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The British (Fashion Brands) Are Coming!


Britain’s fashion brands have long looked to the United States for a chance to supersize sales — with varying degrees of success. For every Boden, there is a Topshop, Ted Baker or Hunter Boots that failed to successfully crack the market. After all, the United States is much larger, more diverse and already has plenty of fashion labels to choose from. Garments with an appealing English eccentricity or appeal in their home market may feel out of touch in major American shopping hubs.

But the pandemic led many Americans to spend more time online seeking out new brands, including ones from across the Atlantic. Now, three cultish London brands that experienced new popularity during that time have decided to set up shop on the East and West Coasts.

What can they bring to the market that no one else has? The founders of Hunza G, Rixo and Me+Em explain their rationale for planting their flags on American soil.

You may not have heard of Hunza G, but chances are you’ve seen the label’s signature wrinkly-crinkly, super-stretchy Lycra swimsuits on the likes of Rihanna or Hailey Bieber or Kim Kardashian.

Established in 1984 by the designer Peter Meadows, Hunza was known for tight and bright dresses that were a fixture on the 1980s club scene. Whitney Houston wore a lilac tank style for the “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” video, and Julia Roberts wore a blue and white cutout version for her first scenes in “Pretty Woman.” Almost 30 years later, in 2015, and after a period out of fashion favor, the label was revived under a new co-founder and creative director, Georgiana Huddart.

Ms. Huddart, who is responsible for the added “G” in the name, quickly began creating swimsuits in a distinctive knitted seersucker fabric that is thick and body-hugging and made on a circular loom for ultimate stretch. The material molds itself to fit women who are different sizes on top and bottom and comes in one size for US sizes 2 to 12.

“It is more about body shape and height than your dress size because it depends how you want a piece to look and to fit,” Ms. Huddart said last week. “We can’t completely eliminate size trauma from swimwear shopping, but this is a brand that is meant to go on a journey with your body.”

Prices range from $200 to $300 for women and $90 to $105 for kids, and the swim collections include pieces suited for pregnancy and children’s designs that aim to fit for five years. Recently, a collection was unveiled for women who want more material in the bust or bottom, and soon to come is a customizable mastectomy offering. And now, just in time for the company’s 40th-anniversary celebrations, there is a six-month pop-up store on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood, Calif.

Established in 2015 by Henrietta Rix and Orlagh McCloskey, best friends from their college days in London, Rixo has become a go-to brand for desk-to-dinner outfits and wedding guest dresses for many affluent British women. Vintage-inspired looks in distinctive and cheery prints are the Rixo trademark, often with flattering necklines and sleeves on pieces that look pretty and aren’t necessarily part of the mainstream flow of seasonal trends.

“We came to market with a small range of hand-painted bias-cut silk dresses at a time when the fashion aesthetic was very punky and cool and there weren’t many labels offering feminine vintage flair,” Ms. Rix said. (Prices start at $250 and average $500 for collections, which arrive in monthly drops, though bridal pieces can cost as much as $2,000.”)

“We knew there was a customer base who wanted gorgeous pieces they could go back to year after year that were aspirational in price but not completely out of reach,” Ms. Rix said. That appeal extends to celebrities like Margot Robbie, Selena Gomez and Ashley Graham, as well as Catherine, the Princess of Wales, who wears Rixo dresses, as does her mother Carole Middleton.

Now, after opening three Rixo stores in London and a successful collaboration with Target in 2021, the founders have their sights on New York. On April 22, they will open a pop-up on Prince Street in SoHo, with exclusive in-store products, including a revival of the wildly popular Gio dress, which sold out some years ago.

If you ask Clare Hornby who the target customer is for Me+Em, the contemporary women’s wear brand she founded in 2009, the answer is “busy women.”

Not an unheard-of response, perhaps, but Ms. Hornby, a former advertising executive, has emphatically cornered that market — in Britain anyway. Simple and versatile pieces include crisp white T-shirts, tailored blazers and carefully flared pants, chic knits and the occasional elegant dress or jumpsuit that often look more expensive than they turn out to be. Prices range from $40 to $600, with some higher-end pieces like silk dresses or shearling coats around the $1,000 mark. Many pieces come in standardized color palettes or slightly tweaked designs that can be layered or coordinated with items from past Me+Em seasons. Or they have little built-in design tricks like adjustable necklines or cuffs and double-sided belts.

“Our shoppers tend to be socially busy, working and juggling a family,” Ms. Hornby said last week. “We give them the wardrobe solutions that they need but don’t have time to hunt for.” High-profile fans include Queen Camilla, Princess Beatrice of York, Helen Mirren, Amal Clooney, Gillian Anderson and Cara Delevingne.

Now Ms. Hornby has set her sights on America, where, she said, where many of her customers live. Eventually she plans to open a string of stores, starting in New York. In February, Me+Em opened on Madison Avenue on the Upper East Side. Next month, a store will open on Mercer Street in SoHo and on Newtown Lane in East Hampton.

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