Margaret Howell expands in Europe

Having focused in particular on development in Japan, Margaret Howell is now expanding in Europe. The brand, which is known for its comfortable shirts made of excellent quality fabrics, has opened its first store in Italy in Florence on Piazza Carlo Goldoni, overlooking the Arno, and it is about to open a second location in Paris that will continue to employ the dual-use store concept.

Margaret Howell store in Florence

In Florence, a refined elegance pervades the two floors of the 775-ft2 space, which was designed by William Russell from the British agency Pentagram Architects. The ground floor plays host to men’s, women’s and accessories collections as well as to a selection of household items, furniture and vintage reissues. The second floor, meanwhile, is set aside for a production office, the company’s first outside the UK.

"We chose Florence because it is one of Italy’s most beautiful cities and because 30% of our products are manufactured in the country, including women's shoes, men's suits, fabrics and some leather products. I love working with artisans," said the brand’s founder, Margaret Howell, who was in Florence for the store’s opening. 

The rest of the collection is produced in the UK. "Our shirts are still produced in London in our workshop. It takes three to four hours to make a shirt, inside of which the seamstresses put their initials," said the designer. This brand’s flagship product is sold between 300 and 400 euros.

The men’s shirt reimagined by Margaret Howell

"In Florence, we hope to increase brand awareness and to bring it to life in Europe," said CEO Richard Craig, who has overseen the company since 1990. 

He owns 1% of the company, as does Margaret Howell, the remaining 98% having been acquired by Japanese company Anglobal. Previously distributed under license in Japan, the brand has now heavily developed in the country. Of a total of 100 stores, nearly 90 are in Japan, while the others are located in the UK, Paris and Florence. As for its 120 million euro turnover, the majority is generated in Japan (100 million euros). 

"We have a dual strategy. We will continue to expand in Japan, while focusing on major cities in Europe. We’re looking to open stores there with a dual function, both for sales and for administration in order to keep in touch with our customers. In Florence, our store hosts a production office, in London the brand shows collections in the store, and in Paris, there’s a sales office," said Richard Craig.

The interior of the Margaret Howell store in Florence

After opening its first store in Paris in 2009 on Place de la Madeleine, the brand will open a new location at 37 Debelleyme Street (3rd arrondissement) in the Haut Marais in March-April, a space that will stand out from the usual paths taken by Parisian fashion, hosting a more commercial space, a showroom and a marketing office. 

"We want our sales team to remain close to management, to better convey the spirit of the brand. Similarly, we are very selective in terms of distribution by retailers. It's a brand that needs to be understood. That’s why wholesale only represents 10% of our total sales through 400 multibrand clients in Japan and 100 in Europe," said Craig.

Outside of Japan, Margaret Howell is sold in the United States and Northern Europe. It is a brand for connoisseurs, followed by a loyal clientele that appreciates both the casual style and craftsmanship of its products.

Left: Margaret Howell; Center: CEO Richard Craig

Margaret Howell can be proud of the path she has taken. After studying art in London, she began designing accessories and jewelry until one day she dug up a beautiful antique man's shirt... 

In 1970, she opened her own design studio and began producing men’s shirts that women immediately took to. "It immediately worked well, because it was both stylish, contemporary and comfortable, and very soon the brand became popular in art circles," said the designer.

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