PARIS — With fresh backing from a new investor, Officine Générale is embarking on an expansion drive and plans to take on the U.S. where it will set up stores in New York and Los Angeles.
“They came with a very fresh approach and also a very deep knowledge of the brand — without getting into the data, without having much information on the brand, they had a point of view that was extremely reassuring,” said Pierre Mahéo, designer and chief executive officer of Officine Générale, speaking to WWD about his new investors from the label’s showroom in Paris.
Mahéo, who retains a majority share of his contemporary French label, has sold a minority stake to Untitled Group, a New York-based investment fund founded by Josh Rowan and Adam Freed. The group joins BPI France, the French public investment bank that first invested in Officine Générale in 2015 and has decided to stay on for the next level of development.
“They were totally in line with the values that I have been working on for the past years — since I first started — the quality, fair production, producing in European countries with the best materials,” added Mahéo, describing the new investors who came to know the label at Barneys New York, where they shopped.
Mahéo launched the brand in 2012 with a focus on tailoring for men, and later introduced a women’s line. Known for carefully controlled proportions and high-quality materials from Italy, Japan and England, the designer’s easy, modern take on classics has earned him a loyal following with an urban crowd.
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With support from BPI France, which helped Mahéo shape his initial five-year plan, the label has built an international e-commerce platform, set up half a dozen stores — in Paris with one in London — and embarked on international expansion with LF Group in South Korea.
“We view this as an opportune time to invest in direct distribution channels, while pursuing a more global expansion strategy,” said Rowan in a statement. The executives at Untitled Group, who focus on emerging consumer brands in fashion and apparel, also cited their confidence in Mahéo’s approach, the label’s products and resonance in the U.S. market along with the global potential.
The deal was forged over half a year, a process Mahéo described as intense and demanding, that entailed days of online meetings — the designer, who was used to frequent trips to New York before the pandemic, could no longer travel there.
“We did the whole process through Zoom meetings, day after day and week after week,” he said.
Through the new partnership, plans are to open 10 stores in the next three years. In the U.S., New York is first on the list, slated for the fall, followed by Los Angeles perhaps next spring. At a later stage, San Francisco and Chicago. The U.S. has been the label’s leading export market and Mahéo has been planning to open a store in N.Y. for years.
Reflecting on consumers on the West Coast, Mahéo noted they are “pretty understated guys, not the ones to wear extreme logos — they’re not running after the shiny, gold, splashy logo, they want quality product.”
In France, plans are to open new stores in Paris, including a space on the Left Bank featuring a new concept this fall, as well as other French cities, including Lyon and Bordeaux. Elsewhere in Europe, the label is eyeing Munich, Geneva and Brussels.
“We have some of our best customers on the e-shop in Germany,” enthused Mahéo, noting the label has good wholesale accounts there, too — evidence that customers there are “waiting for us.”
The label has begun to recruit new employees for positions in e-commerce and digital marketing and recently brought back Vanessa Bonnefoux, who had previously served as the label’s chief financial officer and now becomes chief operating officer.
Mahéo said he expects the number of employees to grow from around 40 a couple of months ago to 75 this time next year.
While stores were closed during the pandemic, Officine Générale drew on its e-commerce to build business, doubling turnover through online channels to post its best year overall — by 20 percent, said Mahéo who declined to provide further figures.
“We are grateful the Parisians have been very supportive,” he said, noting that locals stepped in to fill in for business lost from the absence of foreign visitors, who normally make up around a quarter of sales for the label.
“It’s also a sign of the times, people want real products…they want fair production, they want real material and they want a price point that is decent, in line with the product,” he said.
“That’s a recipe I’ve been working on for eight years now and that recipe is more accurate than ever,” added Mahéo.
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