CEO Talks: Linda Farrow’s Simon Jablon on Sustaining a Luxury Accessories Brand

LONDON — Just over 20 years ago, Simon Jablon, the creative director and chief executive officer of Linda Farrow, came across a cache of his mother’s original eyewear designs dating back to the ‘70s, which led him to revive her eponymous accessories brand.

Since then, Linda Farrow has become a fixture on the runways with collaborations with Dries Van Noten, Jacquemus, Magda Butrym, The Attico and more.

The accessories company has been growing at a rate of more than 80 percent year-on-year since the pandemic and is on course to maintain that growth rate this year, according to the brand. The women’s category makes up 70 percent of sales, meanwhile men’s has been steadily growing year-on-year over the past five years and makes up 30 percent of the brand’s sales.

Here, Jablon talks about how he revived the brand, staying on course and the importance of a legacy brand.

WWD: What made you want to revive Linda Farrow?

Simon Jablon: It’s not like I didn’t know it was there when I was young, but [most children] don’t appreciate their parents’ work and what they do, but later in life, I was suddenly exposed to this product and it was an amazing archive.

It’s a hard story to tell today because the eyewear world was very generic in 2003. The whole world of eyewear has changed and it’s more creative, there’s a higher appreciation for luxury and designer eyewear now. At that point, the licensing was cheaper and it was about putting logos on the side of glasses.

Fashion stores didn’t buy eyewear collections and Liberty didn’t have an eyewear department until we launched with them in 2003 — eyewear just wasn’t on the runways.

Linda Farrow

Linda Farrow in her design studio.

WWD: What made you think there’s a space for handmade luxury eyewear?

S.J.: When you’re young and see something creative, you don’t sit there formulating a business plan. I think all great designer brands stem from their origins and their creativity. It always comes from product first rather than a business model.

I was lucky enough to have a mother who was so creative and to inherit that archive, but when I walked in there, I was just as inspired and have been feeling joy ever since. I remember going to Harvey Nichols for our first appointment and we walked in there with Emilio Pucci vintage sunglasses as we had the original archive for them. The buyers were excited as LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton had just bought [Emilio Pucci] and it was the hype brand at the time. They placed an order and then I showed them the Linda Farrow sunglasses that they loved. The team then invited the senior buyer in, who had a massive déjà vu because she used to deal with my father during sales appointments at his time.

WWD: How do you maintain business in a saturated eyewear market? 

S.J.: It’s about keeping internal joy and wanting to be happy to go to work. It also comes from passion projects with brands I’ve really looked up to.

When we first worked with Dries Van Noten and when I contacted him, I didn’t think I would even get an answer back. The fact he gave me a chance and I’m working with my idols — it always comes from self pleasure because there are people who also have those same emotions about creating.

He wanted eyewear to be part of his brand’s lifestyle and to complete the total look. A lot of designers look down on it, like it’s a bit of a dirty word because your perfume could be sold in any Superdrug and your glasses in any old optician. We came in with a totally different strategy and perspective for eyewear, from the design, distribution to manufacturing — it became a fashion accessory again.

WWD: How much do you think about your mother’s legacy when creating?

S.J.: When I first started in the early days trying to design, I tried to show my mom a number of our designs and my mom was actually very blunt. She said, “It’s not for me to comment,” because she wouldn’t listen to people and she didn’t really appreciate everyone’s input and feedback. 

The world is your critic and she said, “You need to follow what’s in your heart.” I learned that I designed from what I like and what I believe in, but at the same time I’ve also inherited a great amount of heritage and a brand with a DNA, so I don’t just want to go off on a tangent. I want to stay true to my mother’s DNA and that’s an important part of the brand.

Black Series from Linda Farrow

Black Series from Linda Farrow.

Courtesy of LINDA FARROW

WWD: How do you stay consistent as a brand?

S.J.: One of the most confusing times in the industry, I would say, was a few years back when, I don’t mean this term disrespectfully as that’s what it was being called, but the rise of ugly fashion, where brands such as Vetements and Y/Project disrupted everything — and then you also had streetwear come straight off the back of that.

That whole moment I did question a lot of different things like, “What are we about? What’s our stuff?” 

We actually sat back and went, “No, maybe it’s not a time for trends, we have to stay true to who we are.” That’s when I made a call and ended a couple of our licenses that were actually probably more streetwear. We had Y/Project and [Ann] Demeulemeester, but by having those types of partnerships, I’m actually telling a slightly different story to what Linda Farrow is.

WWD: What’s your strategy for longevity?

S.J: Very few brands have heritage and in reality we should be so proud of the fact that we have over 50 years of heritage. Why are we bending to a fad, or a hype trend that will come and go in six months to a year? We’re a 50-year-old company and we want to be around for another 50 years. When you start following then you’re in trouble.

Linda Farrow sunglasses

Linda Farrow sunglasses.

WWD: How did the business shift during the pandemic?

S.J.: It was a stressful time and people stopped going on holidays, that’s a big part of the business. It changed a lot, but at the same time coming out of it, we’ve come out stronger with a clear vision; it’s made us a better company. It was our time to change things and we carefully looked at our branding, typography and imagery. We changed factories, offices, packaging and how we placed our logos. We looked at it as Linda Farrow 2.0.

WWD: Has the change paid off?

S.J.: Sometimes less is more and we saw that. Since COVID-19 we’ve been growing even though we took a dip at the start [of the pandemic]. The clarity on that was having a much stronger, tighter team, and a much stronger focus on what we want to achieve rather than trying to do everything averagely.

WWD: How has retail played a part in the success of the business?

S.J.: We closed a lot of our retail stores during the pandemic because we wanted to focus on quality, product and design. I felt retail at that point was a bit of a distraction. We still have our London store and the reality is we see them as experiences. We want somewhere we can call home that customers can come to for services and more styles. 

We want a home where if you buy a pair of glasses from anywhere, you can come back to them in the fairest store, you can get the service you need, you can see more styles. If you want to tap into the archive or to find all the pieces, you can get a full Linda Farrow experience.

Maybe it’s me, I’m old school, but I believe in some old school traits that when you’re dealing with luxury, there should be a human approach and that’s what the Linda Farrow shop is about.

Linda Farrow sunglasses

Linda Farrow sunglasses.

WWD: How open are you to welcoming investors into the business?

S.J.: We never say never to the future and what it might hold, but I’m focused on growing and building the business in a stable way, not just growing it for the sake of growing. It’s about the best in class in every single way and we want to work with the best of everything. We’re working on a new collection and I wouldn’t say we’re putting the prices up, but we’re dealing with much more precious materials.

We’re not always trying to sell more glasses. Sometimes it’s actually about selling less but better as that can increase our business because we’re finding more and more people are thirsty for quality and we can deliver on that.

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