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Browns men's buyer: 'Most of our next-gen brands had their best season despite the pandemic'

By Ole Spötter

Jun 24, 2021

Retail

Photo: Joseph Brunner / Browns

Everyone knows the names of the biggest fashion brands, but who is it exactly that discovers them and helps them to be commercially successful? One of those people is menswear buyer Joseph Brunner, who focuses on next-gen brands at British luxury department store chain Browns. FashionUnited spoke with Brunner about how he discovers new brands and how important their vision of the future is for him. He also reveals how his own style influences his work and what the spring/summer 2022 season has to offer.

As a next-gen menswear buyer, how has the department grown over the past few seasons?

There is an abundance of brands in the industry at the moment and with that comes exciting, emerging designers. Just look at the graduate shows, season on season, where students have a platform to create collections with such a raw, unfiltered vision. This is greatly appealing to customers and retailers alike. Last season, despite the pandemic, most of our next-gen brands had their best season yet, further highlighting an increased demand for unique products.

What do you look for in a next-gen brand for them to become stocked at Browns?

I factor in three things when looking at a new brand. Firstly, if the Browns customer will like it – in other words, if it will sell. Secondly, if the brand fits in with the vision of the department. And lastly, whether or not I like it. The brand can hit one or all three of the criteria and there are a lot of brands we don’t currently buy that hit all of them, so do keep an eye out for what we have coming in next season.

Foto: Browns East

Having a strong attitude as a designer is becoming more and more important for a brand. Is this also something that you observe and how do you assess this?

More so a strong vision and understanding of a clear plan than a strong attitude. I often ask what their 1/3/5 year plan is when meeting the designers, as it’s important to set goals even if they are not achieved. Surprisingly, not everyone thinks about this and as designers are creative, restricting their brand to a set target in some ways defeats the point of what they’re trying to do. It’s also imperative they’re good people. I know there are quite a few “iconic” designers who have unfavourable reputations, but being a decent human being is as much a reason to buy into a designer.

Do such considerations also play a role when you select talents for the Browns Focus initiative and how do you discover these designers?

Absolutely! Before chatting with the designers, we take a lot into consideration, not just their previous collections. For Browns Focus especially, It was important the designers and their brand are standing for something and that it was clear in their collections, communications and previous work.

Fotos: Conner Ives X Browns Focus

London-based womenswear brand Conner Ives is one of these talents and has already designed a collection for Browns during his studies. How important is watching graduate shows for you as a buyer?

There’s an added pressure on students now as they are under the microscope early with shows being so well documented, and there’s a risk of things moving too quickly before honing one’s craft. Everyone’s looking for the next big thing, the next McQueen or Galliano, but it’s hard when all eyes are on you from day one and once one person hears about a designer, the likelihood most stores will have it is quite high. The graduates are very much the future of our creative industries, so it’s important to tune in and feel inspired because the shows are as much an expression of art as fashion.

From fashion shows to Tiktok, what’s your favourite way to discover new trends?

For me, it would be Instagram. I’m trying not to use my phone that often, but so much information is on the app that nowadays it’s often the first medium to discover new things, so when you’re off it, you get this feeling that you’re missing vital information on industry updates.

Bild: Lueder x Browns Focus

Which brand do you consider to be your latest discovery?

We launched Marie Lueder and Tsau Store for Browns Focus. Two relatively unknown designers who are still developing their craft but have a lot of potential, Marie has such a unique take on things, from incorporating mental health and tech into her clothing. And Bevan, the designer of Tsau, is so well rounded, his referencing for the collection was nothing like I’d ever seen before. Other brands we’ve recently picked up and worth keeping an eye on are Namesake and Arnar Mar Jonson.

Which brand’s collection has inspired your personal style recently?

Great question. I'm a big fan of Kiko Kostadinov. I love the construction that goes into the jackets and trousers, very different to anything else. The general look of a cropped jacket and wide-leg trouser is very much my uniform. So I usually buy into a version of it each season if there’s something to my taste. I also think Stefan Cooke’s approach to gender-neutral collections hits the mark and they continue to get better. And lastly, I thought Namacheko’s AW21 collection was incredible.

How would you describe your own style and in what way does it influence your work?

I’d like to think my style is off beat to others, not unique but less commercial. I’m all about larger silhouettes down bottom and tighter fits uptop. So big trousers with structure, don’t think of unflattering boot cuts but instead of Paria Farzaneh, Marni, Jacquemus, Kiko Kostadinov to name a few. That paired with more fitted knits from the likes of Prada, Stefan Cooke and Namacheko. But as I’m getting older, I’m really drawn to the more mature styles from these brands as well as Bode. My tastes don’t usually impact my work as 95 percent of the time I am curating a selection for the Browns customer. Only on a handful of collections does your style come into play a bit more as the edit is as important as the sales.

Image: Tsau x Browns Focus

Gen Z are very confident in their style and showing it off online. How do you see post-Covid trend predictions like the return of the Roaring Twenties in relation to this generation?

Hype. All they want are whatever footballers, musicians, influencers, etcetera, are wearing. In some ways, it’s great that this generation experiments and embraces fashion in a completely new way, they understand it’s important to look good from a young age. However, due to influencer culture and marketing ploys, there’s a lack of style individuality. If you walk around central London everyone’s dressed the same, highlighting the influencer age we live in.

What is your must-have for the SS22 season?

As we’re only just starting SS22, it’s hard to say as I haven’t seen much of the young designers yet. So far, I’m having a bit of a love affair with fashion polo shirts at the moment, preferably something knitted and a little bit out there. We’ve seen a few brands over the last couple of seasons bring great styles to the table, such as Maison Margiela’s oversized collar polo, Casablanca’s AW21 pearl polo and Namacheko’s jacquard AW21 polo.

This interview was conducted in writing.