He’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but the All Saints boss is not concerned with making friends. As Jessica Brown reports, his aim is to ‘do a Burberry’ with the high street retailer
Children Brogan 18, Ollie 15 and Rory 6
Career 2006-present Chief executive, All Saints
1996 to 2004 Various roles rising to chief executive, USC
1993 to 1996 Sales and marketing director, Timberland UK
1985 to 1993 Business analyst/management consultant, Digital Equipment Corporation
All Saints chief executive Stephen Craig can best be described as industry Marmite. You either love him or you hate him, and he’s well aware of that.
“I only have a couple of retail pals like Neil Clifford [chief executive of Kurt Geiger] and Nigel Blow [chief executive of Arnotts],” he once said, though it doesn’t seem to bother him much.
Fellow Scot and Office chief executive Brian McCluskey is also a good “pal”. And not forgetting All Saints chairman Kevin Stanford – the pair are so close they can almost finish each other’s sentences.
But the brand is going through a tumultuous time at the moment. Craig is still deep in talks to secure a buyer for the business after a seemingly watertight deal with a Lebanese investor collapsed. All Saints is thought to need £50m investment. US private equity firms Goode Partners and MSD Capital were the latest front-runners.
Craig, who will be at the heart of any deal done, is not afraid of making enemies. He pulled out of House of Fraser concessions after baulking at the department store’s discounting strategy last year, while several high street retailers including River Island and Arcadia have received writs over design infringement.
But some mistake Craig’s passion and fiery Scottish temper for aggression and hot-headedness.
Back in 2004, when he was joint chief executive of branded fashion chain USC, he famously fell out with its owner Sir Tom Hunter over strategy, which led to his abrupt departure from the business.
He spent the next year in a depression, and instead of job-hunting made countless appointments with banks and private equity firms in an effort to buy the business from Hunter. He couldn’t let go of the retailer he loved, and the one that had built his career.
But after meeting Stanford, things started to look up. Stanford had recently invested in All Saints and needed a chief executive to run the business day-to-day. The job offer in 2006 came after a short skiing trip that bonded the pair as firm friends.
Craig fell in love at All Saints – with the brand, and with Hannah Coffin, the chain’s womenswear design director. The two are now engaged.
It’s unusual for a creative to be at the helm of a business and Craig, although a marketer by background, has a personality that edges towards that of a temperamental designer.
But he is no beginner when it comes to the business side of things. While he clearly knows product inside out – he learnt the ropes traipsing the halls of European trade shows when he was marketing director at USC – his experience growing USC gave him an education in all aspects of retail.
Craig both works and plays relentlessly. Nights out at The Golden Heart pub in east London – his favourite boozer near the Shoreditch head office – or at the famous Soho House are legendary and late. He doesn’t need much sleep – he is always up by 5am to walk the three puppies he bought from the Harrods pet department at Christmas.
He is a raconteur and his gift of the gab and charisma mean he is pretty inspiring, if difficult, to work for.
Clifford describes Craig as a “Scottish firecracker of ideas” who has achieved great things in his time at All Saints, including taking the chain to the US. He is rumoured to have slept all night on the shopfloor of the New York store the night before opening, such were his nerves about the launch.
Certainly he hasn’t even scratched the surface of his unchecked ambition to “do a Burberry” with All Saints and make it a global billion-pound brand yet. His strategy is to open global flagships in key locations to build brand awareness and then drive shoppers beyond the store catchment areas to the All Saints website.
The critics claim All Saints’ design handwriting is too strong and its stores, although monumentally different, are too grungey and one-dimensional in aesthetic, meaning the business is vulnerable to a shift in fashion.
Craig is not oblivious to this, and in spring injected bright colours to a collection that has never previously deviated from a sombre palette. Such is his knowledge of product and brand it would be a brave man to bet against further success.