Spiegel was founded as an American furniture company in 1865 and transitioned into a fashion retailer that began selling women’s clothing in 1912. Through newfound independence gained during the suffrage movement that continued into the 1920s and the working women’s revolution of the 1970s, Spiegel brought class to mass with its catalog, found in millions of households throughout the country – unifying women’s fashion from coast to coast.
Spiegel attracted loyal customers for its first hundred years by offering credit at no charge. The Spiegel family believed that “The People Should Get the Credit” for their success. The same customer loyalty exists for Spiegel today with seasonal lines mailed to more than 10 million customers. It’s not hard to understand why when you know that Spiegel has been at the forefront of digital advancement since the 1920s. Spiegel started tracking consumer spending habits in 1952, with a computerized system of its own invention, so popular that Sears, Roebuck & Co.purchased a copy of it for its own use. In 1995, Spiegel was the first major fashion retailer to join the World Wide Web and the first to launch a digital catalogue in 1997. Today women can shop via print catalog or online and in specialty stores across the nation bringing “Brick, Click & Catalog” access to the American consumer.
“Right now the vision for our brand is about growing our youth consumer base that has taken over the digital frontier and maintaining our legacy customers with print media,” International Creative Director Richard Lowe explains. “Baby boomers hold a particularly strong affinity for our brand and we want to make her feel like an important part of our family. However; like most fashion companies, we have to adjust to younger customer demands to thrive in a changing economic climate.”
Lowe joined Spiegel last August to continue his accomplished career. He has worked with brands, such as Nicole Miller, Balmain, Rebecca Minkoff and Juicy Couture and designed gowns for renowned actresses including Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman. Lowe took on the challenge of Spiegel to prove that no brand should be left out in the rain.
“Many people think Spiegel is a dinosaur and I would simply say that this former billion-dollar empire has yet to peak and has many more lives to live.” Lowe says he still receives letters from customers posted to Spiegel in Chicago 60609, with no formal address, and still the letters make their way to its New York City headquarters. The letters might be gushing over the fit and quality of an item or lamenting a discontinued piece that Lowe gladly resurrects for them.
To maintain Spiegel’s heritage of being a game show favorite, Lowe recently participated in a daytime TV tradition – audience makeovers. Lowe and his staff joined “The Doctors” show to create the largest TV makeover in U.S. history. “When we did ‘The Doctors’ we had 200 women to make over and five hours to dress them,” Lowe says. “There wasn’t a lot of time, but we tried not to rush because the women wanted to share their stories about Spiegel, how the furniture at their grandparent’s house came from Spiegel or how she remembers shopping the catalog with her mother. It’s hard to move on to the next woman when another one is sharing her story and crying. It was all very touching and I will treasure those memories.”
Today, the company is focused on harnessing the Internet and social media to draw in a younger crowd and more fully embrace its online demographics. By utilizing its YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram channels, Lowe is letting people get an inside look into Spiegel’s world with photo shoots, fashion shows, celebrities and TV shows. Its website’s platform is one of the most advanced on the market utilizing shopping behavior to populate its item loading and 360 videos of all products to showcase its new fit and styling. By leveraging cover girls, such as Christie Brinkley who modeled for Spiegel in 1978 and Kelly Bensimon in 1995, the brand is able to recapture some of its popular media.
The extra effort in getting younger consumers to click and buy is well worth it, because while their mothers are enthusiastic about writing to Spiegel with thanks and gratitude, their daughters are more apt to take to social media.
“It’s always great to hear from customers of all ages – whether they’re in their 20s, 30s or well into their 90s, I just love to hear about them enjoying the product and the quality we’re putting out there,” Lowe says. “The easiest way to educate other women about Spiegel is to let those customers do the talking. Let them talk about it on their Facebook and Twitter and make videos of themselves wearing the products. That’s the best way for others to find out about our new high-quality product.”
Spiegel makes sure that what it features in the catalogs, on its website and what customers rave about on social media is what shows up at customers’ front doors. Lowe, who is known for luxurious fabrics, quality construction and attention to detail, brought all of that with him. He came to the company with the goal of filtering Spiegel’s history through his lens and translating it for today’s woman for the best quality at an unbeatable price.
When Lowe came to Spiegel, he had a little more than three months to design and produce his 1,000-piece spring collection, and introduce new mills, factories and implement new training for the existing staff to deliver millions of dollars worth of goods by January. After that it was on to summer, which is currently on its website. In early August, he will introduce pre-fall and continue with the remaining fall and holiday deliveries into October.
“We do all of our designs in-house,” Lowe says. “For spring, the trends are really strong for peplums, 1930s prints, heavy embroidery/embellishments and hi-lo dresses. We also have a number of military jackets that transition between spring and fall. We introduced a little military touch in the spring and it will take on a bigger role in the fall season.”
Once designs are finalized, it’s time for production. Lowe uses a size-10 and size-18 fit model for all of his fittings, which he says has resulted in better fit across all sizes. The company’s return rate has dropped from 30 percent to just 11.8 percent since his designs have hit the shelves. After that, Lowe works closely with well-vetted manufacturers for mass production. Even the trims require very specific manufacturers; there are only two factories in the world able to make the glass buttons Lowe requires. If it can’t find a manufacturer to bring a design to fruition, Spiegel will hand-sew it in its sample rooms and bring it to market any way it can.
“I’m a very detailed designer – from print placement, piping, pick-stitching, ribbon treatment – I want to give her all those luxury details that she deserves, so she feels special in my clothing,” Lowe says. “It should feel like a gift every time she puts it on. The beauty of design is taking it from a sketch to a quality product and bringing it to a thriving market. When the customer sees it, they know there was a lot of time invested in it, it’s a treasure in her closet for decades to come.”
Spiegel is committed to getting its quality clothing in front of even more customers. Its “magalogs” make it into millions of households every year, and the Internet has given greater access to a younger generation. Lowe’s hope is to see Spiegel enter the brick-and-mortar realm with a store of its own, and to continue to build its department store footprint so shoppers can look and touch more easily.
“We want to make the product more available to the public and make the brand instantly recognizable again and visible in a place where people have not seen it in a long time,” Lowe says. “We want to be available to our customer no matter where she goes.”
To accomplish this further, Lowe has been spreading the word about his new collections to top magazines, which are raving about the line such as O, the Oprah Magazine, Good Housekeeping, NY Magazine, Bella, Redbook and the upcoming September issue of Glamour. This 28-year-old has more up his sleeves than meets the eye and the world is waiting to see what comes next, not only from him but the icon that is Spiegel.