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The rise of the Spanish high street


Spain’s affordable, high-quality fashion brands have revolutionised high streets the world over, says Beth Druce

Beth Druce portrait
Beth Druce ,

Few trends have defined the past decade in clothing retail as much as fast fashion, and the European high street is currently a hotbed of competition. The purchasing power in this sector continues to defy the economic downturn – and all eyes are on the Spanish brands which are leading the way.

Their luscious prints, beautiful embroidery and sharp tailoring defy any downmarket connotations linked to the concept of high-street fashion.

Rising style titans
When two Spanish retailers, Mango and Zara, began to expand internationally in the 1990s, the fashion world barely raised an eyebrow. Zara is now considered one of the largest fashion retailers in the world in sales terms; its website cited 1,751 stores in 86 countries in spring 2013 and the brand continues to expand rapidly; as does Mango, which had 2,415 stores in 107 countries across the world in spring 2013.

Zara’s parent company Inditex has a retail portfolio of nine brands, including Massimo Dutti, Pull & Bear and Bershka. Massimo Dutti occupies a slightly higher price point than Zara, Bershka’s price point is slightly lower, and Pull & Bear ventures into different territory with an aspirational, cutting-edge, design-led aesthetic.

And then there’s Cortefiel, of the Spanish parent group of the same name. With 393 stores across 27 countries in Europe, Africa and South America, it shapes the wardrobes of men and women between the ages of 35 and 45 looking for eclectic but always accessible clothing. There is no corner of the international high street that Spain doesn’t have covered.

Expansion plan
Zara, which is investing €100m in the expansion of its headquarters in Arteixo to house its design and sales team, has built its empire on a model that industry insiders refer to as the ‘Zara Way’ and is founded on logistics.

Zara and Mango are set apart from their non-Spanish contemporaries by large manufacturing bases in Spain, which mean trends can be translated from catwalk to shop floor in lightning quick time. The advantage of in-house production that involves no middleman is reflected in lead times; often just 14 days from the design of a garment to its arrival in the shops. Years ago this would have been inconceivable; lead times were three to six months and trends were translated at a much slower pace.

Today a garment inspired by a catwalk look during fashion week is often available to buy on the high street months before the original goes on sale.

Strength in numbers
Last year Mango opened a Dynamic Distribution Centre in Barcelona. This 24,000-square-metre warehouse, the company explains, ‘specialises in the distribution of folded garments, goods which until now were managed from the central offices, thus leaving the central offices to specialise in hung garments’. This control over the production and distribution processes has supported the rapid ascent of Spain’s fashion brands – and employs tens of thousands of people.

Quality control
There’s also the question of quality. For a long time, fast fashion was equated with inferior quality. But both Mango and Zara have altered this perception via trend-led pieces as well as quality basics that form the core of many fashion editors’ wardrobes.

As Joanna Shiers, fashion editor of international trend forecaster Stylus, explains: ‘Zara appeals because it has an affordable price point and a certain quality to it. It manages to give the illusion of exclusivity by limiting the numbers of each style stocked, so that if you don’t buy something when you see it, it is likely to be gone when you go back.’

Stylus assistant editor Lucy Williams, a Zara aficionado, adds that the brand ‘manages to emulate designer pieces and catwalk-led trends without being so copycat that it looks like a replica. Zara is its own covetable brand.’

Star power
It’s the ‘covetable’ quality that’s of note here. Mango regularly fronts its campaigns with big names such as Claudia Schiffer, Penélope Cruz and Elizabeth Jagger, while last year Kate Moss was photographed in a carefully edited capsule collection, enhancing the desirability of each individual piece.

Zara’s stores are minimally decorated, music-free ‘spaces’. The stores command the kind of fashion kudos usually reserved for cutting-edge concept stores, while reinforcing Zara’s position as what LVMH chairman Daniel Piette has referred to as ‘possibly the most innovative and devastating retailer in the world’.

Whether you’re wearing a slick, sharp, shift dress, a magenta trench coat or carrying an on-trend handbag from either of these two labels, you can be secure in the knowledge that you’re wearing a quality piece that will make you look impeccably stylish.

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