?
First, I think because Mulberry was one of the first to really organize, install and create a place for itself in the world of e-commerce. It represents like 18% of our sales, which is quite huge.
It’s also because outside UK we don’t have so many stores, so the increase is also thanks the international side. Mulberry has a really strong knowledge on how to approach the e-commerce and, for many brands, it took a lot of time, but it’s part of us now.
I think, when Mulberry started its e-commerce, it was a very brave choice and was avant-garde in its approach to the digital space. I think it’s quite interesting because you can make limited editions, can control what’s going on. The structure is really 100% efficient.
What do you think then about the arrival of the influencer, that person that acts like a go between the brand and the public, to advise them. I know that, in the past, Mulberry would have this kind of collaborations with it-girls. Is that something you think it’s valuable or you would see Mulberry to continue to do?
It’s really delicate because there are some brands that really need to have the support of bloggers or celebrities and they pay a lot for that. On my side, I am quite frustrated when I have to force people to say “OK I paid you so you have to sell my product.”
I prefer to find a good person, someone I really feel a connection with, and I like what she’s doing and she also likes what I’m doing. More kind of a relationship. When you have to force it…
Tell me what it has been like for you to now step into the spotlight and lead a luxury brand?
I was quite well organized in the past. But now, because there are many more people and departments, for me it’s really important to listen to them. I don’t want to be arrogant and pretentious. I try to take my time to understand each department and if they are good and successful and it is a good point for me and for the brand.
It’s really about how to manage or how to invest, I mean it’s not my money, so I am really respectful of what they’re doing for me and of their trust. I try to give all my best and my time to make Mulberry a success. And it’s important for me to be close to the people. So, if there is any issue that I can solve them right away, I am always here. This is what I say to them.
Jessica Michault is the Senior Vice President of industry relations at GPS Radar by Launchmetrics. She is also the editor-at-large for ODDA magazine and contributes to publications like the New York Times, the Business of Fashion, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Mixte magazine.
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