A new vision for Mulberry

A new vision for Mulberry

If Mulberry's new creative director Johnny Coca feels any pressure to revive the 45- year-old British brand, he is not showing it.

The 40-year- old, who made his name as an accessories designer at French label Celine, joined the company last July, at a time when its revenue and sales were sliding.

In a financial report in December 2014, the brand's total revenue dropped by 17 per cent to £64.7 million (S$126.6 million), compared with £78.1 million in 2013. Total retail sales were down by 9 per cent.

To make matters worse, the position of creative director was not filled for 17 months after British designer Emma Hill quit in June 2013 following reported disagreements with then chief executive officer Bruno Guillon.

He himself left nine months later in March 2014.

Hill, who is behind the popular Alexa bag, reportedly disagreed with Mr Guillon after he raised the price points of the brand's bags in 2012.

When asked about expectations for him to duplicate his success at Celine for Mulberry, the Spanish- born Coca sounded calm and confident.

"Everything has been okay," he says over the telephone from London, a day after his debut collection for Mulberry on Feb 21.

"I think people understood my direction for the brand in terms of the style and attitude of the girls on the runway."

Coca, who is in a relationship, joined Mulberry on July 7 last year. He was Celine's head design director for leather goods and accessories and designed the wildly popular Trapeze bag.

His new bag designs at Mulberry are more youthful, with a combination of colours and textures as well as details such as heavy chain handles and smooth studs.

However, he says he is not under pressure to create his own iconic bag, such as the brand's Bayswater and Alexa bags.

"I never want to design any iconic bag just to say I came up with something iconic. It is the customer who decides what is iconic."

Instead, his vision for Mulberry is to "bring back the global character of the Mulberry girl".

Models (both above) in designs from the Mulberry Autumn Winter 2016 collection. Photos: Mulberry

"The Mulberry girl is the girl on the street. And all the girls on the street are a mix of different nationalities and ethnicities. I never design something for just an Italian girl, for example."

Similarly, he was not daunted by having to design his first ready- to-wear collection and approached it with the same philosophy he had for his bags - "functional, cool and playful".

He says: "There is pressure all the time, but if you are a professional, you know what you are strong in.

"When working on ready-to- wear, you need to be technical and know how the fabric and leather will move. And because I was already working with fabric and leather on my accessories at Celine, I never stressed about designing ready- to-wear."

With more than 15 years of experience in accessory design, Coca brings his expertise in "construction, proportion, volume and colour" to Mulberry's bags and intends to expand the brand to Asia and the United States.

He explains: "I love how the brand is respected in Britain and I want it to have that same visibility and appeal internationally."

He plans to design bags with greater international appeal by using leather in different kinds of treatment and colours.

"In Britain, they love crafty and edgy leather because it's sturdy, while other countries prefer nappa leather because it's soft and buttery."

He also has plans to take the fashion show to Asia.

Ms Vanessa Lunt, Mulberry's press relations and events director, says: "Coca thinks Seoul would be a good location to have his first event in Asia, but I am sure for following events, they will be held in different countries - maybe Singapore or Shanghai next season?"

Ultimately, Coca wants to showcase his full vision as a designer in his new role.

"I have a new kind of flexibility and the freedom to express my global vision through the categories and departments at Mulberry."


This article was first published on March 3, 2016.
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