Freya’s Brand Identity Crisis: Moving Onward and Upward

This is where I start kicking the tires a little bit on the categories into which we’ve organized the full-bust market. And I’m going to start by unpacking the Juniors category. It may seem the most well-characterized of the three and the least in need of probing and tinkering, but work with me here, because I am going to start with a bit of a bombshell, so to speak.

FREYA IS NOT A JUNIORS BRAND.

I know. I’m taking some liberties with accuracy when I say that. Freya practically defined the juniors category in the first place, and a metric ton of their brand equity is still tied up in it, no doubt. They continue to provide plenty in the way of playful, girlish, sweet hyperfemininity, with lots of styles that cater to the lollipop Lolita sensibility.

Ow my teeth

Very girly. Almost teeth-crazingly sweet. They might feint in the direction of sexy with the occasional daring sheer, but they’ll take care to tamp it back down into fundamentally unthreatening territory with, you know, a nice demure pink ribbon trim (literally tamping it down, considering the fit of the Arabella) or by making it hot pink or purple.

We’re not really smutty here, folks, we’re nice girls playing at smutty:

Just playing at sexy

But here’s the thing. Freya is no Curvy Kate. Curvy Kate is pure juniors, not a bit complicated, but there’s a lot more to Freya than pink lollipops and a bit of Halloween burlesque. They can play in the seasonal, fashion-forward arena when they try. (This was maybe truer a couple of years ago. The Ingrid, after all, offered a bird motif back when the bird thing still felt fresh, long before Cleo’s Meg and Lily; since then the motifs have been mostly fashion-indifferent exaggerated femininity, i.e., juniors — dolls, bows, and fans — but we have some interesting stuff on the way next spring and I think that Freya is pulling its head out.)

Look at the current Piper longline in cornflower. It’s sweet, yes, a ditzy floral in a pretty blue. But its redemptive and exciting black trim makes it a player. If that trim were just a little more assertive, and if they lost that ubiquitous stupid tiny ribbon bow, this style would belong in the same market basket with some of the tiny indie brands rising to fill the empty “middle market” fashion space.

oh yeah

And let’s not pretend that Freya doesn’t do basics. They do. It can get a little dowdy and Fantasie-ish when they get it wrong, but they do a fair amount of getting it right.

Not that bad!

The older Carys and Lacey were more better-than-nothing quasi-neutrals, but at least they weren’t screaming neons. The Gem is tiresome and feels a bit Fantasie-ish, but the Lauren wasn’t a bad attempt at a basic staple, and the Rio is a fine blend of highly practical and texturally interesting. I’m putting Patsy on the board by courtesy, because the polka dots are jaunty as hell, but it only really comes out in the fashion colorways — peacock and lime and coral and so on. In the black and in ballet pink, these bras can pull their weight in a functional wardrobe. (And you can’t say polka dots aren’t on-trend. Look at hosiery. Good Lord.)

I also should point out that we have an honest to God functional adult sheer black RIGHT NOW in the Ooh La La, with not a hint of … okay, fine, there’s pink ribbon on it, but only a tiny manageable amount of pink ribbon. Plus there’s a couple of highly promising neutrals expected next spring — yes, the sheer one is pink, but in a good way, not garish or candy or little-girl at all:

so close to grown-up

So, you know, not bad.

And let’s not forget the elephant in the room: the Deco. Talk about basics.

I think that the Deco may have started as a flirty push-up intended for the good girl’s naughty night out, but it’s turned into a franchise in its own right, one of such towering value and potential that I can honestly kind of see their marketing people having a bit of a brand identity crisis about it even as they roll merrily in huge vats full of dollars. Because there simply isn’t anything fundamentally juniors about this line. It’s not a piece of candy, it’s a middle-market fashion basic. They’ve brought it back to girlish playtime with some of the cute print versions, sure, but come on:

basics a go-go

The Deco is what has really opened up whole new territories for Freya. It’s enabled them to walk away from uber-femininity altogether. The Taylor and descendants represent the most credible steps into menswear-inspired they’ve ever managed.

dapper as hell

That’s radically new ground for Freya. Radically. Even the Piper longline above has that heart-of-Freya girly femme thing happening. But the Taylor isn’t girly or femme at all. It’s dapper. It’s androgynous. It’s not something Freya has been able to do before. But with the Deco? They can do it.

