How Lands' End Is Angling For Millennials, And Injecting Luxury Into The Midwest

Photo: Courtesy Of Lands' End.
For every brand that's killing it with the millennial market, there’s an unself-consciously uncool company trying to reinvent in order to grab those precious customers (and their disposable incomes). But how does an unhip name morph into one that those prized Gen-Y-ers care about?

Lots of classic catalog brands have seriously struggled in recent years — they aren’t innovating, so they can’t keep up with the ultrasophisticated state of e-comm today, and their loyal customer bases have diminished. If you’re in your twenties, you probably haven’t thought about Lands’ End or looked at its catalogs of basics in a solid decade — it’s long been a wholesome family purveyor. But the Dodgeville, WI-based retailer is planning on rolling out a much chicer, sleeker look, thanks to a new, glamorous CEO, Federica Marchionni. She’s got a serious background in luxury, having spent more than a decade at Dolce & Gabbana, and an ambitious plan to make the unstylish brand cooler for an untapped market.

Marchionni wants to “extend the family” of Lands’ End shoppers, retaining customers between childhood and parenthood — childless adults who are likely millennials — with more stylish ads, instead of losing them to trendier, fast-fashion staples. But the fresh-scrubbed, wholesome imagery you’re familiar with isn’t going anywhere: Marchionni is rolling out two campaigns so that Lands’ End loyalists don’t feel left out, which is key to ensuring that a rebranding can retain existing customers. “Lands' End is undertaking an exciting evolution and, more importantly, an elevation of its brand positioning,” Marchionni told Refinery29. “Our product offering will also evolve by adding more relevant styles and a more modern fit to attract younger consumers.”
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Photo: Courtesy Of Lands' End.
Land’s End under its new CEO’s lead seems to be taking its cues from J.Crew, a brand that has also had to work hard — with mixed results — to gain newer, hipper, younger customers without alienating its longtime fans, Lands’ End’s new approach also feels a little J.Crew-esque, because it’s banking on basics being the new form of luxury. J.Crew has had a rough couple of months, though it was, for a little while, the case study for reinventing and re-merchandizing a ho-hum brand into one with true fashion cachet.

But for some retailers, that cooler, more stylish customer never quite materializes: In 2010, staid and financially struggling Talbots tried to elevate its look and lure for non-AARP customers. Linda Evangelista was shot by by illustrious fashion photographers Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott for its far-chicer campaigns, featuring a totally new aesthetic and the tagline, "We believe in tradition transformed." A year later, Julianne Moore took on campaign duties, also shot by Mert & Marcus; the brand spent a small fortune running those ads in top fashion books (which sounds a bit like Lands' End's new approach, but with the added costs of using big-budget talent). But the elevated, younger look didn't really stick. Talbots was sold off in a very modest deal three years ago to private-equity firm Sycamore Partners, which is all about snapping up aging brands (it bought the intellectual property to Coldwater Creek last year, and is currently eying Chico's).

The granddaddy of heritage brands with catalog roots, L.L. Bean, might be 103 years old, but it has sold out of its duck boots last year, and those classic boat and tote bags will never go away. And L.L. Bean's Twitter approach is straightforward and customer service-centric, and not hip by any stretch. Yet on Facebook, the brand came in third place in a top-10 ranking of retail brands by Engagement Labs, above retailers including Old Navy and Forever 21, according to MarketWatch.

Besides hiring a posh new exec or changing a brand’s aesthetic, taking to social media is always an option. Beyond the fashion realm, Denny’s, the nondescript 24/7 diner chain, rolled out a delightfully weird, wacky Twitter voice. Who knows if younger followers are actually piling into booths more frequently because of tweets like "hasbrowns on fleek." But it's gotten people (including that desirable younger crowd) talking about a brand that hadn't had much to talk about for a while. Oreo, Burger King, and even Charmin (yes, the toilet paper brand) have also crafted distinct social-media voices,

Time will tell if Marchionni is successful in revamping Lands' End into something stylish and young, but not too stylish or too young for its suburban-parent core customer. A luxury-schooled CEO is on board, and the upgraded new look is there, too (and so is the classic, family-friendly aesthetic, in a separate campaign). Maybe a social-media presence that's stronger — surprising, even — will help Lands' End pull off this revamp. But whether millennials actually want to shop at the same place as their parents remains to be seen.
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