Mulberry set to flourish anew under its new creative director Johnny Coca

Quirky British brand still seeks a CEO, but taking Spanish talent from Céline gives it a boost

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 December, 2014, 2:21pm
UPDATED : Friday, 12 December, 2014, 2:24pm

It’s been a year-and-a-half since Emma Hill left British accessories label Mulberry, but two weeks ago the brand finally appointed a new creative director in the form of Spanish-born Johnny Coca, former head design director for leather goods, shoes, jewellery and sunglasses at Céline. His involvement with developing ‘it’ bags such as the Céline Trapeze will no doubt lend some high-luxury gravitas to his role at Mulberry, a brand which has renewed its focus on its high-luxury, made-in-England range lately. Shares reportedly jumped up 7 per cent upon the announcement, even though Coca won’t officially join until July 8, 2015. 

“We took our time when looking for a new creative director, determined to find the best fit for the company; however, early on in the search, Johnny was identified as our first choice,”  said Mulberry chairman Godfrey Davis. “His experience in accessories design, his modern view of luxury, and his connection with London (he lectures at Central St Martins) as well as his background in Paris was an ideal mix as we develop Mulberry worldwide.”

The brand has seemed embattled in the past year, with uncertainty about who would fill Hill’s boots and a CEO position still to fill since Bruno Guillon left in March amidst profit warnings. Some analysts blamed the repositioning towards more expensive, luxury bags for a slump in sales, since Mulberry’s more traditional clientele seem to prefer a £500-to-£800 (HK$6,100-to-HK$9,700) mark for handbags. So will Coca’s appointment, arguably a new chapter for the brand, also signal another shift in product focus, towards a more affordable range?

“Johnny and the team here at Mulberry have talked a lot on this point. We are all keen to keep the positioning of the brand as it is. Whilst beautiful luxury bags worth £1,500 are a natural price point for us, we also want to design great bags at the £500-to-£800 mark.  We feel that it’s important to give our customers choice,” says Davis.

Collaborations with supermodel and celebrity Cara Develingne have filled the media void in the absence of a creative director, and from them have come quite bankable products aimed at a younger clientele, tapping into something fresh for the cool, quirky British label. With Coca’s appointment, Davis says the brand is still looking forward to collaborating with the model.

“We have recently launched a new small leather goods collection designed by Cara. Her signature lion rivet and camouflage print still distinguishes the collection, but this time you’ll find them on make-up pouches, miniature ladies bags and iPad, iPhone and passport covers.”

That Mulberry has its own factories in England also gives it "a unique position amongst British brands” in terms of craft and quality, argues Davis, citing this as one of the things that attracted “a world-class design talent” in Coca. “He can inject new energy and innovation into the brand. It’s an exciting moment for Mulberry.”

With Coca’s experience in high-end luxury accessories, it’s important that confidence in the brand has been boosted. Mulberry has managed to carve out a strong identity and niche for itself over the years with iconic bags like the Alexa (named after Alexa Chung) and the Bayswater. Very pretty, quirky ready-to-wear is also part of the brand, as seen at its presentation in September during London Fashion Week, and Coca will be taking charge of this too. Things are indeed looking up, but what of that CEO slot still left to fill?

“As with the creative director post, we are taking our time to find the best fit for the role,” Davis says.