Gossard, the brand made famous by the cleavage-hoisting Wonderbra, was the archetypal Nineties brand for women. It had attitude, it was aggressive, it was upfront and it did not care what people thought about that.
But 14 years after Gossard lost the licence to make Wonderbras, most consumers are unaware that the two have parted company. Or that Gossard didn’t run the iconic Eva Herzigová-fronted “Hello Boys” campaign for Wonderbra.
And as the new century dawned, women began taking a softer approach to fashion, and Gossard fell out of favour.
Gossard commercial director Miranda Frost points out that the ownership situation has been further confused by the fact that Gossard was acquired by Sara Lee in 2000, also a previous owner of Wonderbra. However, she adds that “no effort” was made to redefine Gossard as a brand after Wonderbra’s loss.
Gossard’s chequered ownership history took another turn last year when it was sold by private equity company Sun Capital Partners, which had acquired it when Sara Lee sold its branded apparel division in 2005, back to Courtaulds UK.
As a result, say industry sources, the brand has lacked the necessary investment and support it needed to differentiate itself from rivals in the £693m bra market (TNS Fashion Trak). One source says: “Gossard failed to connect first with a wider market and then Wonderbra buyers.”
Futurebrand business strategy director Adrian Goldthorpe adds that in the early part of this decade, there was a shift away from sexuality towards female femininity, but he believes Gossard failed to act on those changes.
He adds: “The brand feels very empty, there are no feminine messages, it is just a manufacturer. I appreciate that it has to appeal to a broad range of women but it is very bland, and does not have a strong personality.”
Frost, who joined Courtaulds in a research and development role and was part of the team that acquired the brand, agrees. She explains: “There was no work to give it standalone substance. Gossard has a long and unique history, which was as a cutting-edge fashion co-ordinates brand that led the way in the Seventies, Eighties and much of the Nineties. But as the market became more crowded, it didn’t benefit from its management.”
Since Courtaulds acquired the brand last year, Frost has been making changes. Last week, Gossard appointed Initiative to handle its media planning and buying account (MW last week) after a five-month review that aims to revitalise the brand.
Frost says it started by gathering insight from stakeholders, trade customers across its national accounts and then consumers. The next phase was more strategic as it began to use the insights it had gathered to identify trends, market drivers and to find its target consumers.
It has also held a series of workshops that aimed to “define and update” its credentials. Frost says it was “a very valuable experience”. She adds: “It helped us to develop a ‘language’ around the brand that is so much more up to date. It means we can talk about our consumer and know who she is, rather than just defining it against age and demographic.”
The third and final stage of its review has led to the brand finding its new positioning, which is all about the “sensualist” consumer. Frost explains: “She is tactile and an individual but she loves the ritual of underwear. She is very feminine and considers beautiful underwear to be a necessity because she dresses from the inside out.”
This “sensualist” consumer also likes to experiment with different brands, colours and fabrics and as a result Gossard has two new collections using embroidery and European lace.
Goldthorpe believes Gossard could “own” this area of “touch me sensuality”. He adds that the brand should build a positioning similar to cosmetics brand Benefit, which he describes as being about “secrets of the boudoir without being overtly sexual”.
Meanwhile, the company is planning to increase its support for the brand. Frost says it is “going to be more noisy” but will be taking a “more multi-layered” approach. This has already included updating its logo but will also take into account the growth of e-trading. Online sales grew 0.9% last year. Sites such as Figleaves.com and Knickerpicker.com account for 2.2% of the market up from 1.3% a year ago.
At present, the bra market is dominated by general stores such as Marks & Spencer and Debenhams, accounting for almost a third of sales in the year to January 6, 2008. However, this trend is declining with the clothing multiples, such as H&M and Top Shop relaunching ranges and expanding the space given to lingerie. They already account for 20% of the market and are expected to see the strongest growth.
But despite these changes, Frost is keen to stress that Gossard is not going to “give up our cleavage position” and has recently refreshed its Superboost range in satin and lace. She adds: “It remains a very specialist part of a lingerie collect and we will continue to develop it to offer choice to trade customers and consumers.”
Gossard’s revamped offering will need to convince consumers that, much the same as them, it has moved on from the upfront sexuality of the Nineties: that it can offer them the same confidence and great feeling but through a softer, more subtle approach.
Facts and figures
• H W Gossard was launched by Henry Williamson Gossard in 1901 in Chicago.
• He was inspired by actress Sarah Bernhardt after seeing her body transformed by a corset on a trip to Paris.
• In 1922, the company revolutionised the corset market by moving the laces from the back to the front, making it easier to get it on and off.
• It became a British company during the 1930s and its production was turned over to help the Second World War effort.
• According to TNS Fashion Trak, 64% of British women have bought a bra in the past year, and those that did bought an average of 4.3 and spent an average of £41.51 in total.