Raoul Singapore closes last store

The last Raoul Singapore boutique has closed its doors as creator FJ Benjamin decides to focus on wholesaling.

Raoul, positioned as an affordable luxury brand, began life as a menswear brand back in 2002 before expanding into women’s fashion – because women shoppers were buying smaller sized men’s shirts to wear themselves.

At one point, it had boutiques as far afield as Melbourne and London and became a beacon for the Singapore fashion industry in a market dominated by European fashion labels.  

Raoul closed its Paragon store on Orchard Rd in February, unwilling to pay the rents demanded.

The founding premise

When your business model is built around retailing products designed by others – as FJ Benjamin has for more than 50 years – your fortunes rise and fall with those brands and the head office decisions in other countries. That was a major part of the motivation to launch Raoul, which met with success very quickly.

Over its first 50 years, FJ Benjamin held Singapore or regional rights to brands as diverse as Gucci, Gap, Manchester United, La Senza, Fendi, Goyard, Celine, Givenchy, Banana Republic, La Perla, Naomi Campbell, Valentino, Nautica, Victorinox and Rado. But after the financial crisis, it pulled back from high end labels to focus more on lifestyle brands.

“In business you have to be nimble. We thought ‘OK, lifestyle has done well for us. Let’s continue’,” Douglas Benjamin, the company’s COO, told a presentation attended by Inside Retail Asia back in 2010.

The Raoul brand was conceived on a trip by Benjamin to London.

“The company had always been franchising and representing brands from other companies. My father was a strong believer we needed to have our own brand. In 2003 we bought some shirts from some expensive stores and after three to four months I was wearing shirt and the cuffs were fraying, buttons coming off.”

What if they could produce shirts that looked as high in quality, but actually lasted?

“We decided to develop a men’s shirt label. We’d get the best quality material and make it in Asia and if you give a man a choice, he will buy.”

So Raoul – the French name for Ralph – was launched through stores in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia. The first store combining both ranges opened its doors in 2007 and a flagship in the classic Paragon shopping centre on Orchard Rd in 2009. Later, stores would follow in Mainland China and the Middle East.

Raoul is by no means finished despite the closure of the Singapore stores. A concession continues to trade at Robinsons department store on Orchard Rd and the company will now concentrate on wholesaling with a particular focus on the US, UK and Middle East. Among the UK stockists of Raoul are Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Liberty of London. Saks and Neiman Marcus in the US and KaDeWe in Germany also stock Raoul, further underlining the brand’s fashion cachet.  

Despite its high profile globally, Singapore seemingly cannot sustain a flagship store. As a saddened fashion designer Sabrina Goh of fellow home-grown brand Elohim By Sabrina Goh told the Straits Times this week: “Raoul has always been seen as a sound brand with years of industry experience, and financial and production clout. It really just illustrates how tough the current Singapore retail market is.”

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