With the launch of a new handbag last week the British luxury bag-maker, Mulberry, made international headlines. The Tessie bag, priced at a modest £495-£795, marks a U-turn from the doomed high-end strategy of ousted CEO, Bruno Guillon. The change comes as no surprise as Mulberry has revealed the extent of its failed pursuit of high-end customers, with pre-tax annual profits falling by 53% and sales falling by 15%.
Founded in rural Somerset in 1971, Mulberry was originally known for its beautifully crafted leather satchels and accessories designed for hunting, shooting, fishing and other country pursuits. Since the late 1990s, with its iconic Bayswater bag and under the creative vision of Emma Hill in recent years, Mulberry has grown into a respected and successful global brand that offers eccentric – and at the same time soft and understated – English fashion to a younger generation of ‘It’ girls.
Bruno Guillon took leadership of the tremendously successful Mulberry in March 2012. His ambition for growth and also his aim to compete with the likes of Hermes and Gucci caused the exit of Creative Director Emma Hill, the designer of the coveted Alexa bag credited for the stratospheric rise of the dowdy Somerset leather manufacturer to a global fashion powerhouse.
Since her departure, Mulberry has continued its aggressive pursuit of growth, opening up new flagship stores, using more expensive leather, eliminating entry-level price point accessories and more than doubling prices for its products, all without addressing the brand.
The move had predictable consequences: it failed to attract the highly desirable international luxury customers, alienated the loyal British fashionistas who suddenly found Mulberry’s handbags out of their price range, and ultimately suffered disconnect with its brand. Bruno Guillion’s vision had fundamental flaw – he forgot the roots of the brand and its past successes, failing to create a new and convincing story that appealed to the coveted high luxury customers.
Mulberry needs to stop and remind itself of what it stands for: British quirkiness, traditional craftsmanship, individuality and also not taking itself too seriously. Fundamentally, it needs to make a choice, once and for all, of what it truly is and who it is for. Mulberry needs to define to the world what it stands for, acknowledging that it is built on a solid foundation of British heritage, craftsmanship and value. It needs to express this in a brand that innovates, delights and inspires customers around the world with new products and ideas that will bring back the creativity of a true luxury brand.