Raoul out to take over the world
Raoul has entered a new phase. Its new accessories collection, created by French designer Raphael Young, arrived in stores last summer. The ready-to-wear brand for both men and women owned by Singapore-based company FJ Benjamin, one of the largest distributors of major brands in Southeast Asia, has adopted a new strategy in recent seasons aimed at raising its positioning.
The strategy seems to be paying off as the brand garners international recognition. Raoul was named "Brand of the Year" in the "Fashion - Singapore" category at the 2014 World Branding Awards, a competition organized by the global non-profit World Branding Forum "to support the achievements of some of the best brands in the world."
Founded in 2002 as a men’s shirts brand with a focus on the Asian market, Raoul has changed dramatically over the past two years. It has become involved in Italy with the opening of a showroom two years ago in Milan and the launch of an accessories collection entirely made in Italy.
"The dynamics of the brand have changed. Over the past few years, we’ve raised the positioning of Raoul, offering a more sophisticated product but without changing the prices. We develop all of our own materials and fabrics," said creative director Odile Benjamin, who founded the brand with her husband Douglas Benjamin, who is also the head of FJ Benjamin. They named the brand after their son, Raoul.
“With our new approach, we closed 25 of our stores in Asia in order to reposition ourselves through more prestigious locations. Now, we have joined the contemporary segment, with a touch of luxury," said Odile Benjamin.
The first step in this development was the launch of a women’s line in 2010 and, the same year, its womenswear's international debut. The brand, which is headquartered in Singapore, also has a showroom in New York, where, for the past few seasons, it has distributed women’s collections, which now represent 60% of Raoul’s total sales.
With its repositioning in mind, the brand enlisted the services of Raphael Young. Born in South Korea but raised by his adoptive family in the luxury shoe capital of Romans, France, Young was brought up in footwear. He quickly followed in the footsteps of his uncle Alexandre Narcy, a leading shoemaker in France. In recent years, he moved to Italy, where he worked for major brands as well as for his own label, founded in 2008.
"What interested me about the project with Raoul was the idea of starting from zero in developing the overall identity of the accessories collection, all the while meeting the needs of a brand which markets semi-luxury, fairly upscale products. So I created simple, modern pieces that are very visual and timeless—you might call them minimal-chic,” said the designer.
The women’s accessories collection consists of forty pieces, ranging from bags to shoes. Produced entirely in Italy, it offers excellent value.
"While our ready-to-wear collections are manufactured in Asia, we’ve decided to produce our accessories in Italy this season because it’s the best place to manufacture these kinds of products. We were already using Italian leather. In the end, between high taxes and transportation costs, producing in China wasn’t as financially interesting anymore. Now our collections are more valuable. Besides, customers are willing to pay a little more for an accessory made in Italy,” said Odile Benjamin.
Raoul is currently distributed through 200 clients, including multi-brands in the United States, the Middle East, Russia, China and Europe, where it has fifty or so clients including several department stores such as La Rinascente in Italy, Printemps in France and Harrods in London.
The brand is currently also developing a retail network with local franchise partners. For now, three agreements have been signed. The first is in Colombo, Sri Lanka with the company White Lotus Fashions, the second in China with Budy Import & Export, which will open 27 Raoul stores by 2017, and the last with the Chalhoub Group, tasked with developing its retail distribution in the Middle East, where 9 openings are planned by 2017, beginning with Doha.
Raoul currently has 7 single-brand stores: 2 in Singapore, 2 in Indonesia, 1 in the Philippines, 1 in Malaysia and 1 in China.
FJ Benjamin’s turnover has reached 320 million dollars. The company is listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange, and Raoul is its only directly-run brand.
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