And that opens up a lot of possibilities for the future of the brand. Because there is a lot going on in lingerie and in fashion generally that isn’t girly at all. Androgyny and menswear influence is only the beginning. Think about a major fashion wave happening now and into spring: bondage-inspired cage and harness. That’s not jaunty and sweet. It’s not good girl having a naughty night out, it’s actual bad girl. It can be anywhere from smutty to filthy and anywhere from playful to deadly serious, but even when it’s playful, it’s not a saucy-sixteen sort of playful.

Can we reasonably ask Freya to play in this space? When I saw this conversation happening over at Miss Underpinnings’s place my first reaction was, NEVER, Freya is sweet and girly at heart and they are so not going to be the ones to interpret bondage lingerie for the high street.

But after a good look at the collection I realized the Deco changes all that. Friends, I give you the next Deco-driven Freya revolution–let’s call it the Chrysler:

the future

But hang on, you say, knowing your lingerie market: isn’t that the Marlies Dekkers Dame de Paris balcony bra? Well, yes. Yes it is. And that’s the point. Marlies Dekkers has already brought the cage bra to the high street. They’ve done ninety percent of the work here. They’ve sanitized it and attenuated it and churned it out in a lot of ice cream colors, and if they aren’t making money hand over fist from this latest huge wave of new, broad, mass-market interest in strappy cage styles, somebody there really needs to be fired.

This remind you of anything?

99 flavors

Deco-like, ain’t it?

And the space is still empty! Marlies Dekkers is charging through the nose for this stuff, even with their “Undressed” bridge line version, and they’re only catering to cup sizes as high as, oh, a UK E or so. That leaves a huge gap open for Freya to show up with a Deco cage spinoff in up to GG or even higher, at a nice mass price point of $70-80, and knock the full-bust market’s socks right the hell off. If I were Freya’s managing director I would be poaching marketing, creative and engineering staff from Marlies Dekkers like crazy right now and rushing this out ASAP.

Better hurry, guys.

Because Figleaves is on this shit in-house, and they’re not fooling around. I believe this is the first legit full-bust cage bra. MOAR, PLEASE.

not joking

Coming up next time: ideas for Cleo!

 

Odeanna

10 Comments

  1. Okay, WTF is this fascination everyone has with Freya???? Why does everyone want Freya to do flips, morph and move the market?

    The marketer in me smells something here. I feel like I’m watching a focus group set of warning bells. Is Freya reading this stuff???? This is what’s going through my mind, and I wonder if it’s going through the minds of folks at Freya. 1) Freya is confusing the hell out of their customer and market. 2) Something is rotten in Freya-land to inspire so much musing about where the hell Freya is going (I suspect Deco is the bra that ate Freya). 3) Due to market penetration Freya is the lowest hanging fruit for big boobs to pin dreams on. 4) Freya is purposefully transitioning their brand and we’re seeing ripples (Gawd, I hope so because if they’re not see 1 and 2).

    If I worked at Freya, I’d be nervous. Really nervous. I’d hope the Head of Marketing is GOOD. As in confidence-inspiring and out of the box. A know where the line is and move it kind of person – balls and boobs out. I’m thinking of Brad Pitt in World War Z crossed with Jessica Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty and a little Uma Thurman from Kill Bill tossed in to seal the deal.

    And Carmen is on her way to me as I type this…pretty sure she’s stateside by now.

    Full disclosure: Until Freya starts producing something that fits my boobs, I don’t care what Freya does. Panache is another story…

    • Because that’s what happens when you’re a market leader! People want leadership!

      I agree, though — I really feel Freya’s pain. They must be ripping their hair out trying to figure out how to absorb what’s happened with Deco. And to meet what I’m sure are significantly jacked-up revenue demands from HQ in consequence of its success. It’s too late to spin it off into its own brand, which in retrospect might have been the clever thing for Eveden/Wacoal Eveden, even if they’d wanted to let go of it (or jump to it): they’ve got it for better or worse, and they’ve got to figure out whether to reposition the Freya brand altogether, evolve it, or what, and how they’re going to do that optimally and fast and with minimal losses. Either they have a provisional plan already or they’re working hard as hell to put one together, and I’m guessing the latter. I think it’s an incredibly exciting, fertile time, though! No reason for people there to be nervous, assuming they know their onions and aren’t deadweight. Change is what makes specialty marketing in complex, volatile landscapes so effing awesome. It’s no fun marketing a commodity.

