Missoma’s disappearing act

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When Marisa Hordern stalled Missoma at the height of its success few could understand why. Now she’s jump starting it in partnership with IBB and tells Rachael Taylor why a break has made the brand stronger.

By early 2010 Marisa Hordern had reached the end of her tether. Working solidly for six years and feeling as if she had taken her brand Missoma as far as she could, she decided that enough was enough and left to go travelling.

“I did it at the end of the season once I had delivered all the orders,” she says. “It was perfect timing.”

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While Hordern jetted round the world enjoying four months of experiences that “took me outside my comfort zone and tested me”, such as climbing Machu Picchu in Peru, she left behind a confused and saddened UK jewellery scene.

“Everyone was very sad and confused,” she remembers. “Most people thought I was ill. I had lovely letters from retailers and editors.”

It is safe to say that Hordern and Missoma’s disappearance didn’t go unnoticed in the industry. While she describes it as “perfect timing”, she left at a moment when Missoma was skyrocketing to success.

The brand had just picked up awards at the Italian Jewellery Awards and UK Jewellery Awards and was a firm consumer press favourite with a healthy stockist list of jewellery shops and fashion boutiques, both in the UK and internationally. The year before Hordern had also been involved in founding jewellery design collective Rising Gems with other members who included SHO, Ana De Costa and Leblas.

But for Hordern, it was this success that led to her departure from the industry. She explains: “I knew we’d created a coveted brand and a recognisable brand, but how to scale that up? We were a very small team but we were perceived to be a larger brand than we were. I very much felt that I was chasing my tail.”

By taking a complete break from business Hordern was able to “refresh and re-energise”. “Time out makes you clarify, gives you time to reflect,” she affirms.

She was also able to get some much-needed inspiration, something that she had been lacking in. While Hordern is the business face of the brand, she works on the creative aspects with her mother Michele and sister Sophie and the women’s three individual styles meld together to create Missoma. However, one of the trio had been missing from the creative process. “I was doing so much on the business side that I didn’t have time to design,” she explains.

Hordern says that her travels definitely inspired her, particularly graffiti that she saw while travelling in South America. So she returned to the UK in June energised, refreshed and inspired, and there was a surprise waiting for her.

During her travels, an article appeared on Professional Jeweller’s website about the disappearance of Missoma and Hordern says that afterwards she was contacted by people who had read it and wanted to help her get back in business. “People approached me after the article and it gave me the confidence to approach others,” she reveals. “We had so much good will towards us but I knew I needed the right partner.”

After weighing up her options, which included some dubious partnership offers and one offer to become creative director at another brand, Hordern decided to team up with industry stalwart IBB. The partnership is a complete 50-50 split with half the business belonging to the Horderns and the other half to IBB, and all decisions made together.

By teaming up with IBB, Missoma will have the cash injection it so desperately needed, but Hordern says her choice to team up with IBB was never just about the money. “Money doesn’t solve everything ,” she says wisely. “IBB have the contacts and 30 years of industry experience.”

Working with an established company will also help Hordern to develop as a businesswoman. “Every decision is made together but I get a sounding board,” she says. “Before it was me learning as I went.”

Missoma and IBB are working together to refine the brand’s image, making it more of a luxury brand than it might have been perceived as before. Hordern explains: “The brand look we are developing will evolve. Now it will be the luxury branding that I dreamed of.”

Trade shows are also on the agenda, with the brand showing at The Jewellery Show at Spring Fair this month and Baselworld in Switzerland next month. Hordern says that the brand’s focus is on the UK market, and in particular the UK jewellery market, not a mix of fashion and jewellery as it had been before.

Before Hordern’s break, Missoma had been targeting fashion boutiques and jewellers alike but she believes that by doing so she was stretching the brand’s resources too thinly. She is now planning to move away from fashion.

“We were trying to straddle fashion and jewellery before, but we’re not trying to do that anymore,” she says. “We might go back to the fashion route one day but we don’t want to take away from our main focus as a luxury designer jewellery brand.”

Even the brand’s present office location reflects this shift from fashion to jewellery. Before Hordern’s disappearance from the industry Missoma had been based in Chelsea, surrounded by fashion brands; now she is working out of IBB’s offices in Hatton Garden, surrounded by jewellers.

While she was only out of the market for less than a year, Hordern believes that it has changed since Missoma was last competing for consumers’ hearts. She says: “The market is very saturated with the same styles. It’s become very competitive and I would be cutting off my nose to spite my face if I didn’t look at that but I do think very much of it is quite samey. There is room for a bit of a change – more bold and fun jewellery. The jewellery industry is ready for that as they’ll be bored. We can fill that space in the market.”

Hordern says that while her travels have influenced her creatively and her own personal style has changed to become more demure, fans of the brand will still be able to instantly recognise a Missoma piece. But, taking note of the market conditions, she will be making some changes by designing more daytime pieces and “more wearable offshoots of our more press-worthy statement pieces”.

The brand has also created its first ever silver line, which it will unveil at The Jewellery Show at Spring Fair.

“On a design level, the world is my oyster [because of the partnership with IBB freeing up her time],” says Hordern. “I feel we were only showing about 10 percent of our potential before.”

With a solid investor at her side, more time to design and a sounding board offering more than 30 years of experience, it would seem that Hordern and Missoma have done nothing but benefit from temporarily crashing out of the jewellery market.

“Someone said to me, ‘I remember reading about it when you exited the market and I remember thinking it was a clever strategy’,” laughs Hordern.

So was it? The categorical answer is no; she did it for her own sake, not to further her business, but looking back she says she now realises that going AWOL at the height of her success wasn’t such a crazy move after all.

 

 

This article was taken from the February 2011 issue of Professional Jeweller magazine. See the whole edition by clicking here.

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