An Interview with David Reiss
Reiss is the Word
By Matt Callard
When David Reiss opened the Victoria Quarter, Leeds outlet of his global ‘affordable luxury’ fashion brand it felt, for a moment, like a circle had been completed. During the 70s the region played a crucial part in the development of his vision – a vision that, so far, has led to over 70 stores worldwide, including outlets in New York, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur and Hong Kong.
“In one of our first ventures in the mid-seventies I opened a factory in Wakefield. It was a shared manufacturing business and I still have a very strong affinity with Yorkshire because every week I was backwards and forwards and almost living up here at times. I set up this wholesale division that carried on for quite a few years. I’ve always had a strong link with Yorkshire – a lot of our products were manufactured in Leeds and the surrounding areas. All my life I’ve had a strong working relationship with Yorkshire. Opening in Leeds several years ago was pretty much like going back to square one.”
Of course, David Reiss doesn’t linger on square one for too long. After promising and delivering a global brand in Reiss, the company has been hard at work on their exquisite global flagship store in the capital.
“Our store on Barrett Street in London, which opened about a month before Christmas is probably the most defining moment in the company’s history. We had a vision of where we wanted to take the brand and the building was something very special to us and we wanted to build a global flagship that would really enhance the brand. It’s been fantastic for us – the reaction we’ve had has been phenomenal.”
The industry word ‘masstige’ – a combination of mass market and prestige – is constantly attributed to Reiss, although it’s not a term David is overly fond of using.
“I know it is an industry word, but we call it affordable luxury. Reiss is totally innovative and design-led and it’s not derivative. That’s really important because we have 20 in-house designers that allow us to create collections from within. Our designers are scouring the world for vintage samples, going to libraries, markets, all with a view to creating clean, refined contemporary fashion at affordable prices.”
“Toughest market in the world”
A quick whizz around the On: Magazine offices confirms my notion that Reiss caters for the more, shall we say, slender frame. It’s an idea that’s quickly rebuffed by the store’s owner-founder, especially as, pun intended, Reiss opens up to a wider clientele.
“I’m just over six foot and I’ve a 36-inch waist and I wear all our trousers. But you’re right, by opening up to a much wider audience people are all different shapes and sizes, from all different countries. In the States they have bigger frames, so we have had to offer a larger garment. But realistically, in our field, which is temporary design, the norm is closer to a size 30 waist than a 36 waist, jackets up to 44 and so on – but we do on occasion go to 44 and 46 sizes – that’s the way the market is.”
Driving the business and the brand forward clearly remains a passion for David Reiss. There’s an indefatigable self belief about him that has seen him fly in the face of play-safe advice. He took the brand to the States when other European brands were floundering there. He moved into womenswear when all the advice told him otherwise.
“When I first went into womenswear everyone said you’re crazy. Don’t do it. It’s the toughest market in the world, so competitive. But I had a vision. I had a belief and I did it and it’s been very successful.”
Maybe it’s this combination of self belief and unfinished business that sees David remain one of the few owner-founders remaining in British retail (Ted Baker is perhaps the only other high street brand). Although offers come in for a share of the business at regular intervals, David sees no reason to accept just yet.
“To us it’s all about having a passion about what you do. With all successful businesses there are x-amount of people out there who would want to be a part of it. A lot of other retailers, because of circumstance or other things, have been bought out or decided they wanted to opt out. But with us, because we have had a five year plan in place, opening stores all around the world, we basically have unfinished business. We have so much happening within the company at the moment. From my point of view I want to see the thing through. There has to be someone at the top who’s driving the business. Someone who has the vision to take it where they want to take it.”
“A lifestyle thing”
“When someone really does believe in something, believes there’s a gap in the market, if they are able, even in a very small way, to set out then I would say just stick to your beliefs. Be very decisive, have a vision and don’t deviate. You have to be driven and you have to have a passion. Also, as the business grows, make sure the people around you are able to carry out that vision. Having the right team is very important.”
Next up for Reiss is a move into the ultra-competitive accessories market. Typically, David doesn’t seem phased.
“With accessories, it wasn’t a huge part of our business. But it’s becoming a very, very important part of it. It’s much more of a lifestyle thing. Especially with the aesthetics of the stores we open. We like beautiful buildings and interesting interiors. It is much more of a lifestyle offer now. We believe there’s a gap in the market for beautiful accessories. We believe it’s going to be a strong part of what we offer. With the Leeds store we had the opportunity of opening an accessories store right next door to where we are now. So that’s what we’ve done.”