BoF Exclusive | Fashion Film Premiere: Elements by Jamie Morgan for REISS

LONDON, United Kingdom — Having recognised a missed opportunity online for both commerce and communication, REISS is not wasting any more time in getting on the digital train. The London-based fashion retailer is making big digital moves under the leadership of company founder David Reiss and brand director Andy Rogers.

This evening in London, REISS will screen its new film Elements, directed by Jamie Morgan, to a select group of fashion industry insiders, before a full web launch in September, coinciding with the arrival of the Autumn/Winter 2010 collection. Last week, I had a sneak peek at the stunning film and can share an exclusive trailer with BoF readers today. (RSS and email subscribers, you can see the trailer here)

In an extended conversation with The Business of Fashion, Reiss and Rogers spoke about how their digital epiphany came about and described their business strategy for REISS in the months and years ahead.

In the beginning, REISS could rely on its unique value proposition to drive the business. Offering beautifully-designed, well-crafted clothing at an honest price, sitting somewhere in the middle of the high street and high-end, REISS had carved out a distinctive market positioning.

But this is no longer enough. Up until recently, the REISS brand has been a high-potential but — figuratively speaking — an empty vessel, looking to be filled with some meaning to create a more emotional connection with consumers. What’s more, REISS’ plans for global expansion need to be supported by a more concerted communications strategy, especially as it moves outside the comfort zone of its home market, where REISS is already reasonably well-known.

Enter Andy Rogers who joined the company in 2008 after an eight year stint at Stella McCartney. In the words of David Reiss, “Andy’s brief when he came on board was to really sex the brand up, make it more aspirational and take it to a whole new level.”

But that is easier said than done, especially on a limited marketing budget. While REISS is a profitable, decent-sized business — the last publicly-available figures are £67m in turnover with operating profit of £8.8m for the year ending 31 January 2008 — its financial means are a long way from the multi-million dollar advertising campaigns of much larger fashion businesses.

How is a small British fashion brand going to compete with luxury megabrands for consumer hearts and minds on a global scale?

The answer of course is the Internet. All it took was the confluence of a conversation with founder of New Look, a successful digital experiment, and a passionate pitch from Andy Rogers for Mr. Reiss to see the potential opportunity. “Up until 6 months ago we were only playing on the internet. We weren’t even touching on it.” he says.  “Now we’re taking it really seriously. The Internet and viral media are the way forward.”

“When Tom Singh told me about the size of his online business, I nearly fell off my chair,” he chuckles, recalling a dinner he had with the highly-respected founder of New Look in New York.  Then, last year, REISS experimented with an online campaign on Dazed Digital for its new 1971 denim line with a creative t-shirt competition, achieving an impact far beyond their expectations.

According to Alistair Allan, Digital Director of Dazed Digital, “The Reiss T project received 230,000 pageviews. It was one of our most successful projects and received over 600 entries,” he says. “The Dazed Digital readership is made up of primarily creative individuals, that’s one of the reasons our creative submissions projects work so well.”

“That was the moment when I realised, this is it, we have to pin everything we do around viral media, ” says Rogers. Soon after, he pitched the idea for shooting REISS’ next advertising campaign entirely on video, working with renowned filmmaker and photographer Jamie Morgan. “I found it easier to pitch this film to David than a traditional media campaign because you can track it, you can see who has watched it, and you can see the response rate.”

“The only mistake with Dazed was that we weren’t prepared for its success. At that point we were thinking it was a great way to get people to see REISS in a different way, because it was innovative at our level to do that. A lot of people saw it, and a lot of people talked about it. But, internally we weren’t quite ready to translate that to sales,” says Rogers. “Now, we are.”

Indeed, unlike many fashion films which seem to obscure the products, Elements intentionally showcases the key items for which the brand is becoming well known, such as men’s tailoring and women’s dresses, but does so in an elevated way that also heightens the emotions. Rogers says that REISS will fully leverage the content from the video shoot not only for the film, but also by creating short moving images — let’s call them moving stills — to show key products on the REISS website, and also extract traditional still images to be used in advertising campaigns. These advertisements will be interactive, enabling consumers to connect with the REISS website using QR codes and an iPhone application. It’s a clever way of making a small production budget go a long way and linking it directly to sales.

Rogers and Reiss say they realise they are working on a virtual store that is a constant work in progress, even if it is already the company’s number one revenue generator. “We are learning something every day,” says Reiss. “We are not standing still. Everything is changing, so we have no other choice.”

Imran Amed is Founder and Editor of The Business of Fashion