You know what you’re getting with Superdry. The British brand’s got enough of a design detail to not look like you’ve shopped the sale in a hurry, without the wackiness or price point of high-end fashion. It’s a solid staple, and everyone from the hard-up student to superstars like David Beckham are buying into it. Just look around and you can’t fail to spot the incomprehensible Japanese symbols on a bag, windbreaker or flip-flops.
The high street label’s roots are as unlikely as their headquarters is — not in an east London fashion epicenter but rather a less-than-salubrious industrial estate in Cheltenham, 87 miles northwest of the capital. The plain-spoken Julian Dunkerton, who set up Superdry in 2003, and brand and design director James Holder prefer, in their words, “to look from the outside in” so as not to design for a globally irrelevant hipster bubble. The tactic is working, too, with the duo rattling off 6,000 products a year to shops from London and Paris to New York and Bogota.
Not satisfied with their mass-market monopoly, Superdry is teaming up with actor and DJ Idris Elba to create a 250-piece premium collection – priced between $30 and $690 — made up of autumn staples like a leather racer jacket, Henley tops, slim chinos, IE-branded hoodies and crew-neck knitwear, all in subdued darker tones. It’s got the 43-year-old “Luther” star’s signature all over it – and not just because the brand slapped his name and face on it but because, as Dunkerton and Holder insist, Elba was very much involved with every piece.
You had huge success years ago after David Beckham wore one of your t-shirts, so why did you not capitalize on the buzz with a celebrity collaboration prior to working with Idris?
Julian Dunkerton: It didn’t make sense. Who are you going to do it with? This only makes sense because Idris loves Superdry, he’s the coolest bloke on the planet and he wanted to do it. We’ve become friends and hopefully this will be a long relationship where we build a premium range with him … you know, year in, year out.
This isn’t an H&M-style one-off?
JD: No, no, no. Us and Idris – this is going to be a permanent part of our brand. It’s a totally different deal.
James Holder: Obviously we have hundreds of people and brands coming to us – we’re very sexy people to work worth. (Dunkerton laughs) let me rephrase that, we’re a very sexy brand to work with. We’re concerned with keeping us as the coolest brand on the planet, so we never force anything.
JD: A normal large company would go, “We need a person. Who are we going to do it with? What are we going to do?” We met Idris, got on incredibly well and realized that he wanted to develop into this sort of world. It’s got to be a properly collaborated product and not just "slap a name on it and stick him in the photos." This ain’t some marketing strategy, it’s about making the best premium product.
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In the past, Superdry has been downtrodden by the fashion press. Were you hoping that by working with Idris – a staple of men’s magazines – you’d improve your credibility with the monthlies?
JH: We’re not trying to satisfy the fashion press. It’s all about the customer feeling amazing in our product, and as a provincial brand we don’t tick all the traditional boxes. But what we have got is the best product on the planet. You won’t find two guys who love clothing more than we do, and we just stay true to product. We don’t obsess about trend; we’re not playing the game. Even the Idris collection that’s got a slightly higher price point will have people thinking, “F—ing hell, I can wear that”. 99.99 per cent of the shows that the fashion press cover will be of people dressed like freaks to just get press.
Speaking of price point, with this being a more premium collection, is this supposed to be aspirational for your core clientele?
JH: It’s aimed at an older age group but everything we do within the brand is absolutely targeted to that particular customer.
Is 18-24 still your key demographic?
JD: Well, no, this is the interesting point. If you pie chart our age range, it works out that 16-24 accounts for a third, 24-35 is a third and 35-45 is a third, so people are staying with the brand through our journey, while the younger generation is filling in the pipeline at the bottom. We’re in a good place in terms of demographic.
The Idris collection is available now on Superdry.com.