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Interview: Lucy Litwack, owner and chief executive of Coco de Mer

Luxury lingerie brand Coco de Mer has opened a permanent store in London’s Knightsbridge that signals its commitment to bricks and mortar as it also puts… View Article

FASHION RETAIL NEWS UK

Interview: Lucy Litwack, owner and chief executive of Coco de Mer

Luxury lingerie brand Coco de Mer has opened a permanent store in London’s Knightsbridge that signals its commitment to bricks and mortar as it also puts in place a strategy for growing its digital presence and extending its overseas reach.

Such moves express confidence in the brand by Lucy Litwack, owner and chief executive of Coco de Mer, who purchased the business through a MBO (management buyout) in 2017 having run it for its previous owners Lovehoney who had headhunted her in 2014. They recognised her extensive experience in the lingerie category having spent time working at Splendour, Myla, Victoria’s Secret, Bendon, and La Perla.

Rebuilding a presence

She is calling on this impressive experience to effectively rebuild a business that had been thinned out when she joined it. A single store remained on Monmouth Street and an online presence rounded out its total operating presence.

Among her major moves since taking charge have been to launch Coco de Mer into wholesale, where it has picked up some high profile clients such as Selfridges and Harrods as well as online platforms such as Net-a-Porter. She also closed the Monmouth Street store when its lease expired and recently replaced it with a new flagship on Motcomb Street in Knightsbridge having successfully operated it as a pop-up.

“In 2023 we closed Monmouth Street, which had been the original flagship since 2001 when the company was founded by Sam Roddick, daughter of Body Shop founder Anita Roddick. The lease had ended and it was a gorgeous store that people loved but I never thought it was the right location for a luxury brand. There was lots of footfall but they were not big spenders. We got out of it and then reassessed things,” says Litwack.

This period of reassessment came after the Covid-19 period when the company had done very well from its online operation. “It turned the business on its head,” she says, adding that clearly the sales mix is no longer wholly online but things have settled differently post-pandemic.

Changing sales mix

In 2019 the sales mix was 50% store, 25% online and 25% wholesale but this has now settled down to an even split between the three divisions. The physical has been latterly divided between Motcomb Street and the more established shopping space at the company’s head office in Primrose Hill. It was originally designed as a private shopping suite with a ‘by appointment only’ policy but this has been relaxed to welcome off-the-street visitors.

Motcomb Street was taken on with some confidence because Litwack says the sales from nearby Harrods highlighted there was an appetite for Coco de Mer product in the smart Knightsbridge area. “It really made me realise the value in bricks and mortar to the brand. Luxury generally benefits from bricks and mortar. We’re back on the high street and it feels amazing. It’s about service and being able to touch and feel the products. It’s an experience,” she says.

The core customer is 35-60 years-old with mixed nationalities and although all the marketing is focused on women there is an equal split between male and female shoppers. “Lots of couples shop together. With men it is for gifting and they’ll have their wife on FaceTime as they show them the products,” explains Litwack.

Although the company has long been recognised for its lingerie this represents only 50% of its sales, with adult toys accounting for 25% and the remaining 25% derived from a mix of bondage products, sexual awareness, and the salons it runs. The latter includes events with topics covered such as ‘The art of rope bondage’ and ‘The art of impact play and spanking’.

Challenges online

Litwack is keen to highlight the female-focus of the business with its team of 12 employees all female and the company’s desire to “normalise the conversation about sexual wellness”. This presents its challenges though, according to Litwack, who says digital marketing is a hard one to utilise in order to grow online revenues because of the product range.

“We cannot advertise on Facebook and Instagram. We can’t even do lingerie as we’d link to our website. It’s therefore harder to grow online. Digital marketing with keywords is competitive as it’s all about ‘luxury lingerie’,” she says, adding that Brexit has also made shipping more expensive, which has contributed to international sales decreasing.

However, there are lots of plans to grow online and the intention is to operate with third-party logistics arrangements in Europe and the US that would handle the pick & pack locally with the result of cheaper and quicker fulfilment. The US is a particular target because brand awareness is still strong in the country after Coco de Mer originally had an American store presence in prime locations.

Highlighting how the brand punches above its weight, Litwack says Pamela Anderson used to shop in the Los Angeles store before it closed and when in London she stayed at the Covent Garden Hotel opposite the Monmouth Street store. Having visited it four days in a row to stock-up Litwack left her a note at the hotel and upon meeting, Anderson expressed her devastation at the closure of the LA outlet. She went onto work with the brand.

Overseas potential

US stores are a possibility but before that pop-ups and collaborations with like-minded brands are likely to be the opening gambit before any return to an American brick and mortar presence. Ahead of this Litwack says the focus is on investing in the Motcomb Street store and potentially another London shop as well as a pop-up to test the water further north in England before any permanent move. Sales in the flagship Fenwicks in Newcastle where Coco de Mer is stocked are sufficiently good to provide some confidence in such a move.

One of the attractions of the brand’s lingerie is that it is all designed in-house before manufacture in Portugal. “We keep it all close. It’s easy to visit and we can keep an eye on things. Transparency is so important nowadays,” she says, highlighting that the company has been accredited as a Positive Luxury company for its sustainability credentials, which is the equivalent of being a B Corp but specifically for the luxury sector.

Complete control

Another key attribute of the business is that it is wholly owned by Litwack who says she has the benefit of independence that enables her to “do what we believe is right”. She adds: “We’re not in any rush to grow. We’ve seen top and bottom line growth and we’re very clear on our mission and purpose. We’re supporting women, finding the right collaborators, thinking about sustainability and our charitable focus, which includes shining a light on FGM (Female Genital Mutilation).”

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