Drapers takes a trip to Oxford Street to compare the in-house fashion offer at department stores John Lewis and House of Fraser.
Own-brand womenswear sales proved the jewel in John Lewis’s festive-trading crown in 2017, but it was a very different story at rival House of Fraser. Chief executive Alex Williamson admitted that house brand sales had been lacklustre, explaining that although the retailer had been tweaking its own ranges throughout the year, it still had ‘loads of work to do.’ Drapers took a trip to the capital’s shopping hub, Oxford Street, to compare and contrast the two department store in-house offers.
John Lewis managing director Paula Nickolds has driven the retailer’s strategy to heavily invest in the representation and development of its own-brand ranges, and this is clearly in evidence at the Oxford Street flagship. Visual merchandising is particularly impressive around womenswear brand Modern Rarity, which launched in 2016 and has been billed as an “antidote to fast fashion”. Dark navy walls, trendy marble vases and copper accents combine to create a modern-looking, polished space. There is also well-placed signage detailing the brand’s autumn 17 coat collaboration with Korea-born designer Eudon Choi.
A few stores down at House of Fraser there are fewer quirky touches, but the visual merchandising is still appealing. The retailer’s own brand womenswear selections, which include Label Lab, Biba and Issa, are given plenty of space and the area feels bright, airy and easy to shop.
Where John Lewis has the real edge is product. Although there are well-designed pieces at HoF – a Biba long-sleeved blouse in on-trend yellow (£59) feels good quality, and Issa wrap dresses and jumpsuits are eye-catching – in places the offer feels samey.
In comparison, although prices at Modern Rarity are on the high side (£190 for an Italian cashmere jumper), product feels fresh and relevant to the John Lewis customer. This continues across the different ranges. A green Breton stripe top from Kin by John Lewis (£45) is an example of the good wardrobe staples on offer.
Crucially, John Lewis has also continued to evolve its own brand offer. At the time of Drapers’ visit, a significant amount of space is given over to a new spring 18 athleisure-inspired collaboration with pattern specialists Patternity, and interested customers are milling around the monochrome designs.
Customers can buy many of the brands stocked at department stores through myriad competitors and channels, making exclusive own-brand offers more important than ever. For example, premium womenswear brand Mint Velvet is stocked by both John Lewis and House of Fraser, but can also be found at Next, Zalando and Fenwick, and through its own stores and transactional website.
John Lewis is currently winning the department store own brand battle, but HoF’s Williamson has stressed the retailer’s commitment to own brands and determination to improve the offer. John Lewis could also face increasing competition to its Modern Rarity brand – Next’s own designer collaboration range Label/Mix launched last September and features designers such as Rejina Pyo. There can be no standing still for department stores. Let the battle commence.
Barbara Magoch, 32, west London
I think department store own brands are quite good, and they’re normally better-priced than other brands. I think John Lewis and House of Fraser have good stuff and even Debenhams has nice things. I have purchased own brands before from Debenhams and John Lewis – normally for dresses and tops – and the price and quality is good. I go for what I like rather than where brands are from.
Steph Switzer, 21, ManchesterI don’t really think much of department store own brands. It’s not something that I choose to go to a store to buy. I just think the brands and clothes on offer aren’t for my generation. Older people are used to going to department stores because that’s all they used to have, but now there’s so much more on the high street as well as online. If there was more press about the own brands, maybe I would shop there more.