Ida Petersson is buying director of Browns, the luxury London multi-brand boutique. Browns was founded in the 1970s by Joan Burstein (known fondly in the industry as Mrs B), who helped kickstart the careers of designers including John Galliano and Hussein Chalayan. In 2015 Browns was acquired by the luxury e-tailer Farfetch, and since then has widened its digital footprint, and in 2017 opened Browns East, the first new store in 20 years. In April 2021, Browns gave London another fashion destination, opening a major flagship in Mayfair featuring over four floors of fashion, accessories, fragrances and homeware. Ida has been with Browns since 2016, after positions at Harvey Nichols, Miu Miu and Net-a-Porter. A surfer girl with phenomenal stamina, she is known in the industry for giving everything she does 100%.
How are you feeling about going back to travelling and coming off Zoom?
“I’m so freaking excited. I’ve had one vaccination. As soon as I’ve had two, I can go. So basically, my first trip will be Copenhagen. The feeling is indescribable. We’ve started doing appointments in the UK. Not that many, but every time you do, it really hits home how amazing it is to see something like in real life. I was literally almost hugging jeans the other day. So, brace yourself Denmark, I’ll be hugging everything. And seeing people again after 14 months of being separated is a really really nice feeling too.”
You are a CIFF regular. What brings you back season after season?
“I think CIFF is a very integral part of why Copenhagen has become so successful because generally with a lot of fashion shows you’d go there but you couldn’t actually buy the product that you were seeing. Which is cool, the fair is getting the exposure, but it’s not set up for buying. I think CIFF very early on put the two together, to be commercially successful as well as creatively successful.”
What are you looking forward to this time?
“The thing I’m looking forward to the most is kidswear, which we’ve recently added at Browns. I’ve never been to see the kids’ section at CIFF so I’m excited to explore that. I also really love like focus that CIFF does on young generation designers. That’s very Browns.”
You’re a CIFF veteran. What are your tips for the fair?
“Fairs are incredibly good because you have everything under one roof. I like to plan. That is one of my Scandi traits, I like organisation and pre-planning is key to going to a fair. Get that map and work out your route because otherwise you’ll get really side-tracked.”
What are some of the other reasons do you think that Copenhagen has become a major fashion destination?
“Essentially, I think it’s down to the amazing the design talent. A lot of the talent is homegrown, and I think particularly in the past three years it’s also been a lot of newgen talent, and that’s something that’s super important to Browns. To be honest, a trade fair is not enough always to pull you away, especially August, which is generally holiday time. But for me Copenhagen is firmly on the map.”
What are the strengths of Danish fashion right now?
“I think Denmark has the commercial side, so collections are very affordable, which is very inclusive. But I think it’s also interesting to see designers like Cecilie Bahnsen, for example, who is up there in terms of pricing because of how beautiful the fabrics are, and obviously it’s been one of the most successful exports. I think it started with Ganni opening up that idea anything’s possible. I think the work that Ganni has been doing, especially on the sustainability front, and also in terms reach and audience, is incredible. It’s pretty crazy for me as an expat Scandi, at runway shows in Paris and Milan, seeing people in head to toe Ganni.”
Tell us about your job. What’s the biggest misconception people have of buyers?
“That we walk around with champagne just pointing at things. None of my friends back home work in fashion that’s what they tease me about. My role as buying director is that I’m there to make sure that we hit the margins, that we get the sell-throughs. So, a lot of it is strategy, looking long-term, but also being sure that we have a backup, so that we can pivot very quickly. That obviously happened with Covid and it happened in 2008, after the financial crash. How do you adapt? Another part of our strategy is thinking about new categories, new opportunities, but also, what fun collaborations can we do? Where do we want to go? Who do we want to support? How we want to push the image of Browns further?”
How has the pandemic affected you creatively?
“I did a panel talk at the new store last week, with an amazing organisation called People, which supports female entrepreneurs. And it really drummed home to me that when you’re in a creative environment people bounce off each other. I ended up getting home that night at like one-thirty in the morning, and my day had started at 7am. I felt great. I realised that when you’re meeting people who are inspiring, you come away new ideas, and that gives you energy. When I’m doing the virtual thing, I’m so tired by six o’clock. You know I got worried that I was burning out during the pandemic. Don’t get me wrong, I can get excited in 2D. But the power of having that energy connection directly is very different.”
Do you think it will be easy to slip back into the old way of life?
“I do think we people are going to have to relearn how to have conversations about something other than: I’ve been making banana bread and watching everything on Netflix. I want to train myself – a two-month boot camp to get back up to Danish standards of socialising.”
