The first multi-brand boutique in the capital, founded in the years of the British anti-fashion and anti-refinement movement
Browns London boutique in the neighborhood of Mayfair, London
Dominated by eighteenth century Georgian architecture, the neighborhood of Mayfair is London’s opulence at its finest. In point of fact, the district unfurls south of Bond Street. On either side, Hyde Park and Green Park oxygenates the district. While, residential buildings, modern art galleries and restaurants surround the area. Here, 39 Brook Street you will find the Browns London boutique. A façade, with open window displays and wooden moldings breaks the motif of the solid brick masonry from the exposed installation.
Joan Burstein was a pharmacy apprentice who seemingly had little to do with fashion. Her husband, Sidney, was the owner of a business in Ridley Road in East London. They bought Browns from aristocrat Sir William Piggott-Brown in 1970. It is there, at number 27 South Molton Street, that they launched their first ground-floor modestly-sized boutique.
A guide for emerging designers and creators with no connection to the London scene
It was the end of the Seventies. The ‘Iron Lady’ Margaret Thatcher established herself at 10 Downing Street in 1979. She steamrolled over feminist anti-fashion fury and their contempt for what was in vogue, considered an element of patriarchal power. These were the years of the politicized lifestyle of subcultures. Glam rockers, punks and later dark, as well as the return to DIY, characterized the era. Browns stands out as the first multi-brand boutique in the British capital. The Bursteins, who had been forcibly evicted from their home, see Browns as a device to pay off debts incurred. The family, in fact, was burdened by obligations to banks, due to loans and investments taken out to finance the expansion of Neatawear. The said activity represented a lingerie and hosiery chain they had owned in the Fifties.
From the outset, Browns has guided young emerging designers towards artistic and commercial success. Alexander McQueen, John Galliano and Christopher Kane are a few of them. It has also represented other creators who until then had no connection to the London scene. Missoni, Jil Sander, Rei Kawakubo, for example. After meeting Calvin Klein at Studio 54 in New York, Joan dragged the ornamental minimalism of the American designer to Browns. In less than ten years, Burstein – known as ‘Mrs B’ to those in her inner circle – and her husband, expanded their domain to four more buildings: 23, 25, 24 and 26. In 1976, they set up a shop at 6C on Sloane Street. The location is the main artery of luxury shopping in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea.
2012, From 6C to 106 on Sloane Street
In July 2012, two years after Browns’ 40th anniversary, the boutique moves from 6C to 106 on Sloane Street. The aim was, in fact, to make way for the first flagship store of Brazilian fine jewelry brand H. Stern, before its final closure some time later. Browns’ foundation took place during a point in time in which the world was struggling with the beginning of the oil crisis. London had to deal with the attiral anarchy of those who looked with contempt at formal refinement. Browns seemed destined to change the retail trade. It also anticipated the display of economic well-being as well as the ‘dress for success’ motto of the 1980s. After forty years of activity and research, sales from Browns’ e-commerce business – live since the end of 2000 – accounted for only 25 percent of total revenue.
2012 Browns’ partnership with Farfetch
In order to strengthen its commercial activity and online presence, in 2012 Browns signed a partnership with Farfetch, as proposed by Simon Burstein, son of Joan and Sidney. The online retail platform – founded in June 2007 by Portuguese entrepreneur José Neves – has allowed its expansion into countries such as Russia, China, Japan, Korea and Brazil. In 2015, the e-commerce giant, listed on the New York Stock Exchange since September 2018, bought Browns. It, therefore, traced a new course and a new on and offline sales strategy for the boutique, whilst respecting the founders’ traditions. Joan Burstein is currently honorary president of Browns. While her children Simon and Caroline are members of the board of directors. Further, Holli Rogers became the Managing Director. Since then, Rogers has quadrupled the business and rebooted the image and activity of Browns.
Under her strategic and creative guidance, a new physical store for women’s and men’s collections, called Browns East, opened at 21 Club Row in October 2017. The new store is located in an old printing house in the East End district of Shoreditch. Plexiglass furniture in colors that embody the Pop Art palette blend into the ribs of the original briarwood floors. They were designed by Brinkworth. Furthermore, the clothes are displayed on suspended grids. The rough skeleton of the building and the steel shapes on the ceiling and walls reverberate the echoes of an industrial past. Browns East is part of the augmented reality retail sector project Store of the Future, curated for Farfetch. Former director of marketing and e-commerce at Matchesfashion.com, Sandrine Deveaux, aims to offer customers personalized sales experiences through the development of technologies to be installed in stores.
The Nomad 2.0 series
Browns East is also the first archetype of the Nomad 2.0 series. The project plans to expand beyond national borders with the opening of semi-permanent retail spaces. These new locations are structured to contain the atmosphere of the city and the neighborhood in which they are located. In September 2018, Fred Segal Loves Browns, opened at the Fred Segal boutique on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. It is the first overseas temporary store in the Browns Nomad series. Emerging designers created capsule collections for the West Hollywood store in California. Conner Ives, Ambush, Edward Crutchley, Martine Rose, Molly Goddard and Wales Bonner represent a few of them.
39 Brook Street London, W1K 4JE, UK
Browns changed the course of fashion retail history when it opened in 1970. It is a leader in fashion, and the UK’s first multi-brand luxury boutique.