Browns was founded by Joan and Sidney Burstein in 1970. They are credited for carrying SONIA RYKIEL, COMME des GARCONS, MISSONI, GIORGIO ARMANI, DONNA KARAN, ROMEO GIGLI, JILL SANDER, DRIES VAN NOTEN, and others in for the first time in the UK. Since 2008, Simon Burstein has been Chief Executive Officer of Browns.
London is one of the fashion hubs of the world and twice a year, fashion journalists and buyers visit the city from around the world to see the London Collection. This year, the spotlight will shine brighter as they are the hosts of the summer Olympics.
London, energized with the coming Olympics, is where Browns has marked over 40 years of history as 5 connected town houses. While being an established luxury retailer, Browns has collaborated with young creators to continually incorporate new trends to offer customers in the UK and abroad the newest fashion in London.
During his visit to the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week TOKYO 2012-13 A/W this March by the invitation from JETRO (Japan External Trade Organization), we asked Mr. Simon Burstein, Browns CEO, about Browns, what he thinks about Japanese creators, and his advice for oversea expansion.
Browns has many fans in Japan as well, but could you start by introducing your shop?
We have been operating in London for 42 years since our establishment in 1970; we have families that have been our customers over three generations. As a must-see shop in London, we have many visitors from around the world, including fashion freaks, celebrities, musicians, actors and fashion followers.
We carry about 200 brands now, but we have high standards when selecting not only the brands but the products as well. We always have new offerings, so I think visitors will feel it’s a very “live” boutique. In terms of brands from Japan, we carry names such as MIHARAYASUHIRO, JUNYA WATANABE COMME des GARCONS, sacai, kolor, and UNDERCOVER.
We started our Bridal shop in 2004 and offer highly selected fine jewelry pieces. We emphasize harmony with our brandview in its displays as well.
Website, SNS and other online activities are another area where we focus on. We have our own bloggers and photographers that we send to the Paris Collection to send news from where it’s happening in real time.
Browns blog: http://weblog.brownsfashion.com/
Through your long history of 40 years, do you feel that consumers have changed?
Because there are more choices in the fashion market now, I think customers are getting smarter. Browns has to polish its buying eye everyday and edit with strong intention to meet the needs of these smart customers.
Browns has a branch named “Focus”, that offers products with more edge. We’ve worked with young illustrators from the London College of Fashion to create t-shirts with our buyers. Though it is a small market, we are paying attention to it and developing young designers with their youthfulness and energy.
We also have developed items under a joint label with Mihara Yasuhiro this year. We are offering men’s and women’s shirts and are planning to launch them in Japan as well, so I hope you look forward to that.
Daisuke Gemma, now a creative director in Japan, was at Browns previously. What did you think about him?
We have had Japanese staff before, but he has left a particularly strong impression. He had an extensive knowledge of products, and his editing was on the spot. Browns’ staff, not just him, all have personality. That’s why customers see our staff’s style, choose products referring to it or trust them to consult them on styling.
You were invited by JETRO for this visit, but how did you feel when you first received the offer?
I was very pleased because I have had business in Japan before and I love Japanese culture. I was able to meet designers from brands that I had my eye on, so I was very satisfied.
What do you feel about the uniqueness of Tokyo fashion from an international perspective?
Since the market in Tokyo is huge, it is difficult to identify “the market and style of Tokyo”. There is difference depending on the area like Roppongi, Aoyama, Shibuya, and Harajuku. But this variation is what makes Tokyo interesting. I think the “pretty” “cute” or the “kawaii” style has lasted for a long time, and I think that is the origin of the Tokyo style. Maybe it comes from the Japanese school uniforms, but it is for sure that “kawaii” from Tokyo has influenced the world. In terms of Japanese designers, I think there are many unique personalities like Issey Miyake.
Street fashion is completely different even within Europe, just like with Paris and Milan, but I think it’s similar in London and Tokyo, with strong character and each person enjoying fashion.
Do you have any impressions of Japanese designers or advice for Fashion Week?
I saw several shows and designers’ works; they expressed their passion and emotion very well. I found high potential in men’s brand Fagassent (designer: Toshiki Aoki) and MANDO (designer: Mando Takasu).
The challenge for young Japanese designers is to show their passion and emotion externally. It feels like Japanese designers are too focused on the domestic market, so I hope that they will look more toward the world and showcase their work.