‘Lux­ury is some­thing that is unique’

Candice Fragis, the buy­ing and mer­chan­dis­ing di­rec­tor at Far­fetch, is di­rect­ing the fu­ture of fash­ion

The Globe and Mail (Prairie Edition) - - GLOBE STYLE - JEANNE BEKER jbeker@globe­and­mail.com @Jean­ne_Beker

T he con­cept of re­tail is trans­form­ing at light­en­ing speed, right along with our no­tion of what lux­ury means. Lon­don-based Candice Fragis lives in the eye of that storm. As the buy­ing and mer­chan­dis­ing di­rec­tor for Far­fetch – one of the world’s most pop­u­lar on­line lux­ury fash­ion re­tail­ers – Fragis has her fin­ger on the pulse of the in­dus­try, deal­ing with more than 750 bou­tiques in 40 dif­fer­ent coun­tries who all sell their wares on the dig­i­tal su­per-plat­form.

This past June, Far­fetch part­nered with pub­lisher Condé Nast, re­sult­ing in rich ed­i­to­rial con­tent be­ing used on the site. It was also an­nounced that the e-com­merce com­pany JD.com bought a stake in Far­fetch for $397-mil­lion dol­lars, en­sur­ing Far­fetch’s abil­ity to de­velop new re­tail tech­nol­ogy will be am­ply funded. I spoke with Candice Fragis from Lon­don re­cently about what de­fines lux­ury, and what she sees in store for high-end fash­ion’s fu­ture. Ev­ery­body is buzzing about Far­fetch’s im­pact on re­tail. How ex­hil­a­rat­ing is that? I’ve only been here for two-and-a-half years, and in that time we’ve grown over 70 per cent year-on-year. Even in terms of peo­ple, we were just un­der 400 – now there’s about 1,600, so the ex­cite­ment and the pace is pal­pa­ble. Be­ing part of some­thing that is so in­no­va­tive with its ap­proach to re­tail and fash­ion and the global per­spec­tive is in­cred­i­bly ex­cit­ing for me. When I started cov­er­ing fash­ion in the mid-1980s, there were strong re­gional style iden­ti­ties, but now it’s all mor­ph­ing to­gether in a way. Do you see dif­fer­ent re­gions re­act­ing dif­fer­ently to dif­fer­ent trends or has it all fi­nally come to­gether? No, it’s def­i­nitely not all come to­gether. But there’s a lot more of it than there was in the ‘80s, and you’re right – that was such a pro­lific time for re­gional style, and I think that feel­ing of dis­cov­ery then was just so much big­ger. The trends ab­so­lutely cross over and the world is just much smaller, with all the ac­cess we now have. But you def­i­nitely do see dif­fer­ent points of view and dif­fer­ent re­ac­tions to brands and to prod­uct in dif­fer­ent re­gions. What we’ll see sell­ing in the U.S., for ex­am­ple, can be quite dif­fer­ent to what’s sell­ing in Asia, and that goes across siz­ing, brands, and the type of prod­uct that the cus­tomer is buy­ing. There’s so much of a dif­fer­ent point of view, and you re­ally see that with the buys.

How do you de­fine lux­ury today? For me per­son­ally, lux­ury is some­thing that is unique. It’s about the qual­ity of the prod­uct. It’s about the ex­e­cu­tion, the pro­duc­tion. I’m very in­ter­ested in sus­tain­abil­ity, in sourc­ing, in ar­ti­sans, and in pure de­sign process. I love hav­ing the ethos and the per­son­al­ity of who is cre­at­ing the prod­uct, and hav­ing an un­der­stand­ing of that whole process be­hind what the brand is. For the ma­jor­ity of the big brands we sell, their pro­duc­tion is fan­tas­tic and the qual­ity of ma­te­ri­als are great, but it’s very ac­ces­si­ble. I think where we’re mov­ing to right now in the world of lux­ury is how you can have that unique point of dif­fer­ence. And I think per­son­al­iza­tion comes into that a lot. More unique items are very much where we’re go­ing: Cus­tomiza­tion and per­son­al­iza­tion. That in­di­vid­ual stamp on an item is be­com­ing what is now more lux­u­ri­ous than just the ‘It’ bag. I think we passed out of that phase. How adamant are peo­ple about sup­port­ing lo­cal­lypro­duced prod­ucts? For me, in terms of sourc­ing and pick­ing out those brands, it’s al­ways been a per­sonal pas­sion. It’s some­thing we do a lot of on Far­fetch as well. We kind of um­brella them in the term called ‘Shop the World’; we’re look­ing at who we can find from lo­cal mar­kets that are only re­ally ac­ces­si­ble in those mar­kets, and we’re then giv­ing them that global win­dow, which I love. We’ve taken ini­tia­tives to look at how we can ac­tu­ally find and sup­port emerg­ing tal­ent and these lo­cal brands. I think that there’s a huge mar­ket for that. The ad­vanced lux­ury cus­tomer wants that, be­cause it speaks to that point of dif­fer­ence and that unique­ness. It feeds that emo­tional sense of dis­cov­ery as well. Is there a lit­mus test that makes you want to part­ner up with a re­tailer? It’s a cou­ple of fac­tors. The first thing is the bor­ing stuff, which is the lo­gis­tics. Can they ac­tu­ally ful­fill or­ders for our cus­tomers? Can we set them up? But it comes down to their brand of­fer and their ac­cess to what they’re sell­ing, mak­ing sure that it’s in line with where we see growth, and where we’d like to add value to the site. We don’t want to have any­one com­pro­mis­ing be­cause Far­fetch is a mar­ket­place. You’re putting in your trust, and you’re cre­at­ing a part­ner­ship with these bou­tiques so they re­ally need to be on the same wave­length as you in terms of de­liv­ery and in terms of prod­uct se­lec­tion. So we re­ally pri­mar­ily will look at the brands that first we would like more of, and make sure that their brand mix is a com­pelling and com­pre­hen­sive brand mix, and then for that ex­tra point of dif­fer­ence. Also, the phys­i­cal space is rel­a­tively im­por­tant as well be­cause you’re di­rect­ing cus­tomers there ul­ti­mately. You don’t nec­es­sar­ily see which bou­tique you are buy­ing the prod­uct from, but one of the things that I love is that sense of dis­cov­ery when I or­der some­thing. Each pack­age is de­liv­ered and pre­sented quite dif­fer­ently. The out­side box is al­ways Far­fetch, but you open it and you can be open­ing it into the world of this bou­tique – how­ever they have cho­sen to wrap it and how­ever they’ve cho­sen to add some de­tail, whether that’s a hand­writ­ten note or a lit­tle pot­pourri rose or some­thing. I’ve had loads of dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ences. It’s al­ways quite a draw to wow the con­sumer like that. I love the fact that you carry vin­tage items on Far­fetch. It’s one of the cat­e­gories that ex­cites me the most, for a lot of rea­sons. Vin­tage is the first time around of the trends that are so cycli­cal, that we keep see­ing again and again. Every five to 10 years, some­thing will be com­ing back, and I love hav­ing the orig­i­nal or just that older take on it, be­cause for me, that’s very unique. It’s a one-off and it’s much less generic. You’re not go­ing to see any­one else in it, and I love the emo­tion and the ro­mance of that story. This in­ter­view has been con­densed and edited. Spe­cial to The Globe and Mail

STYLE BOSS E-com­merce exec Candice Fragis says the on­line shop­ping boom is ex­tend­ing the reach of trends while cre­at­ing a mar­ket for lo­cally-made items.

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