WELL HEELED

SAD­DLE UP AS R.M. WIL­LIAMS TAKES ITS QUINTESSEN­TIALLY AUS­TRALIAN TALE OF SUC­CESS TO THE WORLD.

GQ (Australia) - - INSIDE GQ - RICHARD CLUNE WORDS

RM Wil­liams is tak­ing on the world and win­ning.

Sto­ry­telling. It’s the in­tan­gi­ble, unas­sail­able sell­ing point that el­e­vates a brand. It speaks of ro­man­ti­cism and her­itage, of crafts­man­ship, a com­mit­ment to qual­ity and the pas­sion hand-sewn into a piece. It’s at­trac­tive, and cen­tral, to the lofty po­si­tion­ing of lux­ury la­bels – think Louis Vuit­ton and Gucci, Her­mès and Dior, Saint Lau­rent and be­yond. Also, think R.M. Wil­liams. While it’s a name that may at first clunk against that of those sto­ried, Euro­pean mas­ters, the dusty tale of the Aus­tralian bush outfitter is equally im­por­tant. Es­pe­cially given its de­sire to sell this fa­bled yarn, and its wares, to the world. Come Septem­ber, R.M. Wil­liams will again open its doors in New York, eight years after it packed up and left. That the new site sits on Spring Street, Soho, speaks of a cer­tain repo­si­tion­ing, of the in­no­va­tion un­der­way. Amer­ica is viewed as a key in­ter­na­tional mar­ket – a fur­ther six stores to open across the US in the com­ing two years. It’s a dra­matic and fo­cused roll­out, matched by the open­ing of seven stores in the UK and Scan­di­navia across the same pe­riod. The global fo­cus is firmly built on the brand’s 2014 ac­qui­si­tion by Sin­ga­pore-

based pri­vate eq­uity firm L Cap­i­tal Asia, the LVMH sub­set se­cur­ing the com­pany for a re­ported $100m. Still, CEO Raju Vup­pala­p­ati claims such ex­pan­sion­ist vi­sions were a de­sire of the late Regi­nald Mur­ray Wil­liams – the cat­tle­man and camel han­dler who found leather, and even­tual suc­cess, after start­ing the com­pany 84 years ago. “R.M. al­ways wanted this com­pany and this brand to be a big­ger part of the world,” the softly spo­ken Vup­pala­p­ati, who joined the com­pany in 2014 after years at Levi Strauss, tells GQ. “Be­cause this can’t be the best-kept se­cret in Australia – it has to be a se­cret we share with the world.” In dis­cussing the new phase – one mir­rored by a strong fo­cus on the lo­cal re­tail sec­tor and an in­creased num­ber of Aus­tralian stores – Vup­pala­p­ati swats away the word ‘rein­ven­tion’, ar­gu­ing it sug­gests a sense of ex­clu­sion or alien­ation in re­gard to the tra­di­tional cus­tomer base. “It’s re­ally about draw­ing heav­ily into where we come from and bring­ing a con­tem­po­rary in­no­va­tion around the core; it’s about be­ing sure that we of­fer a com­pelling story about what we do, and let the con­sumers de­cide. And we be­lieve this brand has a story that’s true and can tran­scend gen­er­a­tions... What we’re do­ing is tak­ing el­e­ments from our ar­chives, to be true to who we are, and then in­ter­pret­ing for the [cur­rent mar­kets]. Like any other brand, we have to be in touch with cur­rent trends, but we still need be in touch with our her­itage.” It’s a path that’s been trod­den by Burberry and Bar­bour, each a her­itage of­fer­ing that has melded tra­di­tion and sto­ry­telling to a new, con­tem­po­rary out­look. “Ex­actly,” says 53-year-old Vup­pala­p­ati. “They come from a dif­fer­ent pedi­gree, ours is born in the Aus­tralian out­back, but you can bring it to life in a con­tem­po­rary, cool way. Whether the per­son is in Sydney, New York or Tokyo, peo­ple can pick it up and feel that it has a style and aes­thetic that’s mod­ern, but grown from its past.” Vup­pala­p­ati is speak­ing from the board­room of R.M. Wil­liams’ head of­fice in Sydney – an en­vi­able out­look across the har­bour and over the city sit­ting over his right shoul­der. The scent of leather hangs, heav­ily, in the room, the walls adorned by Tom Roberts-es­que paint­ings of Regi­nald, at home in a recog­nis­able bush set­ting. Pushed on where the brand’s been po­si­tioned to this point, Vup­pala­p­ati ac­cepts that things had be­come a lit­tle staid. “My thoughts are these – we should have done this 20 years ago. Not to look in the rear-view mir­ror but, in my mind, this brand could have been [cen­tral] to that mo­ment when the world be­came more open – most com­pa­nies in Europe em­braced that [at that stage] and you saw a big jump. Whether we like it or not, we want to do it now and the cir­cum­stances seem right – au­then­tic brands are be­com­ing fewer and fewer, we are one of the few left, and Aus­tralian brands de­serve to be in a bet­ter place than where we are.” Share­hold­ers and com­pany own­ers, he adds, are ex­cited about the enor­mous fu­ture po­ten­tial of the brand. In­deed, the ex­panded in­ter­na­tional foot­print has lofty pro­jec­tions – to dou­ble pro­duc­tion of boots alone over the next five years, from the 200,000 cur­rently cre­ated lo­cally each year. As it stands, 80 per cent of R.M. Wil­liams’ of­fer­ings still come from the out­erAde­laide fac­tory at Sal­is­bury, as it’s been since 1973. The site – also dou­bling as a mu­seum and store – sees work­ers knock­ing out about 700 boots each day.

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