“We saw a gap in the market for fashion product,” said Jonny Mitchell, managing director of legwear for Pretty Polly’s parent company, Courtaulds Brands Ltd. “We came [to the U.S. in 2011] with packaging and products that didn’t really exist in the [category] at that time. It was something different in a market that had no shortage of hosiery, but didn’t have a lot of fashion hosiery.”
He noted that the label’s business so far has increased about 80 percent each year here. Pretty Polly, which has a total door count of 5,000, is in 800 U.S. stores, including Nordstrom and Urban Outfitters. The brand next will debut its first American designer collaboration, with Alice & Olivia, in September.
The edgy and eclectic designs Pretty Polly has become known for here represent a decidedly different side of the business from back home in England. The brand bowed in Nottingham in 1919 with a focus on basic legwear.
But Courtaulds’ sales, marketing and product director, Jane Gwyther, is quick to point out that, despite its more pragmatic beginnings, Pretty Polly always had a reputation for innovation. “Pretty Polly was one of the first [legwear brands] to pioneer elastomeric yarns, or Lycra, into hosiery,” she said. “We were also one of the first to [embrace] tights coming into the U.K. in the 1960s, when [the mini-skirt emerged as a dominant trend].”
Today, Pretty Polly faces its share of challenges in its home country. Mitchell cited a sluggish retail climate, aggressive discounting and a spate of stores developing in-house labels. The brand tackles those issues with a focus on moderately priced, basic items in the U.K., he said. “It’s all about maintaining at the moment,” Gwyther added. “We are making sure we offer great value in what we classify as the core business: opaques, shaping and sheers. It is about offering a fashion story and being very good at delivering great packaging and theater, but it’s also about being able to deliver great value when the market isn’t quite as buoyant as it was three years ago.”
In contrast, in the U.S., Pretty Polly still emphasizes fashion product, with the goal of generating brand recognition and pushing its retail presence. In addition to availability at major department stores such as Nordstrom, Dillard’s and Macy’s, the legwear label is building a presence in independents and e-tailers including California-based Karmaloop.com and Revolveclothing.com.
“Pretty Polly has the perfect mix of fashion and classics for our customer,” said Revolve Clothing’s head buyer, Lauren Yerkes, noting the e-commerce site picked up the label a year ago.
A certain amount of celebrity cachet also has boosted the brand’s visibility here. Envelope-pushing styles from Pretty Polly’s 4-year-old design partnership with London-based label House of Holland have already appeared on Katy Perry, Paris Hilton and Khloé Kardashian. And Mitchell said he expects the upcoming collaboration with Alice & Olivia, which features a combination of career basics, semi-sheer styles and novelty looks for $32 to $120, to snag additional high-profile fans.
“The positioning we are taking this autumn is to continue with great collaborations,” he said. “House of Holland allowed Pretty Polly to get out there as a celebrity status symbol [in the U.K.], and it allowed us to become what we are now — a fashion brand. We’re doing a similar thing with Alice & Olivia [in the U.S.] now.”
So far, department stores such as Nordstrom and smaller retailers including Revolve Clothing will carry the fall ’13 Alice & Olivia by Pretty Polly range. At Revolve, Yerkes was upbeat about the collaboration. “[Pretty Polly has] partnered with great brands,” she said. “[These are] brands that our customer is [already] familiar with.”
For its part, Alice & Olivia is looking at the pairing as a growth opportunity. The New York-based fashion house projects that this first foray into hosiery could generate more than $25 million in sales over the next three years, according to the brand’s president, Deanna Berkeley.
And Mitchell noted that collaborations will be a major focus for Pretty Polly over the next few seasons, including some still-in-the-works partnerships for 2014. The label’s stateside success, he added, depends on both creating new product and pushing the value and visibility of core items. “It’s through innovation and brand awareness that Pretty Polly has survived until today,” he said.