LONDON, United Kingdom — Hill & Friends is set to open its first ever standalone retail store in London, as the brand celebrates its second birthday.
Launched in 2015 with a presentation in Claridge’s — when bell boys dressed in sorbet-coloured suits walked with handbags on silver-plated trays, and Shetland ponies were trussed up in pink rosette ribbons — Hill & Friends will look to bring its tongue-in-cheek attitude to the 1,750 square foot space on London's South Molton Street that will also house its showroom and design team: naturally, the decor is pink.
“We want to put the fun back in fashion,” creative director and co-founder Emma Hill tells BoF. “I live in a townhouse in Notting Hill, and my house has a pink door with googly eyes… we wanted to replicate this idea of a family home for the store, so we have dog bowls of water for puppies and big flamingo statues alongside a customisation bar, in among other things. The experience of the brand is not just product, it’s just one part of it. We’re really good at the whole environment and making people experience the brand with our visual ideas, so we wanted somewhere that was our own.”
The London opening comes during a period of rapid expansion for the brand. While brick-and-mortar stores were always part of its strategy, unprecedented growth (sales are currently up 195 percent quarter on quarter), combined with minority investment from IW Capital earlier this year, has seen it happen earlier than expected.
This season, Hill & Friends will stock its product at 35 wholesalers across eight countries — and wholesale orders are up 200 percent increase on last season — with its bags being sold at Selfridges in London and Au Pont Rouge in Russia. Meanwhile, direct-to-consumer online sales are up 92 percent on last year, with 30 percent of the brand’s turnover coming from e-commerce (the industry average is below 10 percent). Next season, it will offer 95 styles for Spring/Summer 2018, up from 57 this season. The company has also made further appointments in the product development team.
Hill is no stranger to ramping up a brand: during her tenure at Mulberry as creative director, she was responsible for driving the business’ turnover from £50 million in 2008 to £170 million in 2012. Under Hill, shares grew from £1.50 to £26, and profit grew from £4 million in 2008 to £32 million in 2012.
The physical space will further consolidate the brand’s identity, allowing for “crazy visual merchandising”, co-founder Georgia Fendley tells BoF. Hill attributes her focus on brand identity to her years spent at Calvin Klein. “While my branding is not quite as minimal as his, it really taught me everything — the pencils you use, the point of view you have, everything needs to be from the brand’s perspective.”
Fendley adds that women want “practicality and great value” in a bag. The label has established a niche in its contemporary price point, being more affordable than many luxury labels: the best-selling style is the “Happy Mini”, which retails for £450. “Women want to tell the world they have a brain, a sense of humour and an independent spirit,” says Fendley, of Hill & Friends' playful designs.