Coco de Mer – London

By on October 26, 2018
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“Erotic lifestyle” business Coco de Mer was the brainchild of Sam Roddick, daughter of Body Shop founder Anita Roddick. Despite sales increases year on year, Coco de Mer continued to lose money. Ten years later the store was taken over by Lovehoney, which bought the company in 2011.

With the backing of unnamed international investors, in 2017 Lucy Litwack the then-MD of Coco De Mer, led an alleged £5m buyout of the store from Lovehoney. Following an entire career spent in the lingerie industry, Litwack – a former director of luxe lingerie brand La Perla – continues to run Coco de Mer from its base in London’s fashionable Covent Garden.

In a few years you’ve helped turn Coco de Mer from a struggling boutique into a successful international brand. How did you achieve this impressive turnaround?
I am so passionate about Coco de Mer. The brand has always punched above its weight, but I still believe it is yet to realise its full potential. It has been considered a niche brand in the past but it has the potential to be so much more – a true, global luxury brand. This is why I decided to complete a MBO last year. After 3 years at the helm and an entire career in the lingerie industry, I knew that Coco de Mer was the brand I wanted to own and grow.
Luxury is taking on a new definition today. It is no longer just about owning a designer product – instead it is about individual, exceptional experiences, and an emotional connection. These experiences need to be authentic, unique and immersive. At Coco de Mer, we don’t just offer products. We offer experiences and education in order for men and women to make discoveries, explore their desires and embrace the complexity of pleasure in an environment that is welcoming, empowering and indulgent.

A strong, passionate team; exciting collaborations and an equal dedication to creativity and commerciality have helped us to develop the business.

You’ve chosen some pretty big names to work with Coco de Mer. How did you decide on Pamela Anderson as International Brand Ambassador?
Our relationship with Pamela occurred very organically. Pamela was visiting London and staying in the hotel across from our boutique in Covent Garden, and started coming in every day to buy our products. She expressed how much she loved the brand and we discovered that we shared very similar philosophies around female empowerment and the importance of female pleasure. It was a natural progression to find ways to work together.
Did engaging fashion photographer Rankin to make an x-rated Coco de Mer ad campaign back in 2015 (named X) translate into actual sales, or was it more about creating an on-brand message to raise the profile of Coco de Mer?
The X Film turned into a long-term collaboration with Rankin that thrills existing customers and attracts new ones. His work characteristically probes and questions social norms and ideas of beauty, and he continuously lends his visual voice to topics that need a beautiful yet translatable megaphone. Our work together delivers a new visual, experiential, and content vocabulary for sensuality and pleasure.

The X Film was such an exciting project to work on – we wanted to set a conversation in motion that talks about what is actually inspiring the mind to return to the notions of sexual delight. The core of the campaign was our commitment to creating a more vital, more beautiful erotic landscape through which our audience can explore.
The erotic doesn’t get the same overt attention as everything else on the cultural menu, so we created a film to surprise, excite and most importantly, encourage people to delve that little bit deeper into their fantasies – to reignite that connection.

The film drove huge amounts of traffic to our website and worked both to introduce new customers to the brand and to delight existing customers with a reinvigorated approach to the erotic.

As well as the collaborations above, you’ve joined forces with the world famous Victoria & Albert museum in London to make a lingerie line called The V&A Collection by Coco de Mer – for which Rankin also shot a behind-the-scenes film. Can you tell us a bit more about the collection?
At Coco de Mer, collaborations are a core pillar of our strategy. We are developing partnerships that are greater than the sum of their parts, as a strong driver of creative evolution, business growth, and industry innovation. We have partnered with different individuals and brands over the last few years to excite and delight our customers.
A highlight of 2018 is our partnership with the V&A, a coming together of two British heritage luxury brands, embodying the key elements of both entities; luxury, glamour, and opulence. The result is an original and exciting message for customers and fans of the brands.

Merging nature with richly dramatic embellishment, this collection celebrates the opulence of ornament from Georgian glass to traditional Korean lacquerware in silk satins and tulles, allowing you to immerse yourself in the delicate motifs and ornate patterns from the V&A’s rich archives.

We delved into the V&A collections and adapted items such as an English glass and gilt scent bottle from about the 1760s into a delicate golden embroidery and took William Morris’ Wreathnet furnishing fabric from 1882 to create a beautiful silk nightwear print.

Any favourite Coco de Mer V&A lingerie pieces?
I think my favourite from the V&A range is Golden Heron – I just love the gold embroidery – it’s so beautiful and so unusual and is the perfect example of the collaboration. Taking an 18th Century glass perfume bottle and turning the etching on the front into a bespoke embroidery in glittering gold. The gold embroidery against the midnight blue silk is just dreamy!

