British jeans/casualwear manufacturer
Founded: Pepe brand jeans began on London's Portobello Road market. Company History: Lines have included Basic, BSCO, Hardcore, Buffalo, and Tommy Hilfiger labels; Pepe Group Plc. bought by SEL International Investments Corp. (in turn owned by Apparel International Holdings Ltd., the parent company of Tommy Hilfiger), 1993; entered U.S. market with Pepe Jeans USA, 1993; acquired license for new Tommy Hilfiger line of jeans, 1995; separate units for women's and men's Hilfiger jeans formed, 1996; signed deal to distribute Tommy Hilfiger lines in Europe, 1997; signed licensing agreement with Keystone Industries, 1997; Pepe Jeans USA unit sold to Tommy Hilfiger Corp., 1998; opened first U.S. Pepe stores, 2001. Company Address: Pepe House, 11 Lower Square, Old Isleworth-on-Thames, Middlesex TW7 6HN, UK. Company Websites: www.pepejeans.com.
Lippert, Barbara, "Clean Jeans, Dirty War," in the Chicago Tribune, 16 December 1988.
Bidlake, Suzanne, "Pepe Strides Upmarket with Branding U-Turn," in Marketing, 11 April 1991.
Fallon, James, "Maurice Marciano Seeks Interest in Pepe Group," in DNR, 6 January 1993.
——, "Restructuring Done, Pepe Group is Set to Go," in WWD, 3 February 1993.
Gordon, Maryellen, "New Owners, New Power for Pepe," in WWD, 10 February 1993.
Ozzard, Janet, "Margolis Cuts a New Pattern at Pepe," in WWD, 19 January 1994.
Walsh, Peter, "Margolis Joins Hilfiger as Vice-Chairman, President; Succeeded at Pepe by Lewis," in DNR, 10 March 1994.
Lockwood, Lisa, "More Suitors Seen Pitching for CK Jeans," in WWD, 14 April 1994.
Moore, M. H., "Pepe Jeans May Be Loose, Seeking Fit," in Adweek, 22 August 1994.
Ozzard, Janet, "Pepe's New Fashion Flavor," in WWD, 1 February 1996.
"Pepe Forms Two Units for Hilfiger Lines," in WWD, 5 December 1996.
Socha, Miles, "Tommy Taking Department Store Jeans Biz by Storm," in DNR, 8 September 1997.
"Hilfiger Holders Okay Pepe Jeans USA Deal," in DNR, 6 May 1998.
Caplan, David Grant, "Pepe Jeans to Launch Stores," in WWD, 19 April 2001.***
In the notoriously competitive denim sales market, Pepe has been able to maintain its profile as much through witty and eclectic marketing as through design details. The company and its various casualwear lines have carved a niche by concentrating on prompting a contemporary, directional image which has enabled them to establish an identity distinct from the nostalgia-led promotional strategy of many jeans companies.
A potent mix of references has marked out Pepe and its sister ranges as fashionable and different. The attention to detailing, with double stitched seams and copper rivets, so important to serious denim wearers, has underpinned their success and enabled Pepe to prosper. The range of different denims it produces has also been significant; the firm has maintained a reputation for quality, both in its staple Basic line, which established Pepe's classic straight-cut shapes for jeans and jackets, and its production of a changing array of washes and dyes to pick up on current fashion trends for its other lines.
Having started life in London's Portobello Road market, Pepe has always had an affinity with street fashion and urban life, and it is this ability to chime in with the Zeitgeist that brought them to the fore in the 1980s. After the dip in denim's popularity at the start of the decade, the slick advertising of the market leader, Levi Strauss, dominated by retro 1950s cool, sent jeans sales rocketing, partly triggered by the obsession with so-called design classics and media hype. If Pepe was lacking the long history of the main American labels, it certainly made up for it with its originality of approach.
Pepe recognized its own strengths as a British-based name and employed strong, innovative advertising to promote its ranges. The company understood that it was just as important to generate an aura of streetwise cool about its product, as to keep up with trends in fabric washes and design details. From 1986 Pepe sidestepped the traditional American imagery associated with jeans and produced a series of ads which ultimately led to an almost complete brand awareness by the end of the decade. Pepe's advertising achieved cult status; two of its most successful campaigns produced a soundtrack of contemporary music fitted together with well-known club images for the usually-resistant younger market. The "Wears Pepe" series cut images of avant-garde nightclub figure Leigh Bowery with shots of natural-looking models in Pepe denims and increased Pepe's status as a company which could both encapsulate and define the times.
Along with the memorable "Raindance" advertising, which also brought together maverick elements, looking more like a clip from a film than a piece of marketing, and "Laughter," which simply showed a group of people smiling and talking in a park in Pepe clothes, the company created a precedent. Pepe had recognized a crucial element of the 1990s youth market, seeing that the video generation was not taken in by straightforward name-plugging, but wanted to feel in on the joke, as though they were part of the street culture which Pepe represented.
Pepe has defined its role within the denim market and built on its strengths by clever advertising and an empathy with street fashion. If never quite in the same league as the biggest names in denim, it chose to strike out in a different direction, leaning on the contemporary rather than exploiting its own history to promote its ideals, such as the now legendary SoulHole parties. This approach has since been mimicked by other British casualwear names, but never with Pepe's originality and quality of research, in marketing or design.
From the early 1990s, Pepe became inextribably linked with Tommy Hilfiger, when it was bought by SEL International Investments Corp., which in turn was owned by Apparel International Holdings Ltd., the corporate parent of Hilfiger. Then Pepe Jeans USA secured the license for the new Tommy Jeans line, which debuted amidst much fanfare. The momentum of Hilfiger did much for Pepe, long considered a European jeans brand, to break into the American market and challenge such titan Levi Strauss. By 1997 the Tommy Jeans collections were the top-selling brand in over 1,200 U.S. departments stores, many of which had in-store Hilfiger boutiques, and Pepe London had signed exclusives agreements with Tommy Hilfiger to market products throughout Europe, as well as another licensing deal with the Montreal-based Keystone Industries to produce and distribute Pepe's own jeans in Canada.
The following year, 1998, Pepe Jeans USA was bought by Tommy Hilfiger Corp., just as the division planned an expansion of its women's denim collection and added styles to Tommy Jeans for men and boys. In 2001 Pepe Group Plc., sans its American subsidiary Pepe Jeans USA, announced plans for stores to open in Los Angeles, Miami, and New York carrying Pepe denim, outerwear, and accessories for both sexes. Though the company was already established in London, elsewhere in Europe and in Latin America, these were the company's first U.S. stores. Pepe clothes were successfully sold in American specialty and department stores, but as Pepe executive Jonathan Cea told David Grant Caplan of Women's Wear Daily (19 April 2001), opening the firm's own shops was "the best form of advertising. It solidifies you as a brand."
updated by Nelly Rhodes