Despite appearances, Coco de Mer is a relatively small retailer with an ecommerce website and a single boutique on Monmouth Street, in London’s Covent Garden.
Yet, with all the press attention it has received in recent months, and its huge consumer following, it would seem like a major global brand.
“That was one of the things that I found really interesting before I started at Coco de Mer,” says managing director Lucy Litwack, who took the reins of the company in April 2014.
“It was one boutique in London and I thought it was really unusual for a brand [of that size] to have that kind of following.”
Coco de Mer was launched in December 2001 by Sam Roddick, daughter of famed Body Shop founder Anita Roddick. It was almost entirely owned by Sam and her father, Gordon, with pop star Dave Stewart of Eurythmics in possession of less than 5%.
Ten years later, the business was bought by erotic e-tailer Lovehoney, after reporting a pre-tax loss of £200,000 in February 2010, despite increasing sales from £940,000 to £1.2m.
“Sam Roddick didn’t worry so much about the commercial aspect, and she was lucky enough not to have to worry about that, so what she was able to do is build a really strong brand, and that has been great for us because that foundation is already there,” adds Litwack.
“Coco de Mer almost has a cult following, which has grown over the last 14 years. Sam obviously started that – she got a lot of press and collaborated with lots of interesting designers.
“And then since we were bought four years ago, the new owners have been so supportive in wanting to develop the brand and growing it with the same vision. Having that support has been really great.”
But it’s been in the last 12 months that Coco de Mer has really taken off, growing its web traffic and introducing a new generation of shoppers to the brand.
This has been helped by a brand refresh, which included the launch of new products and a revamped website, complete with striking new imagery and videos.
“It was a surprise that when I started we hadn’t done any marketing or advertising for quite a long time and so it was amazing that the brand was up there, but I think it has taken a much bigger step in the last 12 months,” explains Litwack.
Lucy Litwack joined Coco de Mer from La Perla, where she worked as brand director, and brings to the company 15 years of lingerie experience, having previously worked for Victoria’s Secret, Myla, Bendon and David Beckham Underwear.
She spent her first few months at Coco de Mer getting to know the brand, before setting her sights on refreshing the company’s image.
“I think you really need to live a brand before you can decide whether it needs a revamp and what needs revamping,” she explains.
“I worked on the shop floor and took my time to listen to the customer and everybody who worked at the company. Our buyer has been with us for about six years now, so she obviously had a lot of knowledge,” Litwack adds.
“Then, we worked with a branding agency to define what we stood for and where we wanted to go in the future. We sat in a room for two days and looked at the history of the brand and decided on which parts we wanted to keep and what we wanted to change.
“I think it came out that we just needed to have a clearer vision. So if we say that we are the collectors and creators of the finest erotica, then everything we do and everything we sell should really follow through.
“There were certain products that didn’t fall under that category and therefore we needed to edit those brands, so coming into 2015 we have a much clearer vision for lingerie in AW15.”
One of the first steps Coco de Mer took in refreshing the brand was overhauling its ecommerce website.
“While the boutique is the sole of the brand, and you have a clear feel of what the brand stands for when you come into the store, that’s a lot harder to translate online. So that’s what we’ve been working on this year with the redesign of the website – making it feel like you are shopping in a boutique,” Litwack says.
“The key is making the customer feel more engaged,” she adds. “We are curating special pages online that explain the heritage/story of our products – making it an experience, rather than it just being about buy and leave.”
Collaborating with famed fashion photographer Rankin and Walter Campbell, the creative director of advertising agency TWBA/London, has also been crucial in introducing a new generation of web shoppers to Coco de Mer.
Earlier this year, the team produced X – an online and cinema ad, which was a huge global hit, with key sites such as Vogue, GQ and WWD picking up news of the launch.
‘X’ was created to immerse viewers in the deepest desires of the erotic imagination, showing a roller-coaster ride of images, from seemingly banal everyday moments to evocative images of Coco de Mer lingerie.
“The collaboration with Rankin and Walter Campbell from TBWA this year really allowed us to reach the limit of our own imaginations – a passionate and thrilling collaborative journey that resulted in the X film,” reflects Litwack.
“The medium of film was the ideal way to portray our brand message as it is engaging and exciting and takes you on a journey that still media would struggle to emulate. You immerse yourself in the experience and make your own discoveries during the process.”
In June this year, Coco de Mer kicked off the next phase of its brand overhaul with the launch of a decedent range of lingerie, which was also shot by Rankin.
“We’ve had so much more press than before and our owners are really willing to invest in our photography,” says Litwack.
“This has allowed the brand to start spreading its wings again because it was quiet for a few years as everybody got their bearings after a change in ownership, which I think can disrupt the team a small amount,” she expands.
The AW15 collection is inspired by goddesses, legends and mythical women.
