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Peter Werth Launch - an interview with brand manager Peter Lyons

Last week I was invited to attend the opening party for UK menswear label Peter Werth's first Australian store. Located at the Windsor end of Chapel Street, the launch gave me the opportunity to meet & interview Peter Werth brand manager Peter Lyons for makersofmelbourne.com

PL: The brand was founded in London by Peter and the very first show room was up the street from our current location in Islington. Founded by Peter on the 28th of April 1975, London is at the heart of our brand and for almost 40 years we never moved outside of London, until now. There aren’t many brands that can say that they’ve stayed true to their roots and the city is still at the heart of this brand. 1975 was an era for fashion in the UK with a very distinct significance in terms of trend influence it was important both in terms of fashion and music. The life of the brand started in knitwear with this (points to knitted polo shirt) the knitted polo shirt.

APMM – Did you have competition with John Smedley or anyone along those lines?

PL:Of course today Smedley’s arguably the definitive reference point for fine gauge knitwear of course, but Smedley’s positioning is a little higher than ours, especially in terms of price range.

APMM – It certainly is

PL:It’s an inescapable fact that our first product was this long sleeved polo, so the same way that Fred Perry’s reference point is a polo shirt and Ben Sherman’s is a button down Oxford, ours is this. That’s where it all stemmed from.

APMM – That’s where it has flowed from year on, year on?

PL:It does, if truth be told Peter wasn’t necessarily a brand person so he may not necessarily appreciate the value of that. I spent 12 years working for Fred Perry, so for me your origins are what gives you your value. That’s you provenance, that’s what gives you your reason for being. They deliver the authenticity. For us it’s about capturing the essence of all of those things, both physically and emotionally – and delivering those to our audience.

APMM – And is everything made in England or do you source from elsewhere?

PL:In the modern world it’s very difficult to make all of your products in the UK but we do make a big chuck of our outerwear is made in England, some of our knitwear is made in England but we make some in Italy as well. Some of our other products are made in Europe and 15% of our products are made in the Far East. There’s been a big swing back to making products in Europe, and it’s all about finding the right solution to fit the needs of our customers. As you probably would have gathered we are delivering a brand at a certain price point and we want it to be accessible. It’s a design led brand, which has a degree of aspiration about it, but we are delivering at an accessible price point.

APMM – Is the quality of the products the same all year round?

PL:Absolutely, we have a quality standard which must be adhered to, we use a certain weight or jersey fabric, we use a certain quality of base fabrics for our shirting and we would never sacrifice that.

PL:What we will do is play around with certain fabrics to suit certain products, for example our outerwear fabrics come from Italy but in terms of delivering the types of aesthetic that we need to deliver, we have to use certain fabrics from certain sources.

APMM – You said that the brand started in 1975 and it was a significant time for music and fashion, do you think that the label still has that relationship with music, is it still important to the brand?

PL:I think the fashion industry has an extricable link with music generally. With us as a brand it’s not something that we particularly pursue, there are brands like Fred Perry who do that and do it very well – for us it’s more about the individual, so we may find that we have an individual from the music world who plays to our sensibilities and we play to his and likewise there’ll be people from the film world. But really it’s about personality. To bring everything up to date though, we’ve just been working with Olly Murs and will be dressing him for forthcoming events, we’ve got no problem doing that, he’s got a great sense of style and he’s a nice guy. So we’re very happy to wardrobe him. At the same time it could be someone from the arts world or anybody that plays toward the sensibilities of this brand – We’re very clean, you’ll never find a frayed edge on this brand, we’re very sharp and if that appeals to your sense of style than you’re going to like our brand.

APMM:We’ve had a lot of British high street brands that have come into the country over the past year or two, is that why Peter Werth chose to launch here in Australia?

PL:Not really. As you may have heard 4 years ago now I got a call from Bruce Hutchins (general manager) who told me that he wanted to launch the brand here in Australia. It’s a country 12,000 miles away and to be honest it’s not the first place that you think about, or didn’t back then I should say, but there are synergies of course, not least in terms of our language and to some extent our sensibilities are not dissimilar. So when Bruce approached me we thought, ok let’s give it a go. If it doesn’t work we can probably hide all evidence of it somewhere and no one will ever have to know. The Australian market has become more in focus for the UK fashion industry. We deal with people like ASOS and Australia is their second biggest market after the UK and they sell to something like 47 markets. The market here is bigger than China and the USA. I think there’s a slight misconception that the Australian male consumer is all about a pair of flip flops and a pair of shorts there are guys clearly here who are looking for something more. If there wasn’t then we wouldn’t exist, ASOS wouldn’t exist, Topman wouldn’t have opened up down the road, so there’s clearly an appetite and there also seems to be an appetite for things that are quintessentially British, we are very happy to be here.

APMM – There’s a lot of Australian guys who just want nice menswear. They don’t want ‘fashion forward’ or feminine inspired, there’s a lot of guys out there who don’t so much lack a personality when it comes to fashion, they just haven’t been able to find clothing that appeals to them. Brands such as yourself and Topman are feeding Aussie men who like fashion.

PL:I walked through David Jones today and you can find brands like Hackett so clearly there’s an appetite. I like to think that where we can meet that demand is through giving men a good product at a price point that isn’t going to burn a huge hole in your pocket.