New & Lingwood: In discussion with The Rake
Carolyn Springett, the Chief Executive of New & Lingwood, has three golden rules in business. They will serve her well as she guides the 150-year-old brand into a competitive and digital future.
“There is a wit to Englishness... I want that to come through in our personality.”— Carolyn Springett
Too often these days, British brands talk to me in the tone of the besieged. There is always an issue beyond their control — rent, supply, etc — that requires a reconsideration of strategy and redirection of investment. The glimmer of hope is the emergence of a luxury that necessitates the kind of understatement, quality and prominence that only the British can provide. One heritage brand that seemed the most vulnerable has emerged as an outlier of the trend and has seen numbers verging on the extraordinary. New & Lingwood are a marvel, they ooze the charm and elegance of the Burlington Arcade’s Victorian and Regency origins that are sought-after around the world. They are a cosy riposte to the sterile criteria of the Candy & Candy generation, and to cap it off they make great clothes. Always have done. After 152 years, their mission —to revive the importance of classic style and make it more relevant than ever, while refusing to compromise on the quality of the craftsmanship and fabrics —is successful largely to their Chief Executive, Carolyn Springett. Carolyn’s career has spanned the high street and high luxury. She oversees a brand that has witnessed new injections of investment and ever increasing demand for provenance and reliance. It is testament to her hard work and her team that New & Lingwood has experienced such a global rise in interest and commercial success, so The Rake talked to her to discover her methods and motivations...
I am essentially a creative person, textile and design trained. I moved through my career into the commercial side of things through big corporates like Marks & Spencer and Next, where I started my career into more medium size businesses and going from high street into premium and luxury brands, like Jaeger & Aquascutum and decided to consult, which is how I came across New & Lingwood. They engaged me initially as a consultant, then asked me to join the business as C.E.O.
The luxury engagement for me really started with Jaeger and latterly Aquascutum, where I was M.D. I think that that’s where I became engaged in the luxury market, and from my point of view I found that that really excited me and really connected with me personally. I felt it was a place where my personal sensibilities connected with what I was doing from a business perspective.
I am lucky in that I have always loved what I do, but at Jaeger and Aquascutum I felt that I could bring more of myself to what I was doing rather than keeping that business head on. Now it is a combination of my creative self and my business head, which means that I can be more effective in doing what I am doing in the business, as there is that connection there.
The business of luxury was challenging in comparison to what I was doing before, because in some ways it was very behind. I would say luxury is very inward looking. In the digital context, actually you could say the world of luxury has not faced up to the changes that have been happening in the market, it has been very late in catching up. Yes, there are some that have managed to do that, more than others, but actually a lot of the big houses relied on bricks on mortar, ‘it’s the experience that matters, the touch and feel of it’ approach, but I think now they have started to understand that it’s not one thing or the other, it’s the whole thing combined, and I think that’s fundamental.
I am sold on New & Lingwood because it is a small menswear company that is 152 years old, has a fantastic heritage that has not been tampered with, has an incredibly loyal clientele, a story that is rich, but nobody has looked at it and thought, How do we take this core foundation and actually do something exciting, wonderful and creative with it? To actually make something that is a real unique proposition.
New & Lingwood is a very small business; I think to some extent there was an element that the way the business was run before our new owners bought it in 2015 —it was run, and I say this in the nicest possible way, by an owner who looked inward and just wanted it to be a successful business in its own shell. Now we are looking at it as a business that is outward looking. But to that end there is a limited pot of money that we can spend on it, so we have to make sure that what we do with it pays and we get maximum bang for our buck, and we are careful about what we do.
The demographic of New & Lingwood has changed, its roots are quintessentially English, the sense and style of ‘Englishness’ is still widely admired and desirable globally. There is a wit to Englishness, and I would like that to come through in the New & Lingwood personality and character. The proportion of international clients has increased largely based on our online strategy. To that end, you want to retain all the things that makes the brand quintessentially British but you have to run the business differently because you have a different customer profile. Things like the type of products that they want to buy, the seasonality of the products, the colour range, the fabrications you choose. We used to sell our core blazer being a structured English product. We still have that core blazer, but we have a more modern blazer that is unlined and slightly more deconstructed, more suitable for an international client, and it is working really well.
I have a business that I love that can grow and that satisfies my commercial acumen, and I can use my entrepreneurship to drive it on a macro level. But I also have that feel for it where I feel I can work closely with the brilliant team, but I can add another dimension to it. I like to manage at the macro level, I think it is really important for people to feel fulfilled in their roles. However, I have that creative energy and vision that I know where I want the brand to go.
Simon Maloney is my brand director. We sit down and go through the full collections, looking at and feeling the fabrics. I see the garments, I am there at the photoshoots, it’s really important that I have a view of how I want them to look, because, if anything, I want to give the team the confidence to push this further and faster than they have done before. If we want to change, develop and grow, they need to have the confidence of a creative vision that can take them where we want it to be. I feel I know where I want it to be so I have to be there pushing gently and sometimes not so gently.
“My golden rules are never tell anyone to do something that you aren’t prepared to do yourself; it is better to have a point of view than none at all; and it is important to always retain a sense of humour.”— Carolyn Springett
I think there is this huge danger for a drive for commerciality, this drive for bottom-line profit, which drives people to source in places where they wouldn’t usually source, like moving to China. You might be buying at a bigger profit margin on paper, but in reality you are losing money. I think that is a real danger for British brands, this drive for profit on paper. But really you need to make sure you are making the right moves for the business.
Stay true to your values and core DNA. But at the same time don’t lose that creative vision. I don’t mean just about the product, I think a creative vision needs to be incorporated for all the senses. One has to be innovative, one has to be entrepreneurial, if you don’t take risks you are never going to win, and I think you have to take risks to move things forward. To stand still is the worst possible thing, you are going backwards if you are standing still. Sometimes you just have to be bold and make your move, and that’s what I want to do at New & Lingwood. I’m not worried about standing out so long as we are standing out for the right reasons. We are about that loyal customer who can come and continually add to their wardrobe, we can evolve their look for them, we can help style the customer. I consider New & Lingwood to be accessible luxe — for us it’s important to be both aspirational and accessible to as wide an audience as possible.
The biggest change I’ve made as C.E.O., firstly, is changing the way the business conducts itself. Everyone just got on with what they thought they ought to be doing. And yet somehow it didn’t all connect up, whereas to my mind every part of the business needs to seamlessly connect, because together that business is stronger and things can be done more easily. To my mind I think I brought the business together and everyone knows what I want from the business, but also what the business strategy is, so they know where we are going, therefore they know what part they need to play in making that happen. In making that happen, and we are seeing great results, they gain in confidence and motivation.
Secondly, we have really made the product first and foremost. If the team understand the product, if they like the product, if they wear the product, they understand how it’s put together and they can pass that confidence and enthusiasm onto the customer. It’s really fundamental.
Thirdly is about being outward looking. Taking inspiration from what’s going on in the world, what’s going on in London, what’s going on internationally. I have travelled to the U.S. and Asia with New & Lingwood, starting to talk to people outside the business — and there is a whole appetite out there.
I have learnt that you have to have the courage of your convictions, and stand up for what you believe in.