One of many victims of the economic downturn, lingerie giant La Senza went into administration in December 2011. I remember standing there in the queue while the displays emptied, not being replenished, the staff looked listless and everything was messy, the joys of sale time when a shop was closing. What had happened to this institution? A favourite in high school we used to delight in going in there, buying pyjamas & wondering around with the perfect paper bags, stickers shut at the top feeling like a grown woman. As I grew into the other lines – bra sets, lingerie & nightwear became the focus. Although it had changed a little in the last couple of years I still loved La Senza & was gutted to see it going down.
Imagine my joy then when I got this email.
Hurrah! My local store re-opened too.
But is it back? How is it faring since coming back on the scene? Is it the same & will it stay?
Success & Decline
If you ask many for the key to La Senza’s original success you will get a variety of answers. Some say it was all down to good management – until July 2006 the UK franchise of the company (originating in Canada) was owned by Theo Paphitis. Since selling to Lion Capital some say it went downhill. Theo said in interview “It was an absolute… shocker. You can’t run a business off a spreadsheet”. Ironically, Theo Paphitis’ new lingerie brand, Boux Avenue occupies a store in Bath where La Senza once stood.
But for me the real teller is what the customer thinks – what are the unique things about La Senza that kept people coming back? They pioneered a number of unique products – they did bra size vest tops before Bravissimo or M&S. They did cup sized swimwear and babydolls, a rarity at the time in the UK market, yet they were still safe enough to tell your gran that’s where you had spent the afternoon shopping.
They were also different from other high street stores. More ‘sexy’ than M&S and more ‘everyday’ than Ann Summers they occupied a middle of the road market share which declined when the economic crisis hit. M&S still sold their everyday wares, and Ann Summers specialized in ‘naughty’ whilst La Senza hit the buffers.
La Senza definitely has a lot of potential, and a nostalgic place in people’s hearts. However they don’t seem to be playing on that. The new advertising seems brash. Huge bold and brightly coloured fonts glow like lights on a club whilst overexposed photos of pretty girls in lingerie sets made with cheap lace recline against pink leopard print backgrounds. You would be forgiven for thinking this wasn’t the art deco themed lingerie shop with yellow and blue colour scheme. Then there are the new store makeovers. Whilst many shops have not yet been redone and retain some of the original charm, the Oxford Street store re-opened in November. With it’s red glow and tacky tagline ‘Hello Sugar’ it looked more like a red light district than a classy retailer.
Also right from the word ‘go’, there have been constant promotions. From the very first e-mail with 25% off, just 7 days later it was their sale. Then the clearance soon followed and the offers are on every tab on the site: 25% off bras, £5 off £15 spent on knickers, £10 off sleepwear, free delivery over £30 – all at the same time. Nothing screams desperation more than constant sales and offers. ‘Last chance sale’ might as well read ‘last chance saloon’.
I really want them to succeed though, so I reviewed the product range. Shopping experience is important but us Brits can be prepared to forgo that if we love a good product. All the salient products seem to be gone though. No DD+ baybdolls, no swimwear and no silk products at all. Typing silk in the search field will only bring up a shapeless satin kimono. It seems the pretty French lace has also gone to cheap flammable nylon imitation.
All of this is a sad state of a company that once sold glorious silk and lace incarnations, Vollers corsets and the best cup sized swimwear from a non-specialist retailer.
There is hope yet though. New owners Alshaya plan to invest £100m with new products collections and store make overs.
So will this new venture hold out a bright new future for this lingerie chain? The jury’s still out on that one. Hold on to your garters girls, because La Senza may not be selling them for long.