In 1980 Karen Millen herself went on a holiday to Morocco and fell in love. It was love at first sight. His name was Kevin Stanford and he was about to become both her romantic and her business partner. In 1981 the couple took a 100£ loan and bought one thousand metres of white cotton. Karen Millen and Kevin Stanford began manufacturing and selling white shirts to their friends. In 1983 they opened their first store in Maidstone, Kent, and throughout the nineties the brand continued to expand. In 2004 Karen and Kevin divorced each other and agreed to sell their brand. They both earned millions by selling it to the Icelandic Mosaic fashions. The dominant shareholder for Mosaic Fashions was Icelandic bank Baugur and when Baugur filed for bankruptcy in 2008, Mosaic was taken over by the administrators of Kapthing Bank and renamed Aurora Fashions. In 2011 Karen Millen was spun-out of Aurora Fashions to become an independent company.
Back in 1999 a young woman named Gemma Metheringham joined KM as a design director. Today Gemma Metheringham is the creative director at UK women’s wear brand Karen Millen.
Expanding and designing
Back in 2012 Gemma Metheringham talked about the potential for KM to expand. “We believe there is a big opportunity for us in China” Metheringham explained while adding that there are also “other markets we’re investigating”, markets like America, Mexico and Brazil. And now it looks like the believing in KM’s opportunities are ready to become real. Not long ago chief executive Mike Shearwood said that the plan was to reach 400 stores in 2014 through a combination of wholly owned and franchised outlets. The group plans to open a directly operated flagship store on 5th Avenue in New York and also stores in Asia, Central America and even Mongolia.
Today there exist 360 KM shops in 58 countries around the world. And beside the fact that the KM chain is about to expand, Mike Shearwood also explains that KM has the ability to become a global affordable luxury brand within women’s clothing, since the majority of retailers between high street and luxury are accessories players. “Everything we do should be luxury except the price,” Shearwood explains. Also the KM group are planning to change the look of the stores to highlight the quality of the product and to move away from the perception that is was only focussed on dresses, especially since the brand desires to be known for it’s luxurious high-low mix of perfectly cut trend-led pieces and seasonal wardrobe staples.
Every piece in the KM collections are designed, cut and finished in the KM groups own design studio based in Shoreditch, London. When designing a collection, the group of employees follow a specific 11 step designing process: 1) designers are sketching ideas for designs, 2) fabric selection, 3) trim selection, 4) pattern development, 5) creation of a toile which is the first 3D representation of the design, 6) cutting by hand, 7) machinists will make the first garment, 8) selection meeting, where each style will be presented to Gemma Metheringham who will decide if it’s good enough for the collection, 9) selected styles will be fitted on the house models, 10) the sizes will be graded to make sure each size from 6-16 is perfectly proportioned, 11) and finally the manufacturing process, which is the last step before delivery.
KM calls themselves quality obsessed, design driven and with unapologetically high standards, which is why they use couture-inspired techniques within their collections, something that definitely won’t be changing even though everything else seems to be.
It’s All About Changing
The AW’13 collection is complementing and working with KM’s key strength, resulting in a strong, stripped-back and refined collection. The collection takes a realist approach and a modern direction, with an overriding elegant and sleek feel. The four key trends this AW are “Masculine Take”, “Refined Rebel”, “Femme Without Fuss” and “Maximalism”. To introduce the AW’13 collection, KM teamed up with legendary British fashion photographer David Bailey. The models from the campaign are all new faces – Karlina Caune, Kirsi Pyrhonen, Nur Hellmann and Grace Gao. The campaign definitely signals the new direction for the brand and is a stonking celebration of Bristish talent. All the featured looks are styled by fashion heavyweight Katy England, who has been working alongside Alexander McQueen for more than ten years. The campaign focuses on KM’s changing style with a series of portraits that capture the diverse personalities of the four new model faces. The photos below show the four models all in outfits from the AW’13 collection. It really looks like the KM group is on to something very good.