London multibrand retailer Browns is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2020. We caught up virtually with Buying Director Ida Petersson to talk promising young talent, post-corona trends and how the pandemic has affected her side of the industry.
Swedish-born Ida Petersson – Browns’ Buying Director – is known for her knack of discovering and supporting young talent, and she was also instrumental in bringing the progressive sister concept Browns East to life in 2017. Here, she lets us in on the designers and trends on her radar – and how she’s adapted to the effects of the pandemic.
Promoting new talent – and presenting these alongside established names – has always been Browns’ forte. When picking new designers, what are the criteria?
The criteria remain the same and we have a very clear idea what we’re looking for. Designers must have a unique point of view, with collections that feel relevant and provide a new perspective. We’re not looking for Bottega 2.0, but something with a unique sense of identity, and then we really work hard to showcase these new talents.
What new names are on your radar and what makes them stand out?
Marine Serre, though she’s been around for a few seasons, is going from strength to strength while LA-based Maisie Wilen really appeals to the young street clientele. Casablanca’s knitwear is taking off, and the brand’s due to release womenswear for SS21. On the UK home turf, Ahluwalia and Nicolas Daley are two phenomenal talents about to break through. AGR does incredibly cool cashmere cardigans, while Icelandic talent Arnar Már Jónsson creates unique technical outerwear for men. Danish brand Rotate is happening, too.
It’s been a challenge not getting to see the clothes or touch and feel the fabrics. If I set out to buy something from a brand we’ve worked with for a long time, say, a suit from Saint Laurent, I know what I’ll be getting, even without touching it, obviously it’s a different story with an emerging brand. But the creativity we’ve seen from young designers in particular has been phenomenal so they’ve managed to inspire us in other ways. Two digital shows that were particularly impressive were those created by Maximillian Davis and Molly Goddard.
As for supporting our young designers during this difficult time, we’ve been having ongoing conversations. The crisis in 2008 was a challenge, too, but nowhere near as bad as the pandemic. Still, even back then you really had to think on your feet, just like you do now. It’s all about coming together and figuring out how best to proceed. We’ve made sure not to cancel any orders, but we’ve been respectful and understanding to designers who’ve decided to cancel collections or skip a season. We’ll be here for them when time’s right for them to return. The issue of delayed orders has been a challenge that we’ve had to adjust to and work around, making sure to manage customers’ expectations.
Has anything positive come out of the crisis that you feel might help evolve the industry and the way you work specifically?
The way we’ve worked during the pandemic sometimes makes me wish there could be a happy medium between then and now. As a buyer – pre-pandemic, at least – you travel a big chunk of the year, and Covid-19 has forced us to re-think every level of the system, including how to work remotely.
How would you sum up the post-corona consumer attitude?
Consumers are really starting to ask question, wanting to know what they’re about to buy. Sustainability is taking off across every level of the market – even high-end brands are finding innovative ways to work more sustainably, for instance by using surplus material from previous collections. I’d say the movement is finally happening and it’ll be interesting to see how it evolves.
In terms of style, what sells well at the moment? Any lockdown hits that seem to have enduring appeal?
Anything at the casual end of the spectrum is booming, and so too performance gear. If you’re in a Zoom meeting you can rest assured most people are wearing tracksuit bottoms or leggings below screen... Chunky gold jewelry remains a hit and as for the street look, it’s getting sleeker and less logo-based. The same goes for casualwear – it’s less slogan, more lux, and not too over-styled. Again, Marine Serre’s aesthetic comes to mind – think a sleek, fitted top with loose, combat-style bottoms. We’re seeing a return of the cap, and less of the bucket hats, and as for footwear, pool slides and platforms are big.
What about sneakers – how are they evolving?
Sneakers are moving away from the chunky-soled silhouette we’ve seen for a while now, transitioning into more of a retro look. New Balance pulls this off nicely. Purely technical styles are also coming on leaps and bounds, while Balenciaga’s hiker hybrid is currently selling out. And there’s a definite Birkenstock sensibility... though you also have the sexy sports look at the other end of the spectrum.