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Desigual's Big Designs

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La vida es chula: “Love is always in the air.” That’s the motto of the Barcelona-based brand Desigual, which arrived stateside just five years ago. You may have noticed their giant, colorful storefronts around the city. In their second season at NYFW, CEO Manel Jadraque sat down with us to discuss how they’ve grown in the U.S. market, landing supermodel Candice Swanepoel for their catwalk this season, and the brand’s fun-loving approach to fashion. 
BY PAIGE REDDINGER

What were you doing before your role at Desigual?
This year is my 10th anniversary at Desigual. Before that I worked at LVMH: seven years at Louis Vuitton and five years at Loewe. That was my school in fashion in Spain and France. I’ve been in the fashion business for 22 years.

What were your roles at LVMH?
My first job was to set up a factory in Spain to produce for Louis Vuitton. I come from a production and product background. I went on to be a buyer, so more product and purchasing. Later at Loewe I was responsible for the whole product in the company, so not design, but product development and buyer for all categories, for everything with Narciso Rodriguez, who was the designer for Loewe at the time. At Desigual, I started as product director, and now I’m CEO.

Desigual came to this country in 2009. Was it hard to break into the U.S. market?

One of my projects, when I was project director, was to launch the business here. I remember I came to Las Vegas for MAGIC—my first time at MAGIC. Because, you know, we’re multi-channel, wholesale is very important to us, so we are really focused on wholesale and retail. Wholesale is strong for Desigual. And we started at MAGIC with a small booth, among 1,000 brands, and it was the beginning of the brand. So now it’s five years in the States. We do a lot of things here. Wholesale is one of the strongest channels for Desigual. We have, more or less, 1,200 doors in the U.S.

What’s your biggest store?
In wholesale it’s Bloomingdale’s. In retail in these five years, we’ve opened 12 stores. And also 12 stores in airports run by travel-retail operators, but we also have 12 mono-brand stores. So in total that means 24 points-of-sale in mono-brand Desigual, and the rest is wholesale. More or less, this year, the budget is $60,000,000 in turnover, and we’ll continue. Today we are putting the focus on retail, so the project was good in terms of objectives and results. You know, the United States is high competition, so it’s first division. The thing is how to have more profits, so we’re working a lot on profit in order to invest more. This year we’re looking for new locations. In general we are developing wholesale in the whole country. In retail we’re putting more focus in New York, Florida, and Las Vegas. Those are the three main places we’d like to have more stores. That’s more or less where we are today.

How would you describe this brand to someone here who is not familiar with it?
Desigual is a fashion brand, but we like to say that Desigual is more an attitude. Desigual is happiness, it’s positive, it’s about enjoying life, buying to enjoy the small things you have in life. That is the attitude of Desigual, so you see that our product tries to transfer this happiness to the world. We use colors, graphics, and it’s the DNA of the brand. So the idea is when you wear Desigual, you feel young, you feel happy—we try to give that to the customers. Not only a T-shirt or a coat, but with the $100 you spend for an item, you have the product, you have an experience at the point-of-sale, and you have a little bit of happiness for you.

How old is your average customer?
We like to be for everybody. We have kids’, we have men’s, we have women’s, so we try to cover a wide range of customers. We like to be for everybody. If you see the real customer buying us, it’s a woman between 30 and 50. That’s the range where we have more customers.

And what does Desigual mean?
Desigual is a Spanish word that means “different.” In fact, that was the first claim of the brand—it’s not the same. If you see our product it’s really something different on the market. We have a very strong DNA.

Is your biggest market Spain?
Spain, of course, is the first market. It accounts for 22 percent of total sales. France accounts for 21 percent of total sales. If everything goes well, at the end of the year France will be our biggest market. In Italy it’s 17 percent of sales, and Germany is 9 percent. These are the four main markets. Europe, in total, accounts for 84 percent of sales. U.S. is 5 percent. U.S. was the first extra market for Desigual outside Europe, and we’re introducing the brand in Asia and South America.

How long have you been showing at New York’s Fashion Week?
September of last year was the first time we showed. We plan to be here for a long time, and we do nice catwalks in general.

Why did you decide to show here?
Before New York, we did catwalks at Barcelona Fashion Week, and traditionally we present the collection there. Last week it was Barcelona, so we’ve done two shows this winter. We decided to do Barcelona for Europe and New York for an international presentation. New York is the most international place we can show the collection in terms of the press. It’s amazing the number of press we’ve had here.

So the response to Desigual at NYFW has been good?
Last September, everybody was talking about the attitude, which for us is perfect because we like to talk about attitude. I think one advantage was that we showed the first day on the catwalk. Not in the middle. I think for the entry of a new brand, that’s important. We can do more things—it’s blank. In general the critique was good. We presented something even stronger this time.

How does New York Fashion Week compare with Barcelona?
Barcelona is small. In Europe we have two main cities for women: Milan and Paris. Paris is very strong in Europe. I think New York is more international. There’s more press. For example, I think last time on the catwalk we had 400 media, so it’s a lot. In Europe it’s more like 100. The number of media here is amazing. Everybody’s here. I think New York is more for brands. Paris is more like haute couture and fashion. Here it’s more commercial and a bit more street. So I think Desigual matches very well with the brands here.

What makes your show different?
We follow the concept of the company—this attitude of happiness. You’ll see models planting kisses and smiling. With the kind of product we have with all of the colors and graphics, I think that the best way show it to the customers is on the catwalk with models. This season we have Candice Swanepoel, and we’re very happy. We have some of the best models in the world.

How did she come on board? Is she going to be in the ad campaigns as well?
It’s just for the catwalk. We will see if we continue. Two years ago in Barcelona we started using celebrities like Bar Refaeli, for example, or Irina Shayk. Also, Adriana Lima, and now it’s Candice. I think to use these kinds of models is an amazing opportunity for the brand. Celebrities, in the U.S. especially, are important. We are very happy to have Candice. For me she was one of the top three in the world. She’s very blonde, very American-looking.

Do you decide which models to use?
Yes. When I started as CEO two years ago, one of my first decisions was to use the models. We started with Bar Refaeli, and later we went on to more [Victoria’s Secret] Angels. It’s tough to hire those kinds of models in the beginning, but now we have the ability to do it. It was amazing the result we saw in Barcelona with Adriana [Lima], our second Angel. We’re happy.

Is Adriana in the campaigns? Or are these girls only on the catwalk?
Until now we use them for the catwalk, but for the future we are looking for models like that to do the campaigns. In the future that’s the idea to have these kinds of models for the campaign. In the past we have had campaigns with Behati Prinsloo, and we’ve had Erin Heatherton. So we’ve had some in the past, but we’ll have more in the future.

Your Barcelona headquarters are on the beach. What’s that like?
It’s very important for Desigual. Barcelona is very Mediterranean. It’s like California or Miami. It’s nice weather. Since the beginning of the brand we’ve been in Ibiza and Barcelona. It’s good for the employees. It makes them motivated to do well. It’s the Mediterranean attitude. It’s relaxed. It’s about happiness, and it’s about life. It’s a good place to be. In the past, the conquerors conquered the world by sea. It’s the example of the mission we have. We have 1,000 people at the headquarters. It’s an amazing energy generator.

You just got off the plane from Barcelona. How crazy is your schedule?
Fashion is like that. Today is here, next week is Tokyo.We are international—109 countries today. But I think it’s the energy. These kinds of events are good for the brand. I love the catwalks not only for the media—and you have good photos and everything—but also the internal energy it generates for the company. It’s really incredible.

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