Pringle’s Pre-Christmas Present

This November, luxury knitwear brand Pringle of Scotland received an £11million bailout from its Chinese parent company Fang Brothers Holding.  What caused Pringle to need this financial aid and is the injection of cash an indulgence more luxurious than cashmere?

Financially and aesthetically the company has been in upheaval over the past few years.  The reported pre-tax losses of £7.5million for 2010 until 30th January 2011 were part of a consecutive chain of multimillion pound losses over a five year period.  Indeed, the company actually improved slightly on the same period for the previous year, when the company losses were at £11million.

The company line on the reason for these depressing figures is their focus on long-term development and, more generally, the global financial situation.  Pringle does appear committed to overhauling and updating its image.

From its Harwick foundations producing upmarket lingerie in 1815 into the go-to brand for quality knitwear, Pringle has always evolved.  Perhaps the problem is that somewhere along the line, it became almost solely associated with sportswear and the Argyle diamond.

To address this design quagmire and inject a degree of modernity, Clare Waight Keller – whose C.V. included Gucci and Ralph Lauren – was installed as Creative director in 2005.  Over a six year tenure Waight Keller made headway rejuvenating the label.  Catwalk collections incorporated the traditional knits Pringle does so spectacularly with the clean, minimalist look popularised by French designers such as Isabel Marant and Celine.  Unfortunately, despite their beauty, the collections failed to translate into financial gains for the company.

Following Waight Keller’s departure, Pringle appointed Alistair Carr from Balenciaga with the intention he continue this reinvigoration.  His first collection debuted on the S/S 2012 catwalks was mixed.  Whilst the multicoloured geometric patterns adorning grey jumpers were both striking and a witty mash up of the Argyle print, the overall feel of the women’s collection was a little plain, especially given fashion’s  step back from the minimalistic look of a few seasons ago.  A nod to loose-fitting 1920s tennis outfits suggests Carr had the Summer of Sport 2012 – Olympics and Wimbledon – in mind when creating the designs.  The men’s wear continued this 2D theme, but with too heavy a reliance on Classics, including white T-shirts, which do not translate well into an exciting catwalk collection.  One lovely attribute of knitwear is its variety of textures, yet Carr’s offerings were unanimously flat.

Pringle’s re-imagining has also including its association with brand ambassador Tilda Swinton and collaboration with Central St Martin’s students, showcased in a pop-up Harvey Nichols boutique in August 2011.

It would be fair to suggest that rebranding takes time and other companies have managed it.  Burberry and Louis Vuitton have both gone beyond their respective tartan and luggage associations.  Pringle’s injection of cash came courtesy of its owner – we are not dealing with another RBS and the tax payer story – so ultimately the judgment on whether it was a good investment lies with them, but Carr will need to keep one eye on a spreadsheet and the other on a sewing machine.

A solution may be for Pringle play more to its inherited strengths.  Continue avoiding the golf course, but embrace the more traditionally Scottish elements of the archive by reviving dense, rich-hued wools and embrace the recession-sparked desire for long lasting, nostalgic heritage items.  Too much French minimalism does not a British knitwear company make.

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