Caprice: By Caprice

The former Wonderbra model on why she considers herself to be an entrepreneur


An entrepreneur is what I am first,” insists Caprice. “My mind is business.”

Yet in 1999, she was just as adamant about turning her back on modelling to launch a pop career that flopped almost as badly as fellow model Naomi Campbell’s brief flirtation with music. But while her music was more pap than pop, it’s the only failure in the burgeoning Caprice brand – and even the king of brand diversification Branson has had his failures. Otherwise, ‘Caprice the entrepreneur’ has been working hard, and in some ways innovatively, to milk the millions out of ‘Caprice the model’.

For Caprice, it’s all about exploiting the brand. “Everybody knows my name,” she says. “In this country, people in the entertainment industry don’t realise the value of that. I thought, ‘I’ve got to utilise this’.”

The first step to commercialising herself was a licensing agreement with Debenhams, giving her name to a lingerie range. Not exactly groundbreaking, but it did enable Caprice to test, risk-free, a market that she’s now attempting to exploit much more profitably abroad – and which continues to be a major driver in establishing the Caprice brand with consumers: more than two million women in the UK bought her lingerie last year.

“I was the first celebrity in this country to put their name to a lingerie range,” she says, “and it’s been an incredible success, sales increased 95% last year and we can’t keep the stock in. But after a while, instead of just giving someone my name I wanted to get involved in the whole business.”

Primarily this involved greater control over the product in terms of quality and design – after all, poor standards could be detrimental to the Caprice brand. But essentially it was about missing the opportunity to make a whole lot more money. “I thought ‘if they’re making a pair of knickers for 67p and turning it round and selling it for £10 then that’s just crazy and I should be doing this for myself’,” she says.

Taking the plunge 

A company the size of Debenhams, of course, has the scale, finances and standing to source, manufacture and then sell to a mass market while protecting those profit margins. Aspirational brand or not, there’s a big leap between talking about ‘doing it yourself’ and actually making it happen – perhaps putting most celebrities’ satisfaction with standard licensing deals into context.

Such trivialities don’t seem to deter Caprice. “I found a factory in China, offices in Hong Kong and hired a team of people,” she says in a breath. Not bad for someone with little or no business experience. But as many have learnt to their cost, anyone can start a business – it’s making it work that’s the difficult part.

But Caprice is far from capricious. She rejects any idea she entered into business through a sense of bravado, even though she admits, as the daughter of an entrepreneur – her mother has her own interior design business – it’s in her nature to take risks. “Americans are far more entrepreneurial. If they see an opportunity they go for it. If you have a dream, you obtain it. But I’m anal about figures and I did a lot of research first,” she adds.

Financing the company on her own was daunting. “I thought of getting an equity partner,” she says, “because I thought, ‘this is going to be a big hit for me and I don’t know if I can afford it’.” She gathered the funds herself in the end – from her career earnings and a number of lucrative property investments in New York and London – but insists she’d have had no qualms in seeking investment if she’d had to.

The Carprice empire

byCaprice Lingerie is the name of her lingerie company – which is in no way responsible for the Debenhams Caprice range, but operates as a subsidiary of Caprice Enterprises Limited (CEL). The factory in China, called Bogart, sources all raw materials, manufactures, packages and distributes the byCaprice Lingerie products straight to the stockists.

There are no plans as yet to release the range in the UK. Restricted by her licensing agreement with Debenhams, she insists she’s happy to “stick with them” while it’s offering such positive promotion and, just as importantly, “making lots of money”. Instead, the lingerie will be distributed worldwide, concentrating on America, Europe (except the UK) and South Africa. “I may look to get a new factory in South Africa as landing costs are 40% so it might be cheaper to make the gear over there,” she adds.

But the UK market hasn’t escaped Caprice’s grasp. Under CEL, she also operates Caprice Haircare in a similar way, selling three main products: the Caprice Compact Hair Dryer and Diffuser, the Caprice Chrome Lighted Mirror and Caprice Colour Hair Extensions, which are stocked by the like of ASDA, Superdrug, Comet and Argos. She also draws considerable revenue from the sale of posters and calendars, shifting more pin-up calendars in the UK than any other model in each of the past five years.

