Monsoon, the fashion retailer famed for its bohemian style, has fallen out of favour with the nation's fast-fashion-obsessed women. In the year to May, pre-tax profits fell from £53.5m to £46.1m, making it the retailer's worst performance in its 34-year history.
The firm's trademark floaty summer skirts have suffered to some extent as a consequence of the dreadful weather that has blighted Britain this summer. But its problems run deeper than a few grey skies; chairman and founder Peter Simon has admitted things have not been right with its merchandise across the whole year. To add to his woes, Simon has also had to deal with the loss of chief executive Rose Foster, who left for lingerie chain La Senza in March.
Simon set up the business in 1973, selling hand-blocked printed clothes and shaggy woollen coats imported from Rajasthan. Later that year, he opened Monsoon's first shop in London's Knightsbridge. The chain now has a global presence, accompanied by its sister chain Accessorize.
Although its clothes have changed over time, Monsoon has not strayed far from its Eastern influences, which continue to sit at the heart of its ranges. This provided a high point for the brand in 2004, when actress Sienna Miller popularised the boho-chic look, but, inevitably, fashion has moved on since.
After enlisting actress and model Liz Hurley to be its face for the spring/summer season, the retailer has opted for Danish supermodel Helena Christensen to front its autumn/winter collections. These days no celebrity fashion tie-up is complete without an accompanying range, and, as part of the deal, Christensen has agreed to create a 'green' line for the retailer, which will launch with the autumn collection.
The initiative sits well with the Monsoon brand's strong links to India, as well as attempts made last year to tap into consumer interest in ethical living, with a range of T-shirts produced from Fairtrade-certified cotton. However, it remains to be seen whether activities such as these will improve its fortunes.
We asked Tony Quinn, planning director at Leagas Delaney, which handles the advertising for Driza-Bone, and Nick Gray, managing director of specialist retail agency Live & Breathe, and a former head of marketing at Ben Sherman, how Monsoon can revive its appeal.
DIAGNOSIS 1 - TONY QUINN PLANNING DIRECTOR, LEAGAS DELANEY
Ah, the fickle finger of fashion. One day you're the pride and joy of Grazia, the next you're a Soap Awards' faux pas. On yet another day you're enjoying a 'stellar performance' (Financial Times, 2005), while the next you're in a 'slump' (Financial Times, 2007).
How can this be? Where can the fickle finger of blame be pointed for such a catastrophic downturn in fortunes?
For me, Monsoon got caught with its ethnic-print knickers around its ankles. It rode the crest of the boho wave, dined out on the back of Sienna (interesting thought) and forgot the basics of high-street fashion, which moves faster than Calum Best on Thursday night in Mahiki.
The speed at which fashion goes from catwalk to store has been well documented, so to get caught standing still is simply unforgivable.
As a general rule, the more a brand is associated with a 'moment', the faster and harder it has to work to get the hell out of it. It seems Monsoon didn't grasp that and is now up to its neck in an already-sepia-tinted, long-gone era.
- Loosen up. Give designers scope to move and express themselves. Reflect a fluid attitude not a rigid set of rules
- Court notoriety. Live the brand's endline and get it talked about. 'Cause a storm' gives so much licence, but the brand is blowing little more than a slight breeze.
- Get someone in. Take a leaf from Gap's book. A bit of help from uber-cool outsiders and Monsoon will be the darling of the glossies once more.
DIAGNOSIS 2 - NICK GRAY MANAGING DIRECTOR, LIVE & BREATHE
In the competitive, fickle fashion-retail market, only those with a strong brand and relevant product offering shine through.
Walk into any Monsoon store and price, product and brand are at odds with each other. The merchandising is messy and off-putting, and there is too much clutter. While Liz Hurley in its windows might have brought a certain consumer in, once there, the offer tends to be a let-down.
As a destination for wedding outfits, it remains strong, and Accessorize and Home appeal. If you rifle through the rails, there are some hidden gems, while the Fusion and Limited Edition ranges had potential. However, their story isn't being told properly in-store and Fusion has flopped.
Despite tricky management issues, things might be looking up. A sneak preview of Monsoon's Storm range, a 'trend-led capsule collection' available from next month, shows that it might deliver the sort of covetable pieces that make grown women go weak at the knees. Plus, the choice of Helena Christensen as the face of Monsoon is right on the money.
- Invest in the brand and its values. Work out what it stands for and its target audience; a big estate and high-street footfall alone won't generate sales.
- Recruit a chief executive with first-class retail and fashion credentials.
- Ensure the product is current, not reliant on cyclical fashion trends that mean its signature style is occasionally in vogue.
- Accept and embrace change, but don't throw the baby out with the bathwater.