For the second year running, Coco de Mer joined renowned auction house Sotheby’s in a Valentine Sale named Erotic: Passion & Desire. The 2018 live auction featured erotic pieces by artists such as Klimt and Picasso. On a smaller scale Coco de Mer also sells antique erotic artwork in its store?
It was such an honour to collaborate with Sotheby’s. The knowledge and history within their walls is inspiring and they are the nicest people to work with. The theme of Erotic: Passion and Desire seemed custom made for us. It’s everything we work, design and create for, so we simply had to get involved.

We are currently collaborating with Neil Pearson Rare Books to bring an incredible collection of erotic books and drawings exclusively to the Coco de Mer boutique. Neil’s expertise in this field has enabled us to offer a truly fascinating collection of rare and interesting works to the Coco de Mer customer.

This collection of Erotica is drawn from a time when the public display and sale of such material was forbidden, is all the more arousing for having been taboo, and gives an intriguing insight into the struggle between the libido and the law over the last two centuries.

The Coco de Mer lingerie is now available in prestigious UK department stores Harrods, Selfridges and high-end, online go-to Net-À-Porter.com. However, these stores don’t all offer the same stock. Furthermore, Coco de Mer lingerie can also be bought through online retailer ASOS, which offers younger clients a taste of the aspirational underwear at a marginally lower price-point.

How do you decide which lingerie pieces to sell in which store? And has the profile of Coco de Mer changed at all since working with these external retail channels?
Coco de Mer is a luxury lingerie and erotica fashion house. We offer a curated selection of products, education and guidance, through our store in Covent Garden and through our global website, for a decadent and individualised erotic experience. Until 2016, we sold purely through our own channels. In AW16 we launched a wholesale business and now have 32 stockists (12 in UK and 20 internationally) including Selfridges, Harrods, Net-a-Porter.com and Matchesfashion.com. We work with each individual buyer to choose the lingerie that is right for their customer.
We have a diffusion range called Reign by Coco de Mer which is available at stockists including ASOS and Very.co.uk and this offers some of the Coco de Mer magic to a younger, aspirational customer.

Which is Coco de Mer’s biggest market outside the UK, and what kind of products sell best in that region?
Our biggest market outside of the UK is the USA. We have just launched our lingerie collection through independent boutiques and websites over there and the reaction has been so positive.

In terms of adult toys and accessories, how is the Coco de Mer Pleasure Collection selling through the store website and through Lovehoney? Have you any plans for extending the range, or for releasing a new Coco de Mer collection in future?
This collection continues to perform really well for us. The Pleasure Collection is a range of indulgent products which have been carefully crafted to let you explore your erotic imagination. We really wanted to redefine pleasure with the beautiful packaging and products that look as good as they perform. These truly are luxury products.
We are always in discussions about adding new products to the collection, but we also want to ensure that the collection remains premium and exclusive.

You have another collection with Playboy coming up in SS19. How did this collaboration come about?
Coco de Mer is a very female focused brand. Our entire ethos is based around female pleasure and female empowerment and we only work with partners who we believe shared our passions and vision.

Playboy has always stood for personal freedom — from civil liberties to self expression to sexual freedom — for all people.

And although the world has changed a lot since Playboy came on the scene in 1953, many of these freedoms are as threatened by today’s political environment as they were when the journey began.

Playboy is iconic – and the brand conjures up ideas of glamour, fun and freedom. Hugh Hefner’s quote: “Life is too short to be living someone else’s dream” is so appropriate to women today.

It has been an exciting adventure to collaborate with the iconic Playboy brand. We have developed such a playful and feminine collection together which perfectly encompasses the empowering images and silhouettes from Playboy’s golden age with Coco de Mer’s signature erotic styles. We’ve created must-have pieces with a flirtatious yet sophisticated and luxurious feel. This is a collaboration to inspire and empower.

When and how did you first start your involvement in adult retail? What background or previous experience do you have which benefits your current activity? What do you love most about your adult retail business?
I have over 18 years experience in the lingerie and luxury retail world managing the brand strategy, creative design, merchandising and development of a multitude of luxury and commercial brands. Prior to the MBO which I completed in 2017, I was Coco de Mer’s Managing Director for 3 years. Before joining Coco de Mer in 2014, I held director positions at brands including La Perla, Bendon and Victoria’s Secret in addition to developing and launching David Beckham’s Bodywear line.

I believe in the empowerment of women, and the healthy self-confidence that comes with pleasure seeking and a more progressive viewpoint. The lingerie industry has evolved from a functional service to a fun, fashionable expression for women. Owning and growing Coco de Mer allows me to influence and support dreams, sensuality, and satisfaction.

What are your store trading hours/days and how many days or hours a week do you work in your business?
Monday – Saturday 11am-7pm, Sunday 12pm-6pm
I work 24/7! I am so passionate about Coco de Mer and this industry that I am always working to grow and develop the business. I love it all – from working on the shop floor and meeting our customers face to face, to discovering new brands to add to our curated edit and developing our own lingerie collections each season.