Peresphone, in striking crimson, celebrates the Queen of the Underworld with an intricate network of silk-velvet, while Godiva, with its range of slips, robes and bras made of French lace, exudes romance and seduction.
The collection also includes Sylph – a nod to the mythical spirit of air. This has a subtle bondage aesthetic inspired by the provocative photography of Helmut Newton, who’s work was published in Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar in the 1950s and 60s. All styles are made in the UK.
Own-brand lingerie has been a key focus for Coco de Mer in recent months, and the retailer is working to extend its offering by launching new collections designed in collaboration with renowned fashion designers, including William Wilde and Paul Seville.
“William will be designing a latex collection exclusively for us. It was great working with him because he is so easy-going and so creative, but commercial at the same time,” says Litwack with a smile.
“He has his own business and he knows what’s required. So we’re really excited about launching that collection and hopefully it will be an ongoing collaboration.”
The William Wilde latex collection launched online and in store at the end of last month. The London-based designer specialises in hand-made latex rubber clothing and accessories.
He has previously worked with British boudoir brand Lascvious.
“We’re also collaborating with Paul Seville on an exclusive bondage collection. He’s a London-based designer and his products are beautifully handmade,” says Litwack, excitedly.
“The collaborations have been great and we are trying to do that more with lingerie brands as well,” she reveals.
“Obviously, a lot of the lingerie brands have beautiful collections already, so we will continue to buy them, but we are working with them to launch underwear in exclusive colourways.
“Specifically, we worked with Something Wicked on a white leather range last season. That was really fun. We’re also doing different things with Loveday London and Bordelle next season.”
Expanding into wholesale
Moving forward, Coco de Mer plans to step into wholesale for the first time in its 14-year history.
The boutique label plans to sell its own-brand line of lingerie and erotic accessories through exclusive retail partners next spring, before expanding into wider markets.
“The plan would be to go into wholesale slowly because we want to get it right. So potentially we’ll have one exclusive partner for SS16 and then grow it for AW16. We’ll start it in the UK and then broaden it into international markets,” Litwack reveals.
“We’ll work on pop-ups and shop fits to bring the feel of the Coco boutique elsewhere because that’s what works – that’s what our customers love, so we hope that other customers would love that too.
“We’re all just so passionate about the brand and we just want everybody to know about it.”
So how would Coco de Mer’s suppliers feel about the boudoir retailer expanding into wholesale?
“I would like to think that this will only be a positive experience for everyone,” Litwack responds. “I have strong relationships with our brands and am very keen to continue these relationships.
“I truly believe that there is space in the marketplace for all of us and hopefully Coco de Mer continuing to grow will only have a positive effect on their business with us – more customers into our boutique and online equals more sales for everyone.”
One area of the business that Coco de Mer thrives on – and what sets it apart from other retailers – is that it champions new brands and British design.
“I really love that aspect of the business,” says Litwack.
“We’re working closely with the London College of Fashion at the moment – we’re doing a project with their second year students, which is great because I love to be able to work with the next generation of designers,” she adds.
“The winner will get an internship with us and design a collection that will be sold in our boutique.
“When you have just designed things for yourself up till that point, it must be amazing to actually go into a store in London and see it on sale.”
Coco de Mer has recently hired contour fashion graduates Tabitha Dukes and Alison Hunt from London College of Fashion and De Montfort University respectfully.
“There’s so much talent out there and it’s really great to be able to develop that,” expands Litwack.
For AW15, Coco de Mer will carry new brands Loveday London and Tamzin Lillywhite, who specialises in making leather accessories.
“It’s always nice when we go to the Paris show because all the boutique brands get excited and want to be stocked in Coco de Mer,” says Litwack, proudly.
“I used to get that with Victoria’s Secret, but you don’t really get that with smaller brands. They all really love it.
“We found someone last year from Romania and her collection has been so successful for us.”
When asked if working with new brands can be challenging, Litwack answers: “It can be because a lot of them are super talented, but don’t have any experience in running a brand or in production or critical path. So yes it can be a challenge, but if I can help them I will.
“So I have sat with new brands and showed them how to write line sheets and told them how to speak to the factory. I really enjoy that. It’s worth it at the end of the day.”
Coco de Mer also stocks established brands including Belle et BonBon, Fleur of England, Gilda & Pearl, Olivia Von Halle and Stella McCartney.
“Having brands with heritage is great,” says Litwack. “We’re launching Derek Rose women’s nightwear this season. I love that brand – it’s got all the heritage of a family business that’s evolved in Savile Row.
“I think that in a much shorter amount of time, Coco has that – it really cares about its heritage and the quality of the brand,” resolves Litwack.
“I believe that Coco de Mer is better defined now. We are more focused on delivering the finest erotic products and experiences.
“We have always been a trailblazer and we are still innovative and love to break new ground, but have no desire to be shocking for shocking sake. We embrace topics that others might find controversial, but we do it in a meaningful and beautiful way.”
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