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Designers Events Publish in 28 March 2024

How to adapt to an ever-moving market : an interview with Icone Lingerie

Co-founder Darren O’Riain unveils the French brand’s strategy to cope with the sector’s economic ups and downs, and shares his advice to the Salon International de la Lingerie’s young exhibitors.

Founded in 2014, Icone Lingerie has managed to successfully apprehend market fluctuations by adjusting its strategy in real time. Born of a desire to offer women aesthetic and comfortable pieces, which support the body without constraining it and which emphasizes all the subtleties of femininity, it developed a pragmatic approach to business and development. It’s co-founder Darren O’Riain tells us all about keeping a healthy approach to business and building unexpected bridges.

Tell us about your relationship to the Salon International de la Lingerie

We have been present on Exposed since its second edition. At that time Matthieu Pinet gave us a very personal approach, adapted to our scale, which was very helpful for a young brand. Being present on the salon amongst the big and smaller players, both French and international, gave us credibility as a lingerie brand. It is also an opportunity to prospect and to meet our clients, to exchange face to face and to better develop our relationship.

What is your approach to this new edition?

This season we are adding pre-sales to our offer. Rather than pushing one or the other we give our clients the possibility to chose : they can either buy the summer collection which will be delivered next month, or pre-order the winter collection. This allows us to get live feedback, to see what works and what doesn’t and to adapt to the market in real time.

Tell us about how you made your positioning evolve.

When noticing a market slow-down these past few years we had two options : lower our quality and bet on cheaper prices, or take the opposite road and move upscale. So, we chose to move from a mid-range to a high-end positioning, with 100% of our raw materials made in France or in Europe, French dyers, and a true desire to highlight these know-hows.

Why this choice ?

To work with a mono-product such as lingerie means being able to bounce back quickly. Our assumption was that in the years to come people would buy either less or better, in a more responsible way. So it only made sense to offer organic cotton lines, a Portuguese manufacturing and also to develop our product range by working on four seasons rather than two. It generates more encounters with our customers and an offer that is more in tune with the climate. Since the weather is becoming nicer and nicer, for a longer time during the year, putting out a winter collection in September makes less sense than it used to. Instead, we offer light, autumnal pieces in August and September, and darker things for the beginning of winter.

You are also developing ready-to-wear

We made this choice last year for our collaboration with footwear brand Bobbies. As a lingerie brand it made sense to take the ready-to-wear road in order to create a link between underwear and shoes, so we imagined a range of dresses. They were a real out-of-stock success ! Entering this segment is also a way of anticipating the doubts our retailers can have about a drop of lingerie sales. We give them the opportunity to offer new products that remain true to the Icone DNA, with the same fabrics and colors.

In the same spirit, we are working on a new collaboration with Laurence Bras. We are designing a few lingerie pieces for their winter collection and they will do the same with ready-to-wear for our summer collection. Collaborations are a good way of reorientating ourselves, within a collective vision that makes sense since we share the same ethic and the same commitment to quality. It’s a win-win for both our brand images and networks.

How do you handle the different sales channels ?

As opposed to our competitors who were born online, we started our journey in multi-brand and department stores before developing our website. Things are now speeding up online but it is still very important for us to respect our retailers. They are the one who made us ! The proliferation of outlets and promotions has been really hard for them so we chose not to do any markdowns outside of the sales periods. Young brands have a tendency to reluctantly follow the move because they think that they don’t have a choice, but in doing so they are only harming themselves. These promotions don’t necessarily generate more revenue, and they drive down sales in important periods like Christmas. We continue to believe in retailers and in our Paris store as sources of impulse purchase, to which ready-to-wear can now contribute during slower periods.

What is your feedback on this new edition of the Salon International de la Lingerie ?

We are not disappointed ! We have had a lot of visitors with very eclectic profiles. It was a good opportunity to reconnect, meet new people and open new possibilities within international networks.

What advice would you give to young salon newcomers ?

Don’t come just once ! A salon such as this one demands regularity. The first time will be a little intimidating for young brands that people are not familiar with, but perseverance is key. After two or three seasons buyers will notice you more and more, and the ones who didn’t stop at your booth the first time will end up getting curious. So be patient, and also keep in mind that buyer profiles are quite different from one season to another, so it is important to come twice a year.