What are some of the best things your business has done?
Our partnerships are core to how we bring excitement and delight to our customers time and time again. Whether it is our capsule collections with Pamela Anderson and The V&A Museum, our work with Sotheby’s on their wildly successful Erotic Art Auction, or our very exciting upcoming work with Playboy, we believe that so many things are better, and more powerful done together.

We have always been a very British brand, and that heritage is important to us. However, so is spreading the message of female pleasure and female empowerment to more people. Our strategy is to grow the business internationally at the luxury end of the market where Coco de Mer is already well positioned and has a very strong customer base.

We can see from our website sales that customers from USA, Europe and Australia love our brand and we are always being asked when we will open stores internationally – which I would love to do one day!
I look forward to continuing to collaborate with new partners in the worlds of art, design, and fashion, and to telling great stories and creating breathtaking experiences.

What makes a great store?
At Coco de Mer, we don’t just offer products. We offer experiences and education in order for men and women to make discoveries, explore their desires and embrace the complexity of pleasure in an environment that is welcoming, empowering and indulgent.

Does your business target a specific customer demographic? How would you define your customer base?
All of our customers appreciate luxury and beauty.

Different customers come to us for different reasons. We have connoisseurs of this world who come to us because they respect our knowledge and assistance.

We have luxury shoppers who want perhaps to dip their toe in a more erotic world and feel comfortable shopping with us because of the luxurious and welcoming environment.

We also have lingerie lovers who come to us purely for our curated edit of luxurious and special lingerie and nightwear.

Our customer base is equally split between men and women and the age range could be anything from 18-80!
How do you train your staff?
We train all our staff in house to be welcoming, friendly, knowledgeable, non-judgmental and dedicated to finding the right product for the right person; offering an environment that feels safe, comfortable and special.

What do staff most love about their jobs at your business?
All our staff are so passionate about the brand – they love Coco de Mer and they want to help our customers make their own discoveries, explore their deepest desires and embrace the complexity of sexual pleasure. Female empowerment and pleasure is at the core of our brand.

If we look at erotic retail businesses 5 years ago versus now, what changes did you see and how have you responded to them?
The industry has definitely evolved into a much more fashion-focused area. Lots of smaller, new brands have launched and since the launch of the Fifty Shades of Grey franchise, there has definitely been a greater interest in the more erotic side of the market from new, more mainstream customers. We have seen luxury shoppers want to dip their toe in the water of this world and at Coco de Mer we have ensured that our boutique is a safe, special, luxurious and empowering place to shop.

What categories of product do you carry?
We offer a curated selection of products, education and guidance, including luxury lingerie, designer sex toys, exquisite bondage, fashion latexwear, sensual body products, delightful gifts and books, and immersive live experiences.

What are some of your best selling brands?
Our own brand Coco de Mer is always our best selling brand within all categories. Other popular brands include Paul Seville and Fleet Ilya in bondage, Julian Snelling in toys and Bordelle and Dita von Teese in lingerie.

What makes a great brand?
Coco de Mer has been at the leading edge of erotica for a very long time. Building a luxury brand around personal experience has allowed us to craft and control any new developments to ensure that our customers’ experiences are always personalised and special.

How important is new product in a store?
Very important. Our boutique customer craves newness and always wants to know when we have new product coming in.

What trends has your business observed in adult pleasure products?
Innovation in technology and virtual reality will have a fundamental impact on this industry.
There is no doubt that the sense of touch, companionship, and intimacy are crucial in developing a happy life, so technology and eroticism have the potential and the promise to tie much more closely together. We are seeing this happening already. Whether it’s couples using smart sex toys that are designed beautifully and enable more ways of exploring pleasure together, sex dolls that are becoming increasingly more active and sophisticated, or sex-specific apps (think Tinder but much more advanced) which will allow you to meet the partner of your dreams – with all the same sexual tastes as you.

How do you create awareness for your store?
The Coco de Mer boutique in London has become a destination. We have people from all over the world coming to visit. At the same time, you always need to be inspiring and surprising your customers. We look forward to continuing to collaborate with new partners in the worlds of art, design, and fashion, and to telling great stories and creating breathtaking experiences.

How do you view the trend toward online shopping and the changing role of the physical shops?
Even though the retail world is developing and progressing further online, for our business the physical boutique is paramount and I believe that physical stores, particularly in the luxury sector, will continue to be important. Our customers love the personal service, the opportunity to touch and feel the products and the immersive experience.

What have been some of the best selling items of all time for your business?
Our Icons lingerie collection embraces eroticism, elegance, playfulness and grace. Each timeless piece is luxurious, empowering and enticing, inspiring you to explore the limits of your erotic imagination. A collection of iconic Coco de Mer styles which have been embraced by our customers through the years. Recently Pamela Anderson was announced as our first ‘Icon, In Our Icons’.

What advice would you give someone intending to start in adult retail today?
Opportunities rarely come with a set of instructions. Take risks from time to time or you’ll never achieve anything. It’s a great industry – enjoy it!

www.coco-de-mer.com
A Synergy Magazine interview with Coco de Mer CEO, Lucy Litwack.

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