How did Browns adapt during the pandemic?
“We decided not to do cautious. We continued to pick up amazing young designers and they’ve had amazing results. I genuinely think people are excited to see newness. With Spring/Summer, the season that’s just gone, a lot of existing designers played it safe. So, for us it was even more important to entice the customer with something that was different, that they haven’t seen before. Of course, we did pivot to make sure we had more track suiting and more hoodies, but you know let’s also make sure that we have those amazing crazy students, because someone will buy and dream about when they can wear these pieces again. Or wear them in their living room – people did that.”
I guess Covid showed that things can change overnight and it's all about not standing still. You need to just keep being inspiring as a platform. If it’s boring, then there's a chance that people just get tired of visiting, right?
“Totally. The first time I saw this in my career was the financial crash of 2008; the brands that were successful and actually managed to grow their businesses were the brands who did more and were clever about how they did it. So that was key for me. The reality is that when people have nothing to do, it’s even more important that you talk to them and you excite them, that you find ways to have fun, right?”
What's selling well right now? Everybody was talking about tracksuits and screen clothing. Have things moved on?
“That’s still there. We have quite a young client and they do like a hoodie. They liked a hoodie before the lockdown and they still like a hoodie. But I think it has been exciting to see people really embracing dressing up, going out. It’s not full suits. We’re still a little bit away from that. For women there’s a little more of a boxy silhouette and bright colors, a lot of dresses, and buying cute little going-out bags. One interesting thing is that people have been into low heels but on cool shoes. I think people are easing themselves in, but they want to be out there.”
So, are people rediscovering their style?
“Absolutely. I think they want to be a bit more experimental, rediscovering who they are. Speaking to friends, they’re like: Who am I now? What is my style? They’re rethinking how they dress themselves. Who do I want to be in this like 2.0 version, post lockdown?”
What is Browns' role in the market?
“Well, Mrs B is a legend, a living legend, and Browns has always stood for innovation. And I think it’s absolutely key we continue that journey. That we can be fun, experimental, and push fashion forward. That’s why you come to Browns; you know you’re going to find something that you can’t find anywhere else. You know you’re going to have a really strong edit. Because we’re very lucky to work with the top designers in the world, but you have our version of that. We don’t buy everything from a brand. It’s how we see the world. But it is important that people feel that we are inclusive, anyone is welcome. Anyone can come and have fun and find something that they like. Although we are a designer boutique, we do have things that are a little bit more affordable these days as well. That was really key to me. And that’s also thanks to some of the Scandinavian designers who have that price structure that’s a bit more welcoming.”
Browns recently opened a new flagship store in London. What’s new?
“It’s an immersive experience, less focused on brands and more about exploring. So, the brands are mixed together. When you walk through it’s like walking through like a house, which is I think is how Browns felt on South Molton Street. And I think that’s what makes Browns interesting as well. There’s a heart and a soul there that goes beyond just having every product in the world.”
How does that store experience interact with what's online?
“It’s making sure that what we have in the store is reflected on our website, that you get the tone of voice and feeling online that you have in the store. When I went to Shanghai before Covid, it was so amazing because I met people who were like: “Oh, when I was a student in London I shopped at Browns and now I buy from the website. I know that I can find things on Browns that I can’t find from many other people.” That to me is the highest praise that we can get. And it’s making sure fashion is fun. That’s what it’s meant to be. Of course, there’s a serious business going along in the background. But essentially, we want to make sure that there’s a journey. We started doing virtual personal shopping appointments last year and we have virtual try-ons. You can try on your sneakers online and we even started doing watches you can try on yourself as well. It’s fun.”
How important is sustainability at Browns?
“It’s been three years since we introduced a real focus on sustainability. What needs to be celebrated first and foremost is the work that the designers are doing. Then what we do as an organisation is also incredibly important. We’re not perfect, but it’s progress. It’s about making sure that our packaging is recycled and recyclable. Making sure that we transport our goods in the most friendly way for the environment that is possible, being carbon neutral. In the new store our angle on fixtures was: how can we reuse? How can we recycle? The partner we chose for our restaurant is a zero waste concept. So, we need to make sure that we are pushing ourselves in this sphere. And I think this is where Copenhagen has been amazing because you guys are really part of the conversation and you’re pushing the conversation. You are ahead of the conversation in many ways. So that for me is another reason why Copenhagen is also firmly on that the map, and somewhere where I go for inspiration.”