Prior to spending 12 years as president and chief executive officer of Club Monaco, John Mehas accumulated his merchandising and retail experience at Bloomingdale’s and The Gap, Inc. He was proudly brought onto the Polo Ralph Lauren team to oversee the expansion of the Canadian-based retailer, which at the time of acquisition had roughly $90 million in annual sales.
What attracted Ralph Lauren to the small specialty chain was its elementary European-esque fashion at affordable prices. The retailer sold designer like clothing but at half the costs. ”It has a real sense of style at a good price,” the chairman and chief executive said. ”I see it as a very large company, like Banana Republic or even Gap.” That vision remains unhindered to today.
But it was a gradual process for Club Monaco. Although the brand remains relatively small in comparison to Banana Republic and J. Crew, which together have over 1,000 stores, it has made great leaps and bounds to become a household name in the fashion industry. John Mehas described the early stages of the label as “all chinos and T-shirts.”
“Now it’s an affordable urban luxury,” he said.
The management team behind Club Monaco understood that growth lies in the diversification of the product. You can only sell so many chinos and t-shirts, so why not offer different price points that are still competitive and a few more product lines that fits the buyer from head to toe.
In 2013, the label not only launched a high-end collection, simply entitled the Club Monaco Collection, to compete directly against J. Crew’s Collection, but the company also made their foray into footwear.
With regard to the kind of style represented by Club Monaco, women’s designer Caroline Belhumeur characterized it quite well.
“Club Monaco’s style is best described as easy sophistication, effortless chic and functional, affordable luxury.”
Such qualification could not have really been said of the label until the past couple of years, when Club Monaco experienced an elevated sense of aesthetics by in large due to the creative team of designers.
On the menswear end, Aaron Levine led the aesthetic revolution by prioritizing two fundamental pieces: fit and fabrics. “It’s got to feel rich. It’s got to feel clean. It’s got to feel accessible.” With these pieces in mind, the product has evolved in such a way that the label finally feels distinct from its rivals.
Apart from the product, Caroline Belhumeur spearheaded the new direction in retail. It began with the renovation of New York’s flagship store, which resembled more of a lifestyle brand than strictly apparel retailer. Inside the Flatiron location, shoppers will find a curated collection of books, Toby’s Estate Coffee and displays of local artists’ works.
Last year the company had some success in terms of expansion. Club Monaco opened its first stand-alone menswear shops in New York, Boston, Seoul, Hong Kong and London. The high-end online commerce site, Mr. Porter, also started featuring the brand’s products right alongside other well knowns, such as Saint Laurent and Thom Browne.
The innovation in product and retail design have catapulted the Canadian label to the forefront of specialty apparel stores. Now CEO John Mehas continues the evolution of Club Monaco in the same fashion. He’s looking to take further advantage of the small 64-unit chain to progress its “more bespoke model.” Rather than expanding stores in commercial spaces such as malls, Mehas will turn to unique retail spaces.
In a recent interview, he said, “For me, it’s all about the store and what we create, not the personality.” It will be exciting to see Club Monaco’s newest developments.
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