Cécile Reinaud is the founder of maternity brand Séraphine. Sales at the brand, which is an A-list celebrity favourite, have just hit £15.5m and it is now sold in more than 30 countries. She talks to The Industry about creating a multi-million pound brand, being a favourite of the Duchess of Cambridge and her plans for the future, including a new store in LA.
Your sales have just hit £15.5m (congratulations!), when you started out in 2002, did you have a vision of how big the company could become?
Well I’ve never been one to shy away from aiming high. I’m a firm believer in setting yourself goals and working hard to achieve them, and I certainly had high hopes for Séraphine when I first started out. But looking back I couldn’t have imagined how far we’d have come in just 14 years. At the close of this financial year we had more millions in sales than we’ve had years in business!
I understand you started your career in advertising but your family background in textiles led to friends asking you to adapt their wardrobes when they fell pregnant, is that how it all started?
Yes, I’ve always been passionate about fashion, ever since learning to sew with my grandmother as a child. Being quite petite myself, I often altered and customised my own clothes, and when my friends and colleagues started to fall pregnant, the requests started coming in.
Now, there is more choice for pregnant women, then very little, did you see a clear opportunity and why do you think it was such an untapped market?
At the time, back in the late 90’s & early 00’s, there was really nothing stylish on the market for pregnant women. The workwear options in particular were terrible, and pregnant colleagues used to moan about their struggle to find anything smart to wear to the office. That was when my inspiration struck.
Going back a little further in time, a baby bump was considered a bit of a taboo, and maternity clothes were geared towards covering it up and hiding away – essentially, ugly tent dresses. But attitudes gradually started to change – I credit the start of the shift to Demi Moore’s legendary nude pregnant Vanity Fair cover shoot in 1991. After that, women started to feel much more empowered to celebrate their bumps, and embrace their curves. Women’s attitudes had changed, but the maternity fashion industry hadn’t adapted to catch up. That’s where I saw my opportunity.
Can you describe the Séraphine aesthetic and how has that evolved since you first launched the brand?
My main aim with Séraphine has remained the same from the start: to provide fashionable and comfortable maternity clothes, designed to help women stay stylish through pregnancy. At the beginning, my Parisian roots definitely influenced the handwriting of the collection, and while there are certainly still elements of Parisian chic throughout, our aesthetic has evolved to encompass a range of styles. I always say that at Séraphine we dress everyone from rock stars to royalty, and when planning our range we always incorporate styles to suit these different tastes.
You were very early on to the idea of celebrity endorsement, does that remain important to this day?
Yes, even from the first days of opening our flagship store in Kensington we had fantastic celebrity customers coming in to shop, from super models Elle MacPherson and Claudia Schiffer to Hollywood actresses including Kate Hudson.
Today our A-list clientele reads like a celebrity who’s who. We’ve dressed everyone from Gwen Stefani, Anne Hathaway, Mila Kunis and Jessica Alba to the Princesses of Sweden and The Duchess of Cambridge. I’ve always found that celebrity endorsements are particularly important for maternity clothes, as most women start their search with no prior knowledge at all. So if they see stylish women that they admire looking great in our clothes, it gives them the sense that this is a brand they can trust.
What effect did the endorsement of the Duchess of Cambridge have on the business?
The Duchess wore several Séraphine styles throughout both of her pregnancies, and she famously wore our fuchsia pink knotted maternity dress in the beautiful first pictures with Prince George. Those iconic pictures made headlines around the world, and suddenly everyone was talking about Séraphine. We were in the public eye on a larger scale than ever before, and sales and brand awareness skyrocketed.
It’s said that maternity brands need to market more heavily than other brands as you need a constant stream of new customers (as people move on from the brands once they have had their children), how do you go about marketing and keep that funnel full of new customers?
Personally, I come from a marketing and PR background, so this is an area of the business that I am particularly passionate about. Of course we go through all the traditional routes, advertising in the top pregnancy magazines etc. but that’s really just the beginning. Our work with celebrities plays a big role in widening brand awareness, and we also work with top fashion bloggers when they fall pregnant to capture their audiences. Aside from that, I make sure that we capitalize on every opportunity for coverage in the mainstream press – I often act as the brand’s ambassador, doing interviews and TV appearances or taking part in panel discussions. It’s all about keeping Séraphine in the public consciousness.
You branched into babywear with a special edition of clothing using the Princess Diana tartan with proceeds going to The Diana Award, how did that go and is it an area you are looking to expand?
Yes, our Diana Collection of baby wear has been a hit with customers – especially in our stores, where they love the adorable displays. This is something we are considering expanding in the future, right now we’re working on a range of organic cotton baby clothes, but this won’t be available for a little while yet.
You must speak to many pregnant women, what is it they tell you they want from their maternity wardrobe?
Yes, I do, and of course my own two pregnancies also gave me a great insight into what women are looking for. Comfort is almost always the first priority, so at Seraphine we work really hard to source the softest fabrics, and to construct our clothes so that nothing digs in or pinches anywhere. A flexible fit is another major consideration. Women want to get the most use possible out of their maternity clothes, so at Séraphine, all of our styles are designed to be worn before, during and after pregnancy, and many offer discreet access for breastfeeding too. And of course it goes without saying that style is an important factor – no woman should have to sacrifice her sense of style, just because she’s pregnant.
We notice that you have a luxe line to cater for special occasions, including weddings. That seems like a very good idea since they can be a nightmare to dress for when you are pregnant, how is that performing?
Yes, I introduced the Luxe Collection back in 2002 and it has been a huge success. The range has grown every season and has really gone from strength to strength. There will always be weddings, christenings, parties and formal occasions to attend, so maternity evening wear and party dresses have been a very strong seller for us.
You have a number of stores in the UK and in select international locations, are you planning to develop that?
Yes, I am always on the lookout for the perfect location for our next store. I’m currently exploring options in Paris, and am looking to build on the success of our two New York stores by launching a flagship store in LA! An LA store has been a pet project of mine for a while now – so many of our celebrity clients are based in Hollywood – it just makes sense.
What is the vision for the brand moving forward?
I have a strong growth trajectory planned for the coming years, with a real focus on international expansion. In light of Brexit and the weak pound, I’m seeing more and more opportunities to expand into new markets overseas – especially in America and Asia.
Was there one thing you wished you had known when you started out that you would share with someone starting out now?
My advice would be to always trust your instincts and have the courage of your convictions. Over the years I’ve learnt to have faith in my first impressions – whether it’s new hires, spotting a great opportunity, or a style that I believe is going to fly off the shelves. Do your research and know your target market, but ultimately when it comes down to it, go with your gut.