The concept of retail is transforming at lightning speed, right along with our notion of what luxury means. London-based Candice Fragis lives in the eye of that storm. As the buying and merchandising director for Farfetch – one of the world's most popular online luxury fashion retailers – Fragis has her finger on the pulse of the industry, dealing with more than 750 boutiques in 40 different countries who all sell their wares on the digital super-platform.
This past June, Farfetch partnered with publisher Condé Nast, resulting in rich editorial content being used on the site. It was also announced that the e-commerce company JD.com bought a stake in Farfetch for $397-million, ensuring Farfetch's ability to develop new retail technology will be amply funded. I spoke with Candice Fragis from London recently about what defines luxury, and what she sees in store for high-end fashion's future.
Everybody is buzzing about Farfetch and the impact it's had on the fashion industry and retail in general. How exhilarating has all this attention been for you?
I've only been here for two-and-a-half years, and in that time we've grown over 70 per cent year-on-year. Even in terms of people, we were just under 400 – now there's about 1,600, so the excitement and the pace is palpable. Being part of something that is so innovative with its approach to retail and fashion and the global perspective is incredibly exciting for me.
When I started covering fashion in the mid-1980s, there were strong regional brands and regional style identities, but now it's all morphing together in a way. Do you see different regions reacting differently to different trends and different sorts of merchandise, or has it all finally come together?
No, it's definitely not all come together. But there's a lot more of it than there was in the '80s, and you're right – that was such a prolific time for regional style, and I think that feeling of discovery then was just so much bigger. The trends absolutely cross over and the world is just much smaller, with all the access we now have. But you definitely do see different points of view and different reactions to brands and to product in different regions. What we'll see selling in the U.S., for example, can be quite different to what's selling in Asia, and that goes across sizing, brands, and the type of product that the customer is buying. There's so much of a different point of view, and you really see that with the buys.
Farfetch's claim is that it presents the world's greatest selection of luxury. How do you personally define luxury in this day and age?
For me personally, luxury is something that is unique. It's about the quality of the product. It's about the execution, the production. I'm very interested in sustainability, in sourcing, in artisans, and in pure design process. I love having the ethos and the personality of who is creating the product, and having an understanding of that whole process behind what the brand is. For the majority of the big brands we sell, their production is fantastic and the quality of materials are great, but it's very accessible. I think where we're moving to right now in the world of luxury is how you can have that unique point of difference. And I think personalization comes into that a lot. More unique items are very much where we're going: Customization and personalization. That individual stamp on an item is becoming what is now more luxurious than just the 'It' bag. I think we passed out of that phase.
How adamant do you find people are these days about supporting locally-produced products, or local designers and retailers?
For me, in terms of sourcing and picking out those brands, it's always been a personal passion. It's something we do a lot of on Farfetch as well. We kind of umbrella them in the term called 'Shop the World'; we're looking at who we can find from local markets that are only really accessible in those markets, and we're then giving them that global window, which I love. We've taken initiatives to look at how we can actually find and support emerging talent and these local brands. I think that there's a huge market for that. The advanced luxury customer wants that, because it speaks to that point of difference and that uniqueness. It feeds that emotional sense of discovery as well.
Is there a litmus test that makes you want to partner up with a retailer?
It's a couple of factors. The first thing is the boring stuff, which is the logistics. Can they actually fulfill orders for our customers? Can we set them up? But it comes down to their brand offer and their access to what they're selling, making sure that it's in line with where we see growth, and where we'd like to add value to the site. We don't want to have anyone compromising because Farfetch is a marketplace. You're putting in your trust, and you're creating a partnership with these boutiques so they really need to be on the same wavelength as you in terms of delivery and in terms of product selection. So we really primarily will look at the brands that first we would like more of, and make sure that their brand mix is a compelling and comprehensive brand mix, and then for that extra point of difference. Also, the physical space is relatively important as well because you're directing customers there ultimately. You don't necessarily see which boutique you are buying the product from, but one of the things that I love is that sense of discovery when I order something. Each package is delivered and presented quite differently. The outside box is always Farfetch, but you open it and you can be opening it into the world of this boutique – however they have chosen to wrap it and however they've chosen to add some detail, whether that's a handwritten note or a little potpourri rose or something. I've had loads of different experiences. It's always quite a draw to wow the consumer like that.
I love the fact that you carry vintage items on Farfetch.
It's one of the categories that excites me the most, for a lot of reasons. Vintage is the first time around of the trends that are so cyclical, that we keep seeing again and again. Every five to 10 years, something will be coming back, and I love having the original or just that older take on it, because for me, that's very unique. It's a one-off and it's much less generic. You're not going to see anyone else in it, and I love the emotion and the romance of that story.
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