Each month I give my verdict on who has shown the world an interesting and distinctive brand. My latest personal brand of the month goes to…
For the first time in her career, British designer Lulu Guinness, OBE presented a ready-to wear collection at London Fashion Week this month, giving not only press and buyers but also consumers the option to “buy off the runway”. But what caught my attention was her incredibly candid interview in the Sunday Times Style Magazine this month, which beautifully illustrated many facets of her strong personal brand.
Here’s what I find most striking about her personal brand:
She’s not afraid to take risks
The luxury handbag and clothing designer lives by the motto of her hero, Surrealist artisan and fashion designer Elsa Schiaparelli: “Dare to Be Different”. And that she does. Lulu Guinness, who’s accessories are in the V&A’s permanent collection, is not afraid to make some risky co-brand moves, even with mundane household items such as toasters. “The PR told me I shouldn’t do it, but it’s one of my favourite things” she explained in a recent interview with The Sunday Times Style Magazine. The toaster, a collaboration with Comet in 2009, featured Guinness’s trademark red-lip print. And it turns out to be symbolic of Guinness’s attitude towards the fashion industry. She explained that she has never had a fashion ego and sees delight in commercial opportunities where other designers may not.
She also takes risk on the runway. Her “buy now” ready-to wear collection at London Fashion Week gave consumers the option to buy there and then. Sharing with Style, “What customer isn’t buy-now right for? It’s what we all want.”
She personifies her brand
Since age 16, Guinness loved the glamour of lipstick and how it made her feel; so when she started designing accessories, red lips were the focus. Her obsession for a bold red lip became her signature, and it hasn’t waned. And you will never catch her without her trademark red lipstick.
Described as a “witty, pretty English eccentric”, she is the living, breathing personification of her brand. Guinness creates what she loves, and follows her gut when she creates. She also has a refreshing indifference to following trends. As she told Style, “I think it’s almost unfashionable to be on trend.”
What’s important to Guinness? She explains, “I want to entertain; I want to help you forget about your normal life for a bit.” This attitude is reflected in her marketing savvy, which is also intuitive and values driven. Long before the age of social marketing, Guinness was connecting with her market and instinctively put herself at the forefront of her brand. And she understands her target audience. She told Style, “we are a tribe, and we know each other.”
She’s an impressively socially responsible brand
Reflective of her aforementioned brilliant co-branding, Lulu’s charity collaborations are a plenty and typically encapsulate the brand’s sense of humour and wit. These include tote bags in aid of Comic Relief and Friends of the Royal Marsden hospital, one-off auction items such as this clutch, and even a fab repurposed chair in aid of the Duchess of Cambridge’s charity, The Art Room.
Guinness also created limited edition Red Ribbon brooches to help increase awareness of HIV leading up to World AIDS Day in 2014. Designed by Guinness herself, the brooch is a modern twist on the traditional red ribbon, complete with her trademark lips.
She also celebrates philanthropic modern day icons on her website. Most recently, she applauds some of her favourite women’s world-changing initiatives, including Emma Watson’s He For She campaign, and Leoni Kibbey’s not-for-profit film festival.
She’s open and authentic…and a role model
Guinness is open about her bipolar disorder. In the Style interview, she disclosed, “I’m still learning, but I’ve managed it for years. Accepting that you need to be on medication for ever is a big one, I was always trying to come off them, and I caused total crisis — it was hard for the family, but I’d be so insistent. You feel so well, ‘I don’t need these’.” What also helps, she explained, is showing authentic vulnerability, to “talk about how difficult life is, rather than showing a persona”. Guinness shared that it may not be very “English society”, however it’s becoming easier to open up. “It’s so exhausting being someone else, making out that everything’s perfect.”
Guinness further shared that she is keen to be a vocal mental-health role model. “The princes do amazing work, but it’s for men, isn’t it? Adwoa’s thing with Gurls Talk is brilliant, but it’s for young people. I’m a good example of an unlikely person because I’m an eternal optimist with an illness. People have such a narrow idea of depression, but my thing is to show people depression needn’t define you.”