Elle 'the Body' Macpherson backs business scheme

By James Melik
Reporter, Business Daily, BBC World Service

Image caption,
Her Intimates lingerie range is only one of Elle's several business projects

From vital statistics to the frilly bottom line, Elle Macpherson has progressed from being known as 'the Body' at the height of her supermodelling career to running a successful business for herself.

Being in business for the last 30 years and seeing her illustrious signature lingerie line go from strength to strength, she knows what it takes to be a budding entrepreneur and the challenges that involves.

She is ideally placed to support the Barclays Bank One Small Step competition, which will award a total of £50,000 ($73,000, 60,000 euros) to local businesses chosen from a shortlist and voted for by the public.

"Businesses are an integral part of our local communities and the backbone of our economy," she says.

Over the last couple of years, she has won numerous awards for her work as a designer and entrepreneur. In 2009, she won the World Career Award in Vienna.

Star appeal

She launched Elle Macpherson Intimates over 20 years ago - and it is now the best selling brand in the UK and Australia.

Despite the recent economic downturn, she has opened 300 outlets in 11 countries across Europe in the last two years.

"In my particular business, we have expanded during this period," she says.

"There are not a lot of businesses doing that sort of expansion, but in this particular field we have found the energy and support and belief in our product," she says.

"Throughout this whole period since 2008 I have seen very balanced spread sheets coming back," she enthuses.

It seems that her Intimates business has weathered the financial storm in Europe well.

"Perhaps it is because people are not going out and spending their money on a dress but they still want to feel good about themselves," she says.

Into the fray

Her Intimates lingerie range began when she was approached by a small New Zealand company who wanted to break into the Australian market.

When Bendon Limited Apparel asked if she would be the face of their brand, Ms Macpherson told them: "If you allow me to help design and we call it Elle McPherson Intimates, I won't charge you a fee and I will take a percentage at the back end."

Without realising, it was Ms Macpherson's first concept of licensing.

"I didn't understand that it was called licensing, but I understood the big picture," she explains.

"Over time, I have understood the intricacies of the business but that is just experience and interest and being curious and actually asking a lot of questions along the way."

She says that young girls often ask her what they should do to become a model and the first thing she says is: "If you are beautiful, use your beauty rather than have your beauty use you."

She believes that it is much more powerful for an educated woman to sit down and have a meeting with somebody if they are also beautiful, rather than having somebody who is only trying to sell their beauty.

"I have always used the way I look - to be used as a secret weapon," she says.

"That is why I have had to educate myself in a lot of different areas, so that the looks become a supplement to the already sound business that I am doing."

She maintains that much to the chagrin of her partners, she has a fair say in the financial side of the business.

The name game

A lot of people presumably buy her products because they have her name on it?

Image caption,
Elle has used her looks 'as a secret weapon' in business meetings

"I believe my name might get somebody into the stores to buy a product, but repeat sales depend upon the quality of that product," she says.

"That is the basis of all good branding and that is why this brand is not a celebrity brand - it is driven by a product brand," she adds.

Ms Macpherson stopped modelling for the company ten years ago and is not involved in the advertising at all.

"For sustainability and longevity it is important to me that this brand stands by itself," she insists.

"The name stands for itself, it is synonymous with quality and that is a very important part of my DNA."

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