Discovering St. John at Harrods in London and sitting down with CEO Glenn McMahon

When I was younger I started a “designer envy” book. Sounds like the most ridiculous thing, I know. But at the age of 15, as I wasn’t living the life of Gossip Girl, the most I could do really was dream of the mega bucks designers. I probably had over 1,000 looks catalogued from pages I had torn from Vogue, my mom’s copies of Town & Country, Vanity Fair and more. I was a woman obsessed. So you can see why clearly I’m now in the correct profession.

The reason I mention this now is purely because I took a step back in time last week and flipped through these old books and something funny happened. I was seeing a lot of the American brand, St. John, in the mix. In the Southern states of America, where I grew up, St. John is a big society brand. I was constantly suffering from envy eyes when I would attend events with my parents and see women dressed so elegantly and looking so perfectly put together in St. John ensembles. Looking back it seems this had a much bigger impact on my style than I had imagined. Now, about the funny thing that happened. Here I am flipping back to old times and I get an email from Harrods asking if I have a few moments to come down to the store to meet the CEO of St John, Glenn McMahon next week as he’s in town for a few days. Talk about timing.

Of course I said yes to the opportunity and here I sit today, post meet and greet, with a new found excitement for a brand that has had a place in my closet since my early twenties. Perhaps that is the greatest misconception about St. John. Many believe this to be a brand reserved for women in their later years. If you’re stuck in this mindset, prepare to have your mind blown. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I bought my first St. John jacket just over ten years ago, at the start of my twenties. It was a fitted blazer that seemed to have been custom fit for me exactly. I won’t sugarcoat it here. I bought the jacket on sale. I was, after all, a college student and on a strict budget. So I put it on my first credit card and basically became a recluse for a month so I could pay it off. To this day it is one of the only purchases I have made without an ounce of buyer’s remorse following the payment.

And this is where I say, with great embarrassment, that I have lived in London for some time and only just realised that there is a St. John in Harrods. Here I was thinking for the past few years that women have been flying to NYC to get their St John fix. Shame on me.

Moving past this great shame, I had a massive smile on my face as I was given the opportunity to tell the CEO of the brand just how far my adoration for this label ran. After going on forever about my love and undying devotion for St. John, CEO Glenn McMahon answered a few questions for me about coming to Harrods, what’s ahead and more…

As we sit in this gorgeous space for St. John in Harrods, can you tell us how the relationship with Harrods and St. John began?

I joined the company a little over five years ago and saw the opportunity to really expand our brand beyond the United States and it seemed that Europe would be a natural next step for us just because of the similarities in the department store structure and the customer profile.  It was sort of fortuitous actually as we had somebody from Harrods that knew the brand from her experience working in the States at Saks Fifth Avenue. She saw there was an opportunity here to really develop the business and we were looking for somebody in Europe to do just that so the timing was really terrific. That was just a little over three years ago now.

The buyers from Harrods come to New York to shop the collection each season and because they really understand what’s going on in the world of fashion they come with a great perspective  and they push the envelope. I think the assortment you see at Harrods is probably the finest in the world and they’ve given us this beautiful home here to showcase the brand.

Many brands these days that have formerly been happy with catering to the older, more established woman, are now going after the younger set…the twenty somethings. Is this something the St. John brand is looking towards for the future? Perhaps redesigning a bit to fit for a younger buyer?

We generally don’t even speak in age because the brand is so much more lifestyle driven. Women today that are in their 50s and 60s dress the same way in which women in their 30s and 40s dress.  So there’s been a real democratisation of fashion. Everybody wants to look relevant and everyone wants to look younger. However, our customer is very intelligent, very accomplished, and truly we embrace our customer no matter what her age.  We never set out to say we wish we had a twenty year old or a thirty year old customer because we know eventually that customer will graduate into our brand. We think there are a lot of women out there that nobody else is addressing that we can capture so we think it’s a pretty exciting moment.

Can you us a little bit about what we have to look forward to with the autumn winter 2012 collection in store now?

We are known for colour and novelty so this fall we really made a concentrated effort to go back to that. I would say that’s our brand DNA. So we have really beautiful colours of emerald, lapis and ruby. We are definitely in this moment when people are looking for something unique and special. So it’s colour and dual tone colours this season that are really important for the St. John brand. Anything that looks new and different is really flying off the racks. We have a lot of pieces this season that are trimmed in fur or feathers and these are doing really well.

And finally, how are you accommodating the modern woman?

The St. John woman is so busy that she’s looking for shopping to be an easy experience. The level of service here at Harrods, and at all our boutiques really, is pretty incredible. We’ve also recently just launched with Harrods online and of course we have e-commerce in the United States. We have a lot of customers that do their research online and come into the shop and pick up the garments. We know our customer is reading fashion blogs and she’s getting information there. That’s really been a new phenomenon for us. We’re finding that the St. John customer is online a lot, based on our research. In fact, we found some of our customers are more influenced by what they find online versus traditional print magazines, which is particularly interesting.


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