There was a standing ovation from the fashion industry as Tom and Ruth Chapman were honoured with the Lifetime Achievement award at the Drapers Awards 2017 at Camden’s Roundhouse in London last night.
It is hard to believe that global multichannel luxury retailer Matchesfashion was founded in 1987 as a bijou boutique in Wimbledon, south London.
Behind the past 30 years of success are its charismatic founders, husband-and-wife team Tom and Ruth Chapman. Known for rolling up their sleeves and working hard, pushing digital innovation and consistently championing the best in fashion talent – as well as hosting excellent dinners – the Chapmans have carved out a unique reputation in the industry.
British designer Jonathan Saunders, who has worked closely with Matchesfashion over the years, including on limited edition collaborations, says: “Ruth and Tom have continued to inspire me over the 20 years of knowing them. They are passionate about design, they never waver from their vision and belief, they take risks, and they love and support their team. Everyone can learn from this wonderful pair.”
The winners of this year’s Drapers Award for Lifetime Achievement sold their business to private equity firm Apax in September for an undisclosed amount, rumoured to be £800m. The sale was the pinnacle of Matchesfashion’s 30th anniversary year, and such a high valuation is a testament to both its exceptional multichannel success and future growth potential.
In previous interviews, Tom has credited Ruth – who left a job at Jaeger to help him establish the business in 1987 – with driving its focus on of-the-moment luxury brands, such as Bottega Veneta, Prada and Céline, many of whom it introduced to the UK market. Today, it stocks women’s and men’s wear from more than 450 designers.
A smattering of stores have opened in London over the years, but the launch of its first transactional website in 2006 – complete with international shipping – was a pivotal moment.
In an interview with Drapers in 2011, Tom described the online store as a time-consuming “beast”. Yet, the Chapmans knew this part of the business was key to its future success – at the time it already represented 40% of sales.
Over the next 12 months £2m was invested in overhauling digital operations. Since then, online sales have grown to 95% of the total and it now ships to 176 countries. The website attracts more than 5 million unique visitors every month.
In 2013, the couple took the decision to rename the entire business as Matchesfashion.com to reflect its multichannel approach (the bricks-and-mortar stores had previously been called Matches, a name reportedly inspired by Tom’s one-time chainsmoking habit).
Today, as well as the website, it operates four multi-brand stores, a private shopping “townhouse” – another is in the pipeline – and a store for its own brand, Raey, all in London.
In its most recent published results, Matchesfashion reported a record 61% jump in turnover to £204m for the year to 31 January 2016, and said it was on track to reach £425m by 2019. The Chapmans, who married in 1992 and have three children together, retain a minority stake and are advisers to the business.
Although it is now led by chief executive Ulric Jerome, at the heart of Matchesfashion will always be the independent retailers Tom and Ruth. Their mix of foresight and hard work, and continued focus on innovation and excellent product, has helped them go from a small store in Wimbledon to an industry leading, world-class retailer.