LONDON, United Kingdom — Today, BoF can exclusively reveal that Peter Pilotto, the London-based womenswear label best known for its vibrant digital prints, has raised a minority-stake investment from London-based investment firm MH Luxe and Megha Mittal, chairman and managing director of German luxury brand Escada. The parties declined to disclose the financial terms of the deal. Peter Pilotto also declined to reveal the company's current revenue figures, but industry sources estimate the business turns over about $15 million to $20 million per year.
The investment is Peter Pilotto’s first injection of external funding. Until now, the eight-year-old business has been self-financed and wholly owned by designers Peter Pilotto and Christopher de Vos.
“It was our choice last year to seek investment,” explained Pilotto at the label’s East London studio. “We’ve had the support of the CFE [Centre for Fashion Enterprise] and the BFC [British Fashion Council]… and this way, we managed to self-finance the business to its current state. But we felt like we wanted to take new steps that simply required investment.”
Those new steps include bolstering the brand’s 40-strong team with a series of key hires, including a CEO, as well as additional talent to drive the label’s wholesale business. Peter Pilotto currently has over 200 points of sale in 50 countries. Its biggest markets are Europe and the US, where stockists include major retailers like Selfridges and Neiman Marcus.
“The priority going forward is to consolidate those relationships with the stores and grow our wholesale sales, our numbers, with those existing partners,” said de Vos. “Yes, the world is global, but still, people have different needs. So that is what we want to concentrate on and build internal teams for.”
Launching physical retail and e-commerce are also a key part of the plan. “The Peter Pilotto brand has enjoyed great momentum so far and is ready for the next stage of brand building,” Megha Mittal told BoF. “We have just launched the search for a CEO. We will eventually open a retail store to showcase the world of Peter Pilotto and also invest to enhance our digital presence.”
We’re still doing everything. With investment we’re looking to consolidate the teams with key hires that will take on some of the responsibilities.
Pilotto and de Vos, who met at Antwerp’s Royal Academy of Fine Arts, founded the label in London and launched their first collection together for Spring/Summer 2008. However, it was their second collection, Autumn/Winter of the same year, that really fired the starting pistol for the brand.
“Two printed dresses with a shape and print,” recalled de Vos. “That was really what attracted stores from the start. You had this peak of orders happening quite fast that you have to fulfil no matter what… We were thrown into this thing where we actually had to work out all our own internal structure, production, distribution, atelier, design.”
Peter Pilotto’s aesthetic handwriting of colourful digitally-printed womenswear was widely applauded in the fashion media and their designs were swiftly stocked at prestigious stores. And, indeed, in the seven years that followed, the brand outpaced many of its London peers. For Spring/Summer 2010, Peter Pilotto’s stockists surged from 28 stores in 14 countries to 88 in 30. The label scooped up armfuls of awards, including Best Emerging Talent at the British Fashion Awards (2009), the Swarovski Emerging Talent award (2010), the BFC’s Fashion Forward Prize (2011) and the BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund (2014). And, having earned famous followers, from Michelle Obama to Alexa Chung, a 2014 collaboration with US retailer Target brought their now-notorious patterned womenswear to the masses. According to Net-A-Porter, which launched the range in the UK, it became the website’s fastest-selling fashion collaboration ever, with an order placed every second for the first hour it was on sale.
To cope with rising demand, in 2012 the Pilotto team grew from eight employees to 25 and jumped between East London studios, quickly outgrowing a series of new spaces. The first, “as big as this table,” said Pilotto, gesturing to a nearby desk; the latest, a 10,000 square foot industrial space, co-designed with the architects Matheson and Whiteley.
Inside their current base, large sheets of brightly coloured Perspex lean against the scrubbed concrete walls and visitors are greeted by a rainbow of plastic stools, whose seats have been cut into teardrop shapes from the brand’s signature prints.
Sat in their design studio, Pilotto and de Vos each cross a leg towards the other and both fold their arms. They both wear navy jumpers, dark jeans and black shoes: Pilotto’s, leather boots; de Vos’s, Nike trainers.
This mirror image is key to understanding their success. Running a fashion business means keeping many plates spinning — distribution; PR; suppliers; design — and in this sense, Peter Pilotto has had an advantage from the start. Though there is one man’s name in the title, at the helm of the business, there are two.
“He was one half of everything and I was the other half, of the A-Z of what was needed,” said Pilotto. When the label launched, Pilotto worked on the prints, while de Vos handled the shape and cut of the designs. Today, they both weigh in on all aspects of the business — from design, to distribution, to working with suppliers.
“I sometimes feel like we’re in ten places at once,” said de Vos. “We’re still doing everything. Obviously with investment we’re looking to consolidate the teams with key hires that will take on some of the responsibilities we’re busy with at the moment… But look at the history of fashion or brands. Okay, some have one designer, but there’s always a second person. I think there’s always two.”
Though, sat in the studio, they appear like one another’s reflections, there has been a vital third presence behind their brand from the very beginning: London.
Pilotto is half-Austrian, half Italian and de Vos half-Belgian, half-Peruvian, but their London-based label's seven-year span is testament to the city’s support network for young fashion designers. The first Peter Pilotto shows were backed by NewGen sponsorship and two later shows sponsored through the Fashion Forward Prize. Their second studio space was provided by London’s Centre for Fashion Enterprise programme and, most recently, the 2014 BFC/Vogue Designer Fashion Fund awarded the label £200,000 ($298,000) and mentoring from sources including Paul Smith and Harrods.
“It adds recognition, respect from the key players in the industry,” said de Vos. “You feel like you’re part of this community, where you have the mentoring and you can call up and sit down with people and have a discussion. It’s a big amount of information that makes you take the right decisions. Definitely, I can say that we really benefit from being in London.”
The capital’s stores were also a source of early support, and Harvey Nichols and Selfridges were amongst the earliest Peter Pilotto stockists. “I feel like London’s stores were really open when we moved there and were willing to help the young designers. They were willing to help with the deposits and all that,” he continued.
The brand manufactured its first few collections in London, then grew its base of suppliers “by word of mouth,” working with partners in Italy for fabric development and India for embroidery and embellishments. “We really wanted to push digital print to the max and had the great support of some of mills that were using digital print,” said Pilotto. “And we pushed them; we would go there and tell them: 'The colours are not vibrant enough, you have to do this to the machines.' Together we would calibrate the machines.”
However, it wasn’t long before the brand seemed in danger of becoming, in Pilotto’s words, “pigeonholed as just printers.” And with a range of other designers, including Mary Katrantzou and Jonathan Saunders, also embracing what de Vos terms London’s “big outbreak of digital prints," de Vos and Pilotto made a concerted effort to push their brand beyond the patterned dresses that forged its fame, focusing on cut and fabric development, often with the same technology-driven attitude they applied to their prints.
“People speak more about the prints, because that’s the thing that you see right away in a picture. But the actual customer speaks more about the cut,” said Pilotto. “That’s what’s so exciting at this moment: the need for styles that show the construction and how much work and research goes into that as well.”