March 2019

Drapers – Graeme Moran 210319

With more than 50 shops internationally, the Belgian womenswear-focused brand brings its colourful quirks to the UK with its debut store.

“Opening a store in London is a dream come true,” says Esfan Eghtessadi, co-founder and CEO of contemporary brand Essentiel Antwerp.

Located at 27a Sloane Square, the new 2,000 sq ft store is the brand’s first in the UK and a milestone for the Belgian business, both professionally and personally.

“For us it’s a big achievement. We’ve always loved London,” says Eghtessadi excitedly.

From a tee

Essentiel Antwerp has come a long way since it started life as a jersey-focused T-shirt label back in 1999, founded by Eghtessadi and his wife, creative director Inge Onsea. The four styles of T-shirt it launched with, then available in 20 colours, has transformed into a global brand with more than 50 stores, mainly in Europe. It has more than 1,000 stockists, 60 of which are in the UK and include Harvey Nichols, John Lewis and Asos, as well as being a favourite of independents.

We expect if this London store goes well, we will open another in London

Esfan Eghtessadi, co-founder and CEO of Essentiel Antwerp

“We called it Essentiel because we just started with the essentials,” explains Eghtessadi. Today, it offers a full collection, covering womenswear, accessories, footwear and menswear. Womenswear accounts for 95% of sales. Wholesale prices for autumn 19 range from £12 for jewellery to £170 for coats, sold via Lucy Wernick Fashion Agency in the UK.

Visit any trade show and the Essentiel Antwerp stand will catch your eye. Not just because of the crowds of buyers clamouring over the new season styles, but the brand’s signature mix of prints, patterns and punchy colours across a mix of updated wardrobe staples. Although there are hints of trends, Essentiel Antwerp’s signature remains unique yet wearable.

“I am a big fan of the brand,” says Julia Jaconelli, founder of Drapers Independents Award-winning womenswear store Courtyard in Guildford, who has stocked the brand for the last three seasons.

“I like it because it always comes up with interesting prints, unusual colour combinations and quirky details that keeps everything fresh and original, but is also very wearable and at a good price point. The bestselling items last season were the coats, particularly the fake fur, but all items sell well.”

Vanessa Collen, managing director of Collen & Clare, which has three stores across Suffolk and Norfolk, agrees: “We stock Essentiel Antwerp in our Southwold and Burnham Market stores, and it seems to offer humour, fashion and great quality at accessible price points.

“It is very much a ‘happy’ brand that sells to all ages and sizes, and can look both fashion forward and almost timeless all at once. Knitwear and skirts have been strong categories season after season for us and there is always a print that is stand out.”

London debut

Essentiel Antwerp, which remains privately owned, opened its first store in Antwerp in 2000, and has expanded across Europe in countries including Spain, France and Germany. It is now split 60% retail and 40% wholesale.

This month it opened its first store on British shores, at west London’s Sloane Square, a stone’s throw from the King’s Road and the Saatchi Gallery, the home of womenswear trade show Scoop.

“London is a big move,” says Eghtessadi. “But we’ve seen very promising wholesale and online sales in the UK, and London particularly. As well as creating a home in London, it’s a big exposure for the brand to rest of Europe, Asia, and America – all over the world, in fact – with the number of tourists here.”

Designed by an in-house team and spread over two floors, the store showcases the women’s clothing, footwear and accessories collections.

The interior is a pop of bubble-gum pink, covering everything from the walls to plush carpets and curtains. Fixtures, fittings and furniture are all bespoke, including a statement circular seat and marbled display plinths.

I don’t do economics or politics, and I’m not worried about Brexit

Esfan Eghtessadi, co-founder and CEO of Essentiel Antwerp

While debuting a store in an area dominated by wholesale accounts could rub some stockists up the wrong way, Eghtessadi is not concerned. “Everywhere we have opened a store we have seen wholesale sales go up too, because the brand awareness goes up. We will see wholesale and [online sales] grow once we have opened the store, they help each other – it’s what we see every time. The store acts a great ambassador.”

Some might also question why the business would choose now to open in the UK, amid the turbulent political and retail climate. “We have to be opportunistic today,” says Eghtessadi. “It’s not easy to find the right location, the right square footage, the right rent, so when we do, we have to act.”

“I don’t do economics or politics, and I’m not worried about Brexit,” he adds. “It’s always difficult to open a store. In every period we have faced different difficulties. London might even benefit, seeing more people travelling to London to shop.”

So confident is Eghtessadi, he adds: “We expect if this London store goes well, we will open another in London.”

Nash Bond acted for Cadogan Estate in the letting