Francisco Gonzalez-Meza Hoffmann is a clever businessman. Never failing to praise his employees, the Mexican knows his products inside and out and has a very clear brand vision in mind. Gonzalez-Meza Hoffmann has been working for Perry Ellis since 2006. At the end of 2009 he came to England to head international operations for the US fashion group; in August 2011 he took over the lead of the London office as managing director Europe. He obviously knows what he’s doing since Perry Ellis’ business in Europe has more than doubled over the past five and a half years. In particular, the two lifestyle brands Original Penguin and Farah have experienced rapid growth and today are one of Great Britain’s top sellers at retailers such as Asos and Urban Outfitters–all this with absolutely no splashy marketing campaigns.

How did he do it? After further praise for his team, Gonzalez-Meza Hoffmann gives credit to one key attribute: the ability to adapt. Whereas the younger menswear line Farah is designed entirely in the London Perry Ellis headquarters in the midst of short-lived fashion trends on a side street off Oxford Street, 60% of the Original Penguin collection sold in Europe is designed in the US headquarters and 40% in London. According to Gonzalez-Meza Hoffmann, this is essential to stay in touch with the requirements of the local market and its customers. “A lot of American companies remain very much linked to the way they do business in the US and think they can easily come to Europe and make things happen just by applying the same model.” Not only is Europe a completely different market, it is also especially multi-layered. This means there are even significant differences between the north and the south of England. It is Gonzalez-Meza Hoffman’s approach to adapt to all these local conditions–with regard to both fit and color as well as to delivery dates and pricing. “Original Penguin is a line that can be merchandized very differently,” he explains. The polo shirt for example, the signature product of the American brand, which is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year, is marketed quite differently in the two different markets. While the long sleeve polo has never caught on in the US, it is a key item in the UK; in Italy, tighter polos sell well, while the Spanish like more loosely cut ones. It is probably thanks to this chameleon-like quality that the American brand, when merchandised alongside names such as Fred Perry, Lyle & Scott and Ben Sherman at House of Fraser, has a very British feel to it.

Original Penguin fall/winter 2015
Original Penguin fall/winter 2015


Original Penguin counts more than 250 retail doors in Europe, and it has six stores of its own, currently only in the UK. In the next three years it plans to increase this to 15, while even closing unprofitable UK points of sale–the focus is now on Europe. But before tapping a market for own retail, it has to be secured by means of local multibrand concepts. In doing this, Gonzalez-Meza Hoffmann definitely has the big names in mind (Galleries Lafayette and El Corte Inglés are already among Original Penguin’s customers), but he is also fully aware of the significance of owner-managed reference stores such as Psyche in Middlesborough, northern England. “The retailers need to see you in the cool independents with the right brand mix. We are very good in supporting the big retailers with shop-in-shop concepts, window campaigns etc, but before you get there you really need the cool local heroes to open the door for you.” To promote the expansion, Perry Ellis is working with local distributors and agents. A separate German office in Düsseldorf was opened in February to serve the focus markets of Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

Product expansion is another topic of discussion at Original Penguin. Because of the polo shirt heritage, the collection is very much tops-driven, but jackets and outerwear have recently been very successful, too. Currently, the team is working flat out on expansion of the trouser and denim business. Several marginal categories of Original Penguin, such as footwear, socks, winter accessories, glasses, watches and handbags, were recently hived off to licensees.

Gonzalez Meza-Hoffmann describes the brand’s typical customer as a young, urban guy who values high-quality details: “If you think of Prince William being Ralph Lauren, then we want to be Prince Harry. A little bit more edgy, but still royal.” Things are different in the case of Farah. The line is younger, trendier, slimmer and about 10% lower in price than Original Penguin. In contrast to its big brother, Farah has no uninterrupted history. There have been periods when the brand, which became well known in the 1930s initially as a manufacturer of combat pants and uniforms for the army, was in a deep slumber. In the 1970s, Farah’s triumphal march in Great Britain began, and the label’s hopsack trousers became a symbol of the youth culture there. As a result, Farah is generally regarded as British–despite its American roots. “We used to say: born in the US, grown in the UK. It’s a bit like Winston Churchill–everybody would say it doesn’t get more British than him but he was actually half-American,” jokes Gonzalez-Meza Hoffmann. Today, Farah quite consciously makes use of its British image in Europe in its design, marketing and picture language. At a time when every second collection in the youth market seems to be all black or at least black and white, Farah– and Original Penguin, too–is attracting customers with its vibrant colors. “One of our key elements is that we stand for a very open, smiling and nondark lifestyle,” says the managing director.

Using this recipe for success, Farah is currently represented in about 280 retailers in Europe, and the first independent Farah Store opened last year in London. Additional independent stores will be opened in the UK, and then there are loose plans for France and Germany after that. All in all, Gonzalez-Meza Hoffmann regards it as realistic that over the medium term Farah will be available at 550 to 600 retailers throughout Europe. The only thing that the two young Perry Ellis brands lack now for their decisive European breakthrough is greater brand recognition. For this reason, Gonzalez-Meza Hoffmann now intends to invest more strongly in marketing–but there, too, how could it be any different to rely on a highly targeted approach? “If you know your consumer well, you can talk directly to him.”

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Farah spring/summer 2016
Farah spring/summer 2016