      I cannot even tell you how much I hope your portrait of the brand director is accurate. Good God.

      (For what it’s worth I can’t wear Freya either. I need taller wires. Theirs are much too short for me. Awful shame, because I tried on a Hatty the other day and oh yeah I see why the fuss, but no good from the side.)

      • Until you said it, I didn’t realize it…

        But I see the UK full bust brands (okay, mostly Freya/Panache/Elomi/Cleo) as commodities – aside from fit I find no difference. They are all equally unappealing to me. And since Freya is the biggest (and worst fitting to me) I see it as the largest commodity of them all. I know everyone else sees differences – and I guess I do if you force me to…but they are all just….ugh…not me. Not what I want on my body. I put up with them. They’ve commoditized themselves. I see it, and that’s why I’d be nervous.

        • Okay, when I say industry doesn’t actually understand the full-bust customer properly? That. That comment. That’s why.

          It’s going to change, though. I seriously think this entire sector could explode into a major renaissance any moment now. The fit revolution is a growth engine. And the ones who do well will be the ones who get it the fastest and claim the best spaces in the emerging, much more complex market structure. More on that in a couple of posts.

          • I want the big players (Panache and Eveden) to start new lines instead of tweaking existing lines. A one-off style once in a while isn’t what’s needed. There should be full lines dedicated to the looks women are wanting and not finding.

  2. Oh my god. that Carmen? Gorgeous! Looks like it scales up nicely too. Are they charging Marlies Dekkers prices though? Also I loved this article. Have you worked in marketing? The way you discuss brand strategy makes me think you know a thing or two. :-)

    • I could tell you, but I’d have to kill you. #dayjob

      Figleaves is selling it at a nice sensible price point of 35 pounds English — maybe high for house brand but very low for this aesthetic. Certainly lower than Dekkers: even the cheaper Undressed line runs $100-$120 although I see you can get a Space Odyssey for $89. Again, though, they don’t deign to produce UK F+ cups. They’re not on full-bust customers’ radar and are really not even players in this space. Not in any sense that the mighty Deco needs to worry about. Deco and its variants go for $40s on sale, $60 rack rate, high $60s fashion rack rate, so Freya could put out a simple Space Odyssey-type basic cage deal for $70 and/or a Dame de Paris knockoff at $75 and slightly undercut the cheapest MD while tapping into its own well established, large, slavering customer base. They’d clean up like crazy.

      I see the Carmen’s not listed at all on the U.S. Figleaves site, which annoys me. We are not dinosaurs over here, Figleaves, we would like to participate too pls thx.

  3. I live far away from any decent bra shops, so when I was in NYC over the summer, I stopped in at the Town Shop to try on the Deco to see what the fuss is about. Full disclosure — I do have some Freyas I love (esp the sheers, like Lyla in Hazelnut), and the non-Decos fit me very well (I’m a 36F). Though I usually have to do some sort of “bow surgery” to remove the twee froufrous. But my suspicions about Deco’s fit were true — I couldn’t get that thing to fit me or look good.

    Interestingly, though, on that same trip, I had ordered from Bare Necessities online, on sale (25 percent off IIRC), a Dame de Paris which fit beautifully and looked amazing, right out of the package. My husband, needless to day, is now a big MD fan. And now that I know it fits, I’m keeping my eyes open for sales for different styles and colors.

    I’m 50 and would happily spend more of my money — though not $100+ each — on sexy, pretty, well-fitting bras. With as little pink in the colorway as possible.

    • I approve of Lyla in Hazelnut! It’s night and day. There used to be better colorways in Arabella as well. Even the Beau had a calmer, nicer colorway. It’s like Freya got cold feet it was straying off vision at some point and went consciously heavy-girly all over everything.

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