When it comes to British and French fashion, one size doesn't fit all, as Kookai has discovered. The French fashion retailer's UK franchise went into administration in January. Private-equity firm Forminster owned the UK licence through its Adjustbetter subsidiary, but after the collapse of renewal negotiations with French parent Groupe Vivarte, it suspended its shares and put Kookai UK into administration. As MT went to press, a buyer was being sought for the franchise, but the question is whether a high-fashion Parisian clothes chain can compete on our high street.
'Kookai is a very strong retail brand,' said Neville Kahn, partner at Deloitte, joint administrator for Adjustbetter. 'For some time there has been uncertainty over the franchise arrangements with Kookai SA, and this administration enables more stability to be brought into the business.' He was sure that Kookai's British customers would stick with it through its financial uncertainty.
THE STRAIGHT TALK
Kookai UK's problems boil down to two concerns. First, the cut-throat climate on the high street; second, the troublesome cross-channel relationship between franchisor and franchisee. 'Kookai had a certain kudos in the late 1980s and '90s, but that has diminished,' Chris Curtin of industry bible Drapers told the London Evening Standard. 'It is very much a French brand, and that brings certain difficulties. It has become out of tune with the tastes, sizing and colours that women in Britain like to wear.' Add to this the recent rise of fast-fashion outlets such as Primark and New Look (which has already conquered France) and general consumer gloom, and it's easy to understand how Kookai, beloved of svelte Parisiennes, would be shunned by more fashion-conscious British women. Forminster has complained of delayed stock supplies from the mothership, while licence and franchise negotiations have been tortuous.
Whither Kookai now? Some are hopeful of a British recovery. Rhys Williams, analyst at broker Seymour Pierce, told the Guardian: 'It used to hold a strong position in the high street, but suffered from having to take its stock from the French, which wasn't really right for the British market, and deliveries didn't always come on time. But they were getting their act together.' Can the act succeed? It would seem not. Young British women want throwaway, high-fashion clothes that fit them. Is this the final curtain for French fashion on the British high street?