Whistles Makes It Work
Contemporary U.K.-based brand Whistles has made some big moves since British retail veteran Jane Shepherdson came on board as CEO in 2008—the least of which is its new crisp and feminine Resort ’14 collection. “It kind of continues the Whistles aesthetic, which is an effortless, cool way of dressing,” offered Shepherdson of the range—buttery leather sweatshirts, skirts, and trousers; a relaxed waffle-weave tie coat; and a host of light, mohair knits—which debuts exclusively here. No doubt the sleek rosebud, crystal blue, black, and white wares will appeal to the increasingly sophisticated Whistles customer, who has evolved quite a bit over the past four years. “When we started, if I’m really honest, I think she was in her 50s,” offered Shepherdson. “She’s changed enormously. I would say now, the average age is 35, and she’s someone who is confident, independent, creative, and professional.” The CEO added that she sees her clientele mixing Whistles’ Resort collection—whose leathers and coats are priced between $300 and $650—with pieces from designers like Phillip Lim, Balenciaga, or Céline: “That’s the modern way of dressing, isn’t it?”
Last season, the brand held its first ready-to-wear presentation during London fashion week. And for Spring ’14, it will host its debut full-blown runway show, set for September 14. “We need to get more people to see the brand and what we’re doing. We’re expanding internationally, and this is the only time when all the press and buyers are in town,” said Shepherdson. We’ve already seen this international push kick into gear, since Whistles has, over the past year, opened stores or begun selling at locations in China, Russia, and Paris. And—thanks to popular demand—the next stop on Whistles’ world tour is the U.S. of A. “About 5 percent of our online sales come from the States, which is way ahead of any country [other than the U.K.],” said Shepherdson. The collection will be available in a yet-to-be-named New York department store come Spring ’14, and a Manhattan stand-alone shop is in the works for 2015. Whistles also plans to branch out to such cities as Boston, Washington, D.C., and Chicago, and later, the West Coast.
Naturally, Shepherdson, who worked with Topshop for twenty-two years before heading to Whistles, did her research before igniting her New York plans. “I am very aware that lots of people do it, and lots of people fail. It’s a bigger market, and you have to be aware of that,” she explained, citing Sandro and Maje as companies with successful U.S. expansion stories. “And you have to understand the differences, and try not to force your Britishness on people.” However, it doesn’t seem that the U.S. Whistles woman will be so dissimilar to her counterpart across the pond. “I think American women will love the brand—they go for that slightly sporty, clean look. And I think Whistles will be great there.”