Provenance and Private Brand

This second post  is from frequent contributor, Tess Wickstead, Strategy Director of the international design agency Pearlfisher. The post comes courtesy of our sister site the first site to focus on licensed, exclusive and Private Brands in fashion and beauty: Prêt a Marque.

My last piece focused on why Private Brand retail needs to assert its voice and fill its space. But Private Brands also need to use their voice to effectively tell their story and leverage their provenance and legacy. Asserting ones provenance is nothing new in the world of branding and design. However, brand provenance is especially interesting in a world where brands must be desirable across a number of diverse cultures.

Whether inherent or explicit, a reference to origin has always featured as a highly desirable and unique attribute of exclusive and desirable brands – from its presence on logos and labels to other visual equities and forms of communication. Think Burberry, Uniqlo, American Apparel.

Today, our market is cluttered with brands telling various stories of provenance. But how we tell this story will start to change now that new retail worlds are opening up to us with global audiences driven by cultural diversity. Cutting through the noise with an authentic expression becomes even more vital and retailers must understand which elements of their provenance to focus on.

Let’s consider the iconic – and historic – department stores Bloomingdale’s in the US and Harvey Nichols in the UK. Both are revered for remaining true to their roots and rightly trading on the associations of their heritage. And both have transferred this to stores in overseas markets. Harvey Nichols now has stores in Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Hong Kong and Turkey. Similarly Bloomingdales has launched a store in the Dubai Mall.

Bloomingdale’s have stayed ahead of the curve by understanding the importance of cherishing tradition with finding new ways to create difference as evidenced in the evolution of – and desirability of – the infamous Bloomie’s Little Brown Bag. The Dubai store replicates the shopping experience of the group’s mammoth flagship Manhattan store, down to the shop’s signature black and white chequered floor, but offers certain brands – specifically targeting the Dubai demographic – as exclusives to this store. From summer 2011, Bloomingdale’s expanded their offer of a global experience still further by announcing it was shipping to 91 countries.

Similarly, Harvey Nichols understands the power of the red, blue and white union jack, which has been designed into the front window of the Hong Kong store. Its English heritage is also referenced by the Norman Foster designed Saudi Arabian store. However Middle Eastern culture is celebrated across many touch-points for example the destination restaurant in the Dubai store, Almaz by Momo.

Our much-loved retail icons and Private Brands have a great story to tell but need to look at the most apposite way of both revolutionizing the definition of their brand provenance and the ideals and demands of the current market and culture. This opens up many exciting branding opportunities.

However, success is no longer necessarily just about literal roots and origin but about a positioning of values and messages. And this presents another route for brands.

Waitrose, for example, has also launched stores overseas but focuses on their values of being a brand that is all about quality, variety and fresh food of the absolute highest standard.

Perhaps the real message – and opportunity – doesn’t only lie in new ways to logo, label and safeguard a brands known heritage, but in allowing retailers to display the kind of provocative and challenging behavior that made them so special in the first place. With the continuing emergence of powerful new markets, private brands need to embrace the opportunity for real open mindedness and find authentic and exciting ways to celebrate provenance in new worlds.

Tess Wicksteed, Strategy Director, Pearlfisher
Tess’s great talent is the instant ability to see the wood for the trees. As the creative force behind Pearlfisher’s strategic offer, she trades in originality, clarity and logic, getting to the point fast and delivering strategy that’s both creative and cohesive. A longstanding Pearlfisher person, Tess was Strategy Director in London for ten years before relocating with her family for a brand new challenge in New York.

As a literature student at York, Sussex and Cambridge Universities, Tess was keen to become first a clown, then a teacher. However, it was her belief that good culture matters that finally led to a career in design and an ongoing commitment to creating powerful brands that contribute positively to the world. Short and sharp in all things, Tess balances refreshing bluntness with disarming humanity. Her presence on a project promises fireworks – and guarantees results.



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Christopher Durham
Christopher Durham is the president of My Private Brand and the co-founder of The Vertex Awards. He is a strategist, author, consultant and retailer who built brands at Delhaize-owned Food Lion, and lead strategy and brand development for Lowe’s Home Improvement. He has consulted with retailers around the world on their private brand portfolios including: Family Dollar, Petco, Staples, Office Depot, Best Buy, Metro (Canada), TLW (Taiwan) and Hola (Taiwan). Durham has published five definitive books on private brands, including his first book, Fifty2: The My Private Brand Project. In 2017, he will debut his newest book, Vanguard: Vintage Originals, a visual tour of innovation and disruption in private brand going back to the mid-1800’s. Dynamic in his presentation while down to earth and frank in his opinions, he has presented at numerous conferences, including FUSE, The Dieline Conference, Packaging that Sells, Omnishopper and PLMA’a annual trade show in Chicago. Durham lives in Charlotte, NC with his wife, Laraine, and two daughters, Olivia and Sarah.