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Yardley cosmetics From grannies to handcuffs How does a once supremely successful brand descend into failure? The answer, in the case of Yardley cosmetics, is by failing to move with the times. Yardley was founded in London in 1770 by William Yardley, a purveyor of swords, spurs and buckles for the aristocracy. He took over a lavender soap business from his son-in-law William Cleaver who had gambled away his inheritance. Throughout the next 200 years the brand grew from strength to strength with its portfolio of flower-scented soaps, talcum powders and traditional perfumes. Yardley’s brand identity was quintessentially English, and it supplied soaps and perfumes to the Queen and the Queen Mother. However, during the 1960s Yardley was seen as a cool brand associated with swinging London. ‘The English Rose image was a digression,’ said Yardley’s former chief executive Richard Finn. ‘In the 1960s, Yardley was associated with Twiggy, Carnaby Street and mini skirts, not stuck in a cottage garden with green wellies.’ The following decades saw the brand slide back towards a conservative image, as the age of the average customer grew older. By the start of the 1990s its ‘granny image’ was being commented on by certain British journalists. When SmithKline Beecham bought the company in 1990 for £110 million, it embarked on numerous attempts to spruce up the brand’s identity. In 1997, the company changed its advertising model from actress Helena Bonham Carter to supermodel Linda Evangelista. One of the adverts showed her shackled in chains and handcuffs – a long way from grannies and green wellies. But the multi-million pound advertising campaign failed to work. In fact, it served only to alienate the brand’s most loyal customers. On 26 August 1998 the company went into receivership with debts of about £120 million. The brand eventually found a buyer in the form of German hair care giant Wella. It remains to be seen whether Wella will be able to modernize the...
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