Sue Whiteley on the relaunch of the beachwear brand, on the island

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Meet Sue Whiteley, the founder of luxury resort clothing brand, On The Island. But, before all that, her illustrious career has seen her work for the best of the best – and most importantly, she has made them better.

After launching her career at Harvey Nichols, she was instrumental in reshaping the brand, transforming it into a fashion and lifestyle mecca. From there she joined Alexander McQueen as President and CEO in 2001, where she worked alongside Lee to build her brand into a global luxury fashion house. Three years later came her appointment at Louis Vuitton, and here she opened the Bond Street Flagship store, while securing artist associations with the likes of Anish Kapoor and Tracey Emin; and more recently, she was president of Givenchy during the reign of Riccardo Tisci. A wonderful career path. Now comes her most personal project to date, in the form of On The Island – a fusion of warm colours, prints, luxury fabrics, sunshine, travel and art, all translated into one line. of resort clothing that calls for the sun. From kaftans to dresses and swimwear, expect refined silhouettes designed with the modern traveler in mind.

Whiteley talks about luxury, resort wear and her ambitions for On The Island.

Felicity Carter: What is your earliest fashion memory?

Sue Whiteley: I was immersed in the style world from an early age. My grandmother was a buyer at Harrods and I remember always being overwhelmed by her attention to detail when dressing; his shoes were always beautifully polished. This interest was confirmed later when I had the opportunity to attend the first John Galliano shows in Paris while I was assistant buyer at Harvey Nichols. I never forgot the invitation to the show which was a child’s red ballerina with a hand-rolled roller inside, and from the start of the show I was totally immersed – living the inspiration and the story that had influenced John Galliano that season.

FC: What is luxury for you?

SW: I had the opportunity to really understand the word “luxury” when I started working for Louis Vuitton in 2004 as Managing Director of its UK, Ireland and Scandinavian businesses. Their attention to detail is exemplary in all aspects of brand communication – from housekeeping of stores to the unparalleled training of their sales staff. They made sure that the sales manager of each store fully understood the word “luxury” and organized an international annual conference for all their store managers, they would present the brand strategy for the following year and give an understanding of the world where their client lived.

Luxury covers all facets of Louis Vuitton and I was able to apply everything I absorbed when leading the opening of the Bond Street Flagship store, which has been described as “the most luxurious Louis Vuitton store in the world”. For this, we collaborated with a relatively unknown (at the time) theater production company called Punch Drunk, who transformed a former post office in Oxford Street into a space for guests to experience a fully immersive ‘journey’ . From the collector’s journey, to the journey of emotions and the journey of knowledge. The evening drew comments from guests such as Elle Macpherson saying she hadn’t seen anything like it in a very long time. It was a truly exceptional evening and the pinnacle of ‘luxury’ in its attention to detail, from planning to uniqueness and execution.

FC: Tell us about the relaunch and what can we expect moving forward?

SW: It made sense to take a break on the island during the early years of Covid as travel was either non-existent or in a state of uncertainty. This allowed us to look at areas of the brand that we could improve or improve. Swimwear was a key area, and we introduced a new French swimwear fabric that sculpts the wearer to give them more support. We also had the opportunity to review our continuity styles in swimwear and began working with a highly skilled tailoring designer who now fits all swimwear five times (as opposed to the industry standard three) to achieve a perfect fit and ensure styles. looked good on a variety of body shapes.

From a colour/print perspective, we had the opportunity to rethink where we could take On the Island beyond our very successful hand painted watercolor animal prints. While still being able to identify these nuances, the Moving Ahead palette is primarily derived from the work of contemporary artists. Bold painterly touches lead to a haemorrhage of forms, allowing us to experiment with a wider range of colors.

FC: Who are your customers and how does the brand fit into the resort trend?

SW: On the Island offers a complete wardrobe for the contemporary traveler – from swimwear and formal wear to silk dinner dresses. Our client is sure of himself, dynamic, at ease, in search of discovery and the unexpected. For her, fashion is at its best when it’s specific and personal, and has a story to tell. On the Island is a London-based brand with European sophistication. Our relaunch is particularly timely as a number of major fashion houses are focusing on the resortwear market this year, investing in pop-ups in affluent European hotspots such as Capri and Portofino, showing the potential for growth of the category as international travel is fully on the agenda.

FC: What is the process?

SW: Our inspiration is the concept or theme of the season. For Resort 23, our Print Designer spent three days in a careful selection of museums in Milan looking for ideas and images that we could use as inspiration for the fabrics, colors and patterns of the season. . From there, there is the formation of our color stories for the season, and then the process of creating our hand-drawn painterly patterns and prints. Then the Collection Designer works from our range plan, looking at what styles could be considered continuity and what areas we want to add. For example, new styles could be an extension of our successful kaftans or introduce cover-ups for a younger customer who might want a shorter length. Once the print designer and collection designer have completed their creative processes and the fabric is ordered, we go into production. All On the Island ready-to-wear is handmade in England in small artisan factories, and swimwear is made in the best factories in Italy.

FC: What are your short and long term ambitions for the brand?

SW: In the short term, we are looking to expand On the Island’s customer base through partnerships with luxury hotel groups where we sell very well. A key example being the Bulgari hotel concept store in Dubai, which has been our client since day one. . They shopped 25 styles from our newly relaunched Resort Collection and saw 100% sales.

Longer term, I would like to expand the brand’s lifestyle offering further, bringing our beautiful hand painted designs to life in an On the Island homeware collection including china, glass, cushions and table linen.

On the Island will be available at major retailers including Harvey Nichols, Beymen and Bergdorf Goodman.

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