Thursday, May 5, 2011

Quirky Brand Takes the Stage

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Many of Twenty8Twelve's clothes—like ripped jeans, oversize tops and scarves—faintly evoke the style of its famous backer: actress, model and paparazzi-magnet Sienna Miller. But, shhh, the brand isn't advertising that Miller sister's connection.

William Widmer for The Wall Street Journal

Savannah Miller is creative director of Twenty8Twelve, started in 2007.

Instead, Twenty8Twelve relies mainly on Savannah Miller, a fashion designer whose styles are grabbing shelf space in high-end department stores from Seattle-based Nordstrom Inc. to London's Liberty PLC. The brand also has secured a regular slot at London Fashion Week, set to begin in the British capital on Friday.

Savannah and Sienna Miller launched the Twenty8Twelve line in 2007, a time of looming financial crisis when even die-hard shoppers were rethinking their spending habits. The brand has had to struggle through the slump, expanding only cautiously, refraining from opening the stores it covets in the U.S. and suspending an unprofitable accessories range. Helping it through the tough times has been the financial and logistical support of its owner, Barcelona-based denim maker Pepe Group.


Sienna Miller models Twenty8Twelve's whimsical garb.

But Twenty8Twelve has mostly avoided relying on Sienna Miller's fame, despite the fact the line is named for her birthday, Dec. 28. Although Sienna Miller does model the brand's clothes, she doesn't appear in ad campaigns and neither are there pictures of her in Twenty8Twelve's two London stores.

"We wanted it to be a proper label, with its own identity, rather than just emptying out Sienna's cupboard and recycling her vintage skirts," said Savannah Miller, who trained at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design and previously worked for the late Alexander McQueen.

London Fashion Week has long been known for edgy and unconventional looks. It has brought out talents such as Mr. McQueen, John Galliano and Stella McCartney, but most of those designers moved on, leaving London with small, eclectic brands such as Betty Jackson, Antonio Berardi and Twenty8Twelve, which all feature on this weekend's catwalk calendar. Though more vulnerable to economic hardship than brands owned by the powerhouses of Paris or Milan, observers say quirky labels such as the Millers' appeal to shoppers tired of the polished, homogenized look churned out by large conglomerates. Burberry Group PLC, the biggest brand showing at London Fashion Week, recently returned here after staging its shows in Milan.


Although the actress is a partner, the firm has avoided playing on her famous name.

Buyers for stores say Twenty8Twelve showcases a uniquely British style that is more whimsical and bohemian than the more polished and sportier looks popular in New York, or the perfectly matched outfits worn in Milan. But the line also features, for example, a sharply tailored black coat for £500 ($770), some classic cocktail dresses and a short, boxy, office-appropriate jacket for £245.

"Twenty8Twelve offers a nice range of styles that appeal to a variety of girls, which is why it's perfect for Shopbop," said Kate Ciepluch, fashion director at online retailer

Twenty8Twelve's annual sales now total $13 million, of which $1.5 million come from its two London stores and the rest from wholesale accounts. The company makes money "depending on the year, and the month," said Nish Soneji, managing director of Pepe Jeans. Last year, it lost money.

If Twenty8Twelve made full use of Sienna Miller's star power, industry consultants say, it would become part of her extensive global media presence and lose its individualistic edge. One of the few celebrity brands currently succeeding, the Elizabeth and James line by Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen, also plays down the personalities of its creators.

In addition, the turns of Sienna Miller's career and personal life would overshadow the brand's design qualities and could serve as a double-edged sword, consultants say. On one hand, she has been a successful model, appearing on the cover of Vogue that was featured in the documentary "The September Issue." But her film career has never fully taken off, and her on-and-off relationship with actor Jude Law, for example, has at times generated unflattering tabloid coverage.

Sienna Miller declined to comment for this article

In 2006, two years after starring in the movie "Alfie" with future boyfriend Mr. Law, Sienna Miller signed a two-year contract to become the face of Pepe Jeans. As her relationship with Mr. Law and her own quirky style made her one of the world's most photographed women, Pepe owner Carlos Ortega approached the sisters about starting a brand. Their first collection came out in 2007; the inaugural catwalk show two years later.

"What distinguishes Twenty8Twelve from a celebrity line is that it is actually designed, season after season," said Ed Burstell, managing director of London department store Liberty, which says the line is continuously among its 10 top-selling brands. "It sits side-by-side with other collections and holds its own. It's not a capsule collection that comes and goes."

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page W4

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