Chris Wood helps to launch top-end male fashion brand Dom Reilly

March 28, 2013

Dom ReillyFor years, you’ve run your own brand consultancy. After successfully selling it, you step into the limelight as chairman of the Central Office of Information, only to find that mad axeman and part-time cabinet minister Francis Maude is cutting off at the knees the very organisation you’ve just been invited to head. What next?

I caught up with Chris Wood recently and found out. It transpires he is helping to give lift-off to a new top-end fashion brand called Dom Reilly. Never heard of it? Well, unlike Chris Wood, you’ve probably had nothing to do with Formula One. Wood, in his spare time, is an unreconstructed petrol head; and Dominic Reilly (pictured) – the eponymous brand name –  is the former head of marketing at Williams F1 Team.

Reilly’s company, where Wood is a non-executive director and adviser, is ambitiously pitching itself at the very top of a very discriminating market – with a price-tag to match. The initial range, admittedly exquisitely hand-crafted, starts at £95 for a tooled leather phone case and escalates to an eye-watering £1,400 for a weekender bag (roughly the price of a Manolo Blahnik handbag or a Jimmy Choo tote).  This new brand has no intention of being a Mulberrry also-ran, no siree.

So why is Reilly so confident about his ambitious positioning? The answer lies not so much in the quality of the goods – that’s a given when competing with the likes of Louis Vuitton, Armani and Alfred Dunhill – but in a judicious soupçon of Formula One. A soupçon, because too much of it will asphyxiate the brand with the rank odour of “petrol-head” and “anorak” – in short, death by downmarket male. While there’s no escaping Dom Reilly’s essentially masculine appeal, the idea is to imbue the brand with FI’s sophisticated reputation for engineering excellence and technological innovation. One of the accessories, for instance, is a beautifully finished crash helmet case; and some of the collection features a special high-density foam used in F1 cockpits that absorbs almost all shock on impact.

Reilly, given his 6 years as head of marketing at Williams, has second-to-none access to one of the world’s most sophisticated R&D departments. But he has to be careful how he plays the Williams card. Few team brands, with the exception of Ferrari, have much charisma off-track. And in any case, Williams has not performed well of late (one, but only one, good reason, why the Williams name is not directly associated with the brand). Instead, an aura of cutting-edge R&D is being subtly diffused through the person of Patrick Head, co-founder of Williams F1 and its fabled chief of design – who just happens to be a founder shareholder in Dom Reilly.

Dom Reilly EnglandIn truth, the attractions of launching an haute gamme fashion brand are there for all to see: salivating margins and high resilience to recession. Equally, so is the demerit: everyone’s at it. The sector has become crowded with participants touting increasingly obscure and recondite “provenance”: the 17th century Huguenot diaspora, the Empress Josephine’s personal dressmaker etc (I made those up, but you know what I mean). So attaching your brand to future-directed technology with wide aspirational appeal is certainly a point of difference.

But that’s not to say fashion and high-octane auto culture are natural bedfellows, as the history of the Ferrari brand all too clearly illustrates. “It’s interesting,” says Wood, “That in the last Top Gear programme I watched, they were extolling the virtues (and innocence) of Pagani (750bhp hypercars, costing three times as much as a Lamborghini and correspondingly rare), while referring to the Maranello mob (i.e. Ferrari) as ‘purveyors of key rings and baseball caps’. And about Lamborghini as a contrivance of Audi. Out of the mouths of children, and even Clarkson, can come a certain wisdom.”


Audi of America boss Johan de Nysschen defects to Nissan’s Infiniti

June 5, 2012

Sometimes it’s easy to forget there are other things going on in the world of autos than Joel Ewanick shaking up General Motors’ marketing plan.

Such as Audi veteran Johan de Nysschen quitting the marque he has championed for 19 years and heading for rival luxury brand Infiniti.

De Nysschen’s decision to quit Audi of America, which he has steered with great success for 7 years, created considerable industry speculation last week. Putsched or moving on – and why? It now turns out he will be relocating to Hong Kong where, as a senior vice-president of Nissan – which owns Infiniti, he will spearhead an attempted global revival of the trailing luxury car brand.

De Nysschen’s departure from Audi was a surprise, not least because the North American unit has been performing so well recently. Annual sales exceeded 100,000 units for the first time two years ago; this year, Audi’s share of the US luxury car market has risen from 5.3% to 10%. In May alone, Audi’s US sales climbed 15% to 52,494 cars.

But perhaps that’s the point: de Nysschen likes a challenge. And with Infiniti he’s certainly getting one.

In the US, Infiniti is the brand that most closely rivals Audi in sales performance. During 2010, Infiniti narrowly outsold Audi – 103,411 vehicles compared with 101,629. But there the resemblance ends. Last year, Infiniti trailed Audi at 98,461 to 117,561. The immediate reason was production problems stemming from the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. The more strategic issue is an ageing and increasingly unimpressive product line.

Globally Infiniti sales, at about 200,000, are a fraction of VW-owned Audi’s 1.3 million. Infiniti has been striving to catch up, with a technology deal involving Mercedes-Benz and the promise of an extended vehicle line-up of 10, in place of the existing 8.

Clearly Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn has been making all sorts of promises to de Nysschen about imminently improved product performance. Without that, it seems unlikely that Infiniti will be able to charge anything like the price of a BMW, Mercedes or Audi any time soon.

The establishment of a new global Infiniti headquarters in Hong Kong – doors opened last month – is an interesting declaration of intent in itself.

Infiniti was once exclusive to the USA, but is now being marketed in 46 countries. Significantly, China is Infiniti’s second largest market after the USA.

%d bloggers like this: