- English designer spotted talking business with American reality TV stars
- Alice is better known for dressing the likes of the Duchess of Cambridge
- A look at the company accounts reveals £11million in losses in six years
- But insider said: 'We have turned it around and exciting things are ahead'
It was, on the face of it, a strange and rather puzzling meeting. When last week the society couturier Alice Temperley was spotted in an LA restaurant discussing business with the Kardashians, many asked why a British designer who boasts the Duchess of Cambridge, her sister Pippa Middleton, Keira Knightley, Emma Watson and Scarlett Johansson among her A-list devotees should become involved with the brash first family of American reality TV.
Thanks in part to her royal patronage, Alice, 39, is regarded as the new star of British fashion. She has won plaudits for her classical English styling, flowing fabrics, sophisticated lace details and expensive hand-finishing – a world away from the Kardashians’ Hollywood glitz.
But an analysis by The Mail on Sunday reveals that the motivation for this unusual business liaison may be more financial than it is creative. Despite the creation of new, more affordable ranges such as Alice by Temperley, sold in 300 stores in 37 countries, and Somerset by Alice Temperley, a collaboration with John Lewis said to be the fastest-selling range in the shop’s history, business accounts suggest the designer has been through a rocky patch.
Fashion star: But Alice Temperley's business is on the brink of collapse - losing £3 million in little over a year
New documents filed at Companies House reveal that the designer’s parent company Temperley Holdings lost an eye-watering £3 million in little over a year, and racked up accumulated losses of more than £11 million in six years.
Worse still, the annual report contains a caveat from the company’s accountants stating that there is ‘material uncertainty which may cast significant doubt about the group and company’s ability to continue as a going concern’.
Sadly, Alice’s difficulties appear to have coincided with the collapse of her marriage to German food processing heir Lars von Bennigsen, who was the company CEO.
Two years ago it had been announced that Bennigsen was stepping down, and she recently revealed she had ‘amicably’ split from Lars in 2011 – with whom she has a five-year-old son, Fox – and that they were getting a divorce.
She said: ‘He wanted to go and travel the world and be a free man. You have to respect what people want to do with their life.
‘I will keep being responsible and looking after my beautiful little boy and keep everything going.’
The eldest of four children, Alice grew up on a Somerset farm, where her parents still make cider brandy. By the age of 12 she was making jewellery and selling it.
But teenage Alice was desperate to get out of the countryside. She moved to London to study textiles at Central Saint Martins college of art and design and went on to do a master’s degree at the Royal College of Art, selling embroidered leather jackets and dresses to pay her bills.
Star appeal: Alice's dresses have been worn by Oscar winner Kate Winslet, left, but it was her friendship with Pippa Middleton (wearing a Temperley dress, right) which really pushed her into the public eye
She met her husband when she was a struggling cocktail waitress with ambitions to make it as a fashion designer and he was a City financier. They married in 2002 with Bennigsen giving up his career in the Square Mile to focus on building up the Temperley business as CEO.
Temperley Holdings lost an eye-watering £3 million in little over a year, and racked up accumulated losses of more than £11 million in six years
With Lars looking after the business side, Alice hosted her first London fashion show in 2003 to much acclaim. Then, when Sarah Jessica Parker’s character Carrie Bradshaw wore one of her signature lace circle dresses on Sex And The City, America sat up and took notice. Alice opened stores in New York, Los Angeles and Dubai.
She traded on her traditional English image, later cultivated by using models drawn almost exclusively from London’s rich young bohemian set, including Georgia May Jagger, , Poppy Delevingne and Sophie Dahl. Her designs were whimsical, dreamlike creations and became the uniform of a certain type of London party girl.
Alice and Lars set the standard for aspirational lifestyles. Their family home was Cricket Court, a stunning listed eight-bedroom folly in Somerset once owned by Lord Beaverbrook. Alice’s summer parties became the stuff of legend. For her birthday last summer, 400 fancy dressed guests were treated to an ‘Arabian Night’ – at a reported cost of £70,000.
Red carpet: Alice traded on her traditional English image, and is a favourite of Brits on the red carpet, like Game of Throne's Natalie Dormer, left, and television presenter Claudia Winkleman, right
Perhaps the biggest boost to Alice’s reputation came from the friendship she formed with the Middleton sisters – particularly Pippa, who wore a slinky emerald-green Temperley gown for her sister’s wedding reception. Alice was awarded an MBE in 2011.
The fashion company Temperley London, based in Mayfair, and an ever-expanding property empire of mews houses in Notting Hill, had appeared to be going from strength to strength. Her last show, at London Fashion Week in February, attracted Sophie Dahl back to the catwalk after an 11-year absence, and showcased a collection that focused more on trouser suits and tailoring than her familiar floaty dresses.
Former senior Burberry executive Ulrik Garde Due replaced Bennigsen as CEO with a mission to refocus the company as a lifestyle brand. The company says he is succeeding in his mission and points to the injection of £6million from investors, high growth in retail, the renewal of a partnership with John Lewis and opening a flagship store in Qatar.
However, the latest set of accounts for 2013 show that her business had experienced difficulties. There were cumulative losses of £4 million over 2011 and 2012, and the company borrowed more than £1.3 million. The latest set of accounts, which cover the 15 months up to December 2013, show an operating loss of £3 million.
New tact?: Alice was seen chatting to Kardashians recently - and there is speculation they could be crucial to her next big move in the fashion world: Kim's seal of approval on a dress can send sales rocketing
LFW: Pixie Lott at Alice Temperley
The report reveals that the company has been undergoing a ‘transformation programme’ including the merging of the Alice by Temperley and Temperley London lines.
Other plans include transforming the Notting Hill boutique into a ‘specialist bridal destination’ and closing the LA store. Finally, the rescue plan promises a ‘reorganisation of staff to improve efficiency’.
However, the report shows that the salary of the highest-paid director, believed to be Alice Temperley herself, increased over the same period from £160,000 to £200,000. The accounts also reveal that the company lent Alice £114,000.
A spokesman for Alice Temperley said: ‘In 2013 the board took the decision to commence a major transformation programme in order to strengthen the brand.’
Ulrik Garde Due said: ‘We are successfully executing the plan to create a strong platform for profitable growth repositioning Temperley London into an international luxury lifestyle brand.
‘Our shareholders understand the time and effort needed to transform a family operation into a professionally run company and support the strategy.’
A Temperley insider said: ‘We have turned it around and exciting things are ahead.’