“How long do you have?” quips Trilogy Stores co-owner Mark Cocozza when asked about the working relationship between the company’s three founders. It may take the trio a moment to mull over their respective roles at the denim specialist, but it will only take their denim experts three minutes to find you the perfect pair of jeans.
For Trilogy’s founders know that, much like swimwear, jeans shopping can sometimes be a challenging experience for the customer. Few of us know our size, what suits, and it can be tough to resist the temptation of the latest trend (even if it does feature clear panels over the knees or a zip from navel to coccyx). At Trilogy, however, there’s no risk of falling foul to the latest craze. The store offers a range of carefully catalogued brands along with designer high heels for customers to try with the jeans.
They take inspiration from celebrities like Holly Willoughby and the inimitably stylish Kate Moss. “Our customers don’t see 20 year-olds in the latest trends and want to imitate it. They’re honest with themselves,” says co-founder and head buyer Lesley Torson. “Kate is iconic in jeans. She tends to go down the skinny route, but she’s had great traction with flares.”
It’s one thing to have an eye for style, but a very different skill set entirely to get a new business off the ground when recession is kicking in and few in Britain have heard of J Brand. “When we started out, we did extensive research into how customers feel in jeans and when shopping for denim,” says co-founder James Leslie. The department store experience was an intimidating one, characterised by poor lighting and a lack of understanding of different brands. We wanted a fully serviced experience in an old fashioned way.”
A decade ago, Leslie and Torson were working at M&S and Cocozza was a finance entrepreneur. While travelling to the US, Torson noticed an important trend: the rise of denim. “The market was booming, but there was a gap in terms of a luxury service selling designer brands while offering advice,” she explains. Their aim wasn’t to create a denim range themselves, nor to force one brand onto customers. Instead, the founders took lead from Space NK, where customers are matched to brands that work for their skin tone, hair type or beauty regimen.
Like the best ideas, Trilogy’s concept was simple: the premiumisation of a widely popular product. For it to work, however, the founders needed to find the perfect location for their first bricks-and-mortar store. It required customers who would appreciate the luxury service and lifestyle they were offering. It needed local professionals whose office wardrobe would consist of smart jeans and a silk top. And it needed stay-at-home mums for whom high-end jeans were the centrepiece of the wardrobe.
“When we launched, Chelsea had everything as a location: a mix of like-minded retailers such as Liz Earle and Manicomio, a John Lewis up the road – where we now have a concession featuring an edited mix of our current offering, a lovely atmosphere and discerning customers,” says Cocozza. And its flagship store remains the beating heart of the business. “”In the last decade Chelsea has become the destination for luxury premium retail in London. We’re still serving local customers who’ve been with us since we first opened our doors. It’s not surprising that in the last five years Anthrolopologie, Club Monaco and J Crew have all come to Sloane Square.”
The brand has since expanded to a further five stores in London but their proposition has remained the same as when they first opened their doors on Duke of York Square. “When starting a company, a singular focus is essential,” Leslie tells me. So too is a mutual respect between founders. “We’re best friends out of work and have a non-political, non-competitive professional relationship,” says Torson. They’re not shackled by the layered multi-sector structure of big corporations, where decisions get passed from pillar to post. “We make choices quickly. We have a mutual goal. Our mantra is: ‘Nothing is too much trouble’.”
Though Trilogy has seen significant growth in the past decade, the founders always wanted the company to remain a manageable size. “There are three of us, and it’s our own business,” says Cocozza. But the one question women from Lands End to John O’Groats (or at least Wimbledon Village to Hampstead Heath) really want to know is whether the perfect pair of jeans is just a chimera? Not according to Torson. “It’s hard to narrow it down to one, but if you were investing in an all-rounder, I’d suggest a classic dark clean wash cigarette leg with a mid-rise.” If this sounds indecipherable, or even if you speak denim, Trilogy’s Denim Experience is well worth a trip.