We all know that a good belt can transform an outfit. What was the key moment that you decided to launch such a wonderfully specialist belt brand?
I had always had a fascination with retail but back in 2003 could see that all the art, theatre and personality was fast being stripped away. I wanted to go back to a time of specialist retail, genuine knowledgeable customer service and retail theatre. This tied to my personal passion for belts and what I perceived as a yawning gap in the market.
Whilst shoes and bags in particular were becoming ever more diverse, belts remained an afterthought come commodity, with limited choice other than basic brown, black or tan. The scarcity of variety was the driving force behind my vision to create a belt emporium.
So…I made the rather bold move to create Elliot Rhodes and launch by opening a retail store in London dedicated to luxury belts. Customers can find themselves mesmerised by the vast array of interchangeable belts and buckles that they can mix and match at will, to make their very own personal expression of style.
The focus was, and continues to be, on a very personal experience; with staff able to advise on the best styles and colours to consider. The right belt can indeed completely transform an outfit, but it can also completely change a silhouette.
Your design hub is in the UK and there is a very British feel to your brand. What do you draw your inspiration from and how do you keep your designs fresh?
I would like to think that Elliot Rhodes harnesses all that is great about British design but fuses it with influence from the best of continental European style, to create a contemporary British feel. We look backwards and forwards, we are influenced not just by fashion but by culture, history and art.
Truth is that I feel unencumbered by preconceptions within our category – so little has been done with it that I feel almost obliged to just keep on experimenting. We are not dominated by the seasons as belts can be worn year-round, but we obviously keep the vibrancy of the collections by playing with colour and texture. In the last few collections, we have incorporated other textures such as tweed, velvet and denim into our belt strap designs and have also enjoyed working with skilled technicians on our first collection of rubber coated buckles and carbon fibre buckles.
Your journey into ladies belts is a more recent development and your designs are beautiful. How different do you find this market?
From the outset, we have been an entirely unisex brand so have always had a strong female customer base. That said, the last few seasons collections have seen a more feminine edge to some of our styles, including the current pastel coloured Saffiano leather straps and the suede and velvet candy-coloured straps.
We encourage all our customers to be as creative as they want to be with their belts. Women tend to appreciate the chance to play around with more ornate styles, so I always add some fun buckles into our collections, including Swarovski crystal embellished prong and pin styles. Women are used to accessorising and are therefore happy to be bold with their choices. That said I have sold many crystal buckles to male customers!
Do you approve of knotting buckled belts to cinch in a waisted look or is this sacrilegious?!
When the knotted belt trend started gaining momentum a few years ago, I was not initially a fan, but one of the team here kept talking about it and I actually realised that the art of fashion is to be able to manipulate any style or product to create the look that you want. There are no rules…So if you want to go ahead and knot your belt, wear it backwards, with the buckle on the side…whatever… I am fine with it. Whilst I won’t be designing belts specifically for knotting, I am pleased that we are one of the few places where you can buy long enough belts to achieve this look!
How challenging is it to translate your brand message in fresh, far flung markets such as Japan?
Opening an international store is a stressful and risky business, but as with anything you need to have enough confidence in what you do to believe it can translate across borders, whilst at the same time ensuring that you understand local tastes and culture and constantly adapt.
We have been very fortunate to have found a fabulous Japanese partner whose own work ethic mirrors ours. It has been great to get his perspective, but at the same time it has been fun changing preconceptions that he had of the market and being able to launch products that maybe he thought would not work and then do!
We have hand-picked our favourite pieces from your collections for the British Design Hub, all made to beautiful quality in Spain and Italy. What is next for your growing business?
There is a lot in store for Elliot Rhodes over the coming months including further international expansion both in Japan and into the USA, possibly India too. From a product perspective, we are continuing to look at new materials (coloured stainless steel is a current project!) and I am working with on some new combinations of leather and textiles for SS20…although I am still excited about all of the new AW19 arrivals so am trying to enjoy those too!