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Bringing Ghost back to life

As it prepares to launch new stores, Drapers talks to Ghost London’s creative director Sameera Azeem about breathing new life into the womenswear brand.

Contemporary womenswear label Ghost London was once synonymous with effortless style. Founded in 1984 by designer Tanya Sarne, it quickly became known for its flattering and feminine dresses. By the 1990s, it was the go-to label for stylish women who wanted to look good without trying too hard, and its bias-cut slip dresses had gained cult status. At the height of its powers, Ghost had 33 stores across the UK, had expanded into new product categories such as perfume, and was a staple of London Fashion Week.

But retail is a fickle business. Ghost was sold to entrepreneur Kevin Stanford in 2006, and Sarne departed for new ventures shortly after. The brand struggled to maintain its momentum and, by 2008, Ghost had to be rescued from administration by Touker Suleyman, the owner of womenswear supplier Low-Profile, which works with high street retailers such as Monsoon and Marks & Spencer, and tailoring brand Hawes & Curtis.

Fast-forward to the present, and new life has been breathed into Ghost. Sales at the brand are up by 33% compared with 2017, and online sales have jumped by 43%. Traffic to its website has grown by 31% compared with last year, and its five wholesale stockists include luxury department store Selfridges, which began carrying Ghost for the first time last April. New stores are also in the works – it currently has a flagship on Chelsea’s King’s Road, and is planning a further two London stores before the end of this year.

The goal from the design side was to rediscover the handwriting of the brand

Sameera Azeem

Ghost’s resurgence has been overseen by Sameera Azeem, who took the reins as creative director three years ago. Previously head of design at Low-Profile Azeem has been quietly experimenting with print and new shapes.

“It has been a hard three years,” she tells Drapers. “The goal from the design side of the business was to rediscover the handwriting of the brand. It had lost its way, and Ghost’s DNA had been watered down, so we had to find a way to elevate the label and make it a relevant fashion brand again. It was about getting the customer to understand what we stand for again.”

Aware of the risk of changing too much, too quickly, and cautious of alienating Ghost’s existing customers, Azeem chose instead to take a slow-and-steady approach.

Ghost aw18 (25)

Azeem has introduced print into Ghost’s offer

“We have it done it slowly,” she adds. “We kept the Ghost that everyone knew, but quietly trialled new things. Ghost was known for never doing print, for example, but we slowly introduced prints alongside some more fashionable shapes. Each season we’d drop in something new, and taking that approach gave us confidence. I took a risk for spring 18 and introduced even more print, because I knew we were selling it, and that really paid off for us.”

Young girls in our store will spend £145, but it has to be worth it and it has to be the right product

Sameera Azeem

Tweaking Ghost’s pricing architecture has also helped the heritage brand attract a new, younger customer. Retail prices for dresses now range from £95 to £195, compared with a £145 entry point previously.

“It’s tough in the mid-market, and reducing the brand’s prices has definitely helped improve our volumes,” Azeem explains. “We see young girls coming into our store on King’s Road, and they will spend £145, but it has to be worth it and it has to be the right product.”

Even at its new, reduced price point, the brand sits towards the top end of the high street. To encourage shoppers to part with their cash, Azeem and her six-strong design team ensure dresses can be worn for a variety of occasions and can transcend seasons.

“Our customer likes easy styling. They want to throw on a dress and wear it with trainers during the day, and then be able to wear it into the evening. Ghost dresses need to have a dual purpose, so we make sure they can be layered with other pieces. Now we’re going into the transitional season, there is some black in the patterns, so they can be paired with tights and boots.”

All fashion brands will experience an ebb and flow in their fortunes as tastes change and easily distracted customers hunt for the next big thing. Taking brave choices and putting product front and centre has helped Ghost to win over a new generation of fans.

As Azeem concludes: “We just have to keep delivering on product. We have to be confident in our handwriting and make sure we are putting the right thing in front of our customers.”

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