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The Prodigal Label: Thomas Burberry Line Relaunches in the U.K.

LONDON — Burberry has a new baby for Britain — and eventually perhaps the rest of the world.The company’s relaunched Thomas...

LONDON — Burberry has a new baby for Britain — and eventually perhaps the rest of the world.

The company’s relaunched Thomas Burberry line is ready to make its U.K. debut, building off an existing strong customer base in Spain and Portugal. In its latest incarnation, the collection is full of collegiate, youthful classics — with a Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys feel to it.

But there’s no mystery to the brand’s potential. While Burberry executives declined to reveal sales targets, at least one analyst estimates the line could reach worldwide sales of $100 million in the longterm based on the success Thomas Burberry has had in Iberia. It would be another important leg in thecontinuing evolution of the brand being overseen by Burberry’s chief executive officer Rose Marie Bravo and her team, and would add a hefty sum to the company’ssales last year of about $730 million.

Thomas Burberry, which is priced 30 to 40 percent below Burberry’s core London collection, is aimed at women and men 16 to 30 years old. It is designed by a newly formed creative team overseen by the brand’s design director Christopher Bailey.

Starting in August, it will be sold through U.K. stores including Urban Outfitters, Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Selfridges — but not at Burberry shops. At Selfridges, it will be sold on the third floor alongside Earl Jean, Maharishi and Juicy Couture. There are no immediate plans for stand-alone Thomas Burberry stores, the company said.

Bravo said it was time to bring back the ThomasBurberry line in the U.K. after a two-year absence.The line was put on hold in Britain as Bravo’s teamfocused on revamping the core London collectionand also the development of its Prorsum designerline. But the firm continued to sell ThomasBurberry in Spain and Portugal, which are its twomain markets.

“We wanted first to digest the changes we’re makingwith the core lines, and then focus on Thomas Burberry,”she told WWD in a telephone interview. “We also wanted torethink the Thomas Burberry line, and ensure that it was coherent with the other Burberry collections. We wantedit to evolve naturally out of those collections.”

In the past, the Thomas Burberry line was item driven rather than design driven, and was focused mainly onmen’s wear.
Bravo said that plans to distribute Thomas Burberry beyond the U.K. were still in their early stages. “We may test a few items in the U.S., but for the moment we’re focusing on the U.K. market.” It is understood that the next step for Thomas Burberry will be the rest ofcontinental Europe.

Bravo said the line has been a solid success in Spain and Portugal and generates about 15 percent of Burberry’s overall sales in the Iberian peninsula. Prices of the new collection range from $256 to $478 for jackets, and from $96 to $208 for knitwear.

Based on its success in Iberia, analysts believeBurberry could have another hit on its hands. “Itshould not be difficult to bring sales to $100 millionin the long term, with worldwide distribution,” one London-based analyst said.

The collection boasts a jaunty flag logo with 1835emblazoned on it, the year of company founder Thomas Burberry’s birth.

Both the men’s and women’s collections have acollegiate feel with chunky knits, rugby jerseysand sweatshirts bearing Thomas Burberry logosand patches. There are swingy plaid cottonminiskirts and slim cotton drill trousers. The outerwearis rugged and sporty: Montgomery coats, military-inspired jackets and other jackets and coats with industrial hardware closures and toggles. Accessories include rucksacks, backpacks and signature mufflers.

While Burberry has over the past five years extendedits London collection by injecting more denim pieces, T-shirts and sporty knits, it views the Thomas Burberry line as younger and more casual than much of the London collection. In addition, Thomas Burberry does not use the signature Burberry plaid, which is reserved for the Londonand Prorsum lines.

Technically, this is the third go-round for Thomas Burberry in the U.K. The line was launched in September 1988 as a women’s and men’s separates and outerwear collection priced 20 to 30 percent below the main line. At the time, Thomas Burberry was introduced in the U.K. marketvia a 1,200-square-foot department in Burberry’s flagshipstore on Regent Street. The plan was to wholesale the lineworldwide and create a string of in-store shops. Two yearslater, it was available in 22 Burberry stores in Europe aswell as Selfridges.

However, the planned aggressive rollout never occurred. At the time, industry observers said that Burberry had a hard time keeping the Thomas Burberry line separate from its main collection and was concerned that Thomas Burberry was eating into the sales of its core business —which was struggling to capture a younger customer. But in 1996, Burberry opened the first freestanding store for Thomas Burberry, a 1,400-square-foot unit on Regent Street, not far from its flagship. It was supposed to be the first in a string of stores worldwide, including New York, but the plans never took shape and the line was put on hold in Britain after Bravo and her team came onboard. Meanwhile, it continued to grow in Spain and Portugal, where Burberry’s then-licensee(which it later acquired) built the line into a major casualwear business competing against brands like Gap and Polo.
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