Talking profits

Caprice is reluctant to disclose turnover figures. In fairness, the success of her own underwear range is yet to be proven until it’s fully rolled out and it’s also still early days for the hair products range. But even in their infancy the companies are making healthy profits – something Caprice is less coy about.

“Ballpark profits are 60% to 81%,” she says. “Compare that to Jennifer Lopez who is shifting 100,000 units a month [with her JLO brand] on a licensing agreement and is only getting 8% – it’s the craziest thing I’ve heard in my life. You can’t even compare what I make to the licensing deal. As an example, we’re talking about going from making maybe £50,000 to £1m.”

Keepng a close eye

Each of the subsidiaries has its own team, so how involved is Caprice on a day-to-day basis? More than most, she insists. “I’m marketing it, I’m modelling it, I’m financing it, I’m kind of doing everything,” she says. In addition to a home office in Surrey and the offices in Hong Kong, there’s also a base in Nevada, but she’s adamant that nothing escapes her attention.

“It’s not that I’m cheap or frugal but I oversee everything. I didn’t have a lot when I was growing up and when you know what it’s like not to have money, you become very careful. I worked hard for my money so I look after it and make it grow,” she says. For someone of her wealth, Caprice appears to take this to the extreme. She openly admits she’s “not a frivolous spender”, has been quoted as saying £30 is enough to last her the week and is rumoured to only fly economy class unless someone else is picking up the tab.

This wariness seems to almost spread to a paranoia and distrust. “I’m quite sceptical,” she admits. “I’m not a schmuck and I’m overseeing everybody so nobody oversteps their boundaries because it has been known to happen.” Caprice also doesn’t employ a single man among her workforce. Although insisting “it’s just how it’s happened” and that she would never prejudice against anyone, she says: “I have had trouble with men before. We still live in a man’s world and for a man to take instructions from a woman can be difficult.” Caprice insists her caution doesn’t stem from a fear people will mistake her for a stereotypical airhead. Indeed, she claims she’s had no negative responses in business for being a woman or a model. “Why would I?” she questions. “I am a brand, I have succeeded, I’ve done it.”

What came first?

However, Caprice readily acknowledges that without her looks, modelling career and celebrity status she wouldn’t have had any basis for her companies. “I’d be an idiot to say ‘no, no no… it’s not because I’m famous it’s because I’m so smart’. Of course, having that power of people knowing who I am as a marketing tool has helped, that’s what makes me different to everyone else. People spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on marketing and I get it free, and at the end of the day, if you create the awareness you sell the product.”

So what will happen then when Caprice becomes too old to model and is no longer gracing magazine covers and bedroom walls? How dependent is Caprice the brand on Caprice the model? Once more she doesn’t shy from what is an obvious flaw in her business plan, even if, at 33 she believes she can afford to put worrying about it on the backburner.

“I’m young enough to still be modelling my lines in 10 years’ time,” she says. “Elle [McPherson] is 11 years older than me [actually, she’s nine years older] and she has only just stopped modelling her range. However, Figleaves were telling me that when Elle did one of her lines and she didn’t model, her sales went down by 60%. Inevitably, I won’t be modelling my own gear when I’m 60, but by then my brand will be so much more established.”

Quality Controls

Despite the relentless promotional cycle Caprice peddles to keep her brand at the centre of the public’s attention, she’s as particular as the next entrepreneur about what she’s actually selling. As well as taking direct involvement in the design process, Caprice insists she’s obsessed with the quality of her products.

“I’m putting my name on the line,” she says, “so they have to be right. It has to look good but you also have to have good quality and comfort. I use and wear everything I sell. If it’s new lingerie then I’ll wear and wash it 10 times to check the stitching hasn’t come out.”

Caprice won’t be satisfied to simply get two more cash cows up and running either – she’s focused on growing her businesses. Confident profits will provide sufficient finance to fund expansion she remains reluctant to “give a chunk of my hard work or my name to somebody else,” – whether that’s a VC or a company looking to tie her down to another licensing deal.

“It’s scary and I’m spending my own money,” she says. “But you’ve got to take chances and I just try and make them calculated ones.” Even the staunchest traditionalist would struggle to find that anything but entrepreneurial…

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