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The Industry Interview: James Shepherd, brand director, Original Penguin (Europe)

Tom Bottomley
30 January 2019

With a freshly refurbished Covent Garden flagship shop and a new design focus for Original Penguin for AW19, as seen at the recent Pitti Uomo show in Florence and Seek in Berlin, brand director, James Shepherd, talks through the fresh direction of the brand.

What’s new about Original Penguin for AW19?

The collection was inspired by American college wear and university style. Younger varsity striped shirting, sweats and hooped rugby shirts sit now more comfortably with elevated items like Italian made Merino knits and chinos. I think our customer will notice a real focus for the new AW19 season.

What’s the reason behind this new direction?

We want to appeal to a wider audience. We have worked very hard to create a collection that appeals to younger guys throughout Europe, whilst still catering for our existing base. I think this new collection and imagery looks really relevant. It’s what I would describe as "commercially cool".

Original Penguin

So, are you now targeting a younger customer?

It’s more about a mind-set rather than age. Nowadays, you see a 45 year-old wearing Supreme and a 16 year-old wearing a tailored jacket from Ralph Lauren. We are going to design clothes for our guy, whatever his age.

Has a new designer come on board to reshape the look and feel of the brand’s offer?

We have a new executive VP of design and global merchandise, Martin Roos, who has joined us from Ralph Lauren. His care and attention to detail is a great asset for Original Penguin. He has honed down the level of SKU’s produced, working to a concise colour palette and using the best materials to create a really high quality collection. We are very proud of it, and the reaction we’ve had so far has been very positive.

What are the key pieces for AW19?

We have introduced the sumptuous Merino knits, which are more premium made in Italy pieces in autumnal hues. They are a great new addition. Also keep an eye out for our newly launched penguin logo called "Sticker Pete" – a more contemporary look adorned on sweats, polo’s, rugby shirts and Harrington jackets.

Original Penguin

Does the new collection lend from the brand’s past?

Original Penguin has such a wealth of heritage under its belt. The company was established in 1955, where we became the touchstone of suburban sport with the introduction of the first golf shirt in America. In the 1950’s and 60’s, our logo "Pete" the Penguin, became synonymous with legends like Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Clint Eastwood. Today, the brand works hard to weave that esteemed heritage into every garment and collection that is designed.

Is the “Earl” polo shirt still a key piece in the Original Penguin offer?

Original Penguin is synonymous with casual, social sports such as golf and bowling, and with that it became known for the “Earl” Polo shirt. This polo shirt is the cornerstone of the brand. Since its conception from 1955, anyone from Frank Sinatra to Bing Crosby, from Johnny Depp to Jake Gyllenhaal, has worn it. Each season we produce new variations, and for the AW19 collection we have some in strong patchwork primary colour blocks, and a monochrome check version, as well as some overdyed versions in autumnal mustard, burgundy and forest green.

What stores in the UK does Original Penguin currently perform well in?

We are very excited about working with House of Fraser under their new ownership. Currently we are performing really well online with Next, ASOS and Zalando. They are great accounts for us. And, of course, we have a great network of key independents, which I am a big believer and supporter of.

When did the refurbishment of the brand’s store at 49 Long Acre in Covent Garden happen, and what’s the look and feel of it?

The shop was refurbished in November. We want the product to speak for itself, so the shop fit is brighter in a cleaner colour palette. It's now a gallery space that allows the themes of each collection to change the space for our customer.

Original Penguin

Going by the skateboards on the stand at Pitti, would you say the new collection is now more street and skate influenced?

Skate isn’t part of our DNA. For the look book we shot it at a heritage British college, highlighting the “varsity” influence of the collection. We wanted to juxtapose this preppy image with a street edge, so the skateboard was more of a symbol to get this point across. Saying that, we did a collaboration with the American streetwear brand Chinatown Market last year, where we had a pop-up shop in Selfridges, so the brand is definitely focussed on tapping into a younger and more streetwise guy.

What marketing are you doing?

We have a marketing initiative called “New Originals”, where we work with emerging creative talent. So far, we have worked with a free-runner called Daniel Ilabaca and a graffiti artist called Aches. In the spring we will be working with a DJ duo, a young entrepreneur and we would love to work with a skater perhaps. You can check out #BeAnOriginal or visit our website get a better idea of what it’s all about.

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