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2011 June 8

The Executive Files, Vol. 13: Wendy Svarre, Hunter Boots

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Wendy Svarre, CEO of Hunter Boot Wendy Svarre, CEO of Hunter Boot
Photo courtesy Linda Gaunt Communications
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What was at the top of your priority list when you joined the brand?
Moving the showroom from 7th Avenue to 57th Street--that I did before I even agreed. Location is everything. Location, location, location. Then I had to deal with the locations in the stores. We were over-distributed. I had a very clear distribution strategy.

What stores did you take it out of?
We pulled out of Dillard's, among others, and moved into Neiman Marcus, Saks, Bergdorf.

Tell me about your average day.
There are no average days. Every day is different and dynamic and something new. I wake up around 6:30 to answer emails, come into the office, have coffee, and talk about what’s going on, whether it’s an upcoming photo shoot or our new outerwear collection. I’m usually home by seven to see my children. If it’s raining, the phone is ringing off the hook with people wanting to know where the nearest Hunter store is. Text messages come through. ‘Wendy, we’ve had enough rain. Can you please quit praying for it?’

What are your office essentials?
Pictures of my children, Frederic Malle's Carnal Flower, beautiful books, seashells, white pencils, and white orchids. White is my favorite color!

What is in your junk drawer?
Stationary and about ten pairs of sunglasses--they’re one of my fetishes.

Where do you like to go for business lunches?
It has to be in the neighborhood. Everyone enjoys Nobu and Milos.

Do you reach out to celebrities?
No, they find the brand themselves. A couple of months ago, Brooke Shields' assistant asked me to send some of Brooke's children boots in the mail.

Why haven’t you advertised in the past?
The press has been so generous with us in terms of editorial so we haven't needed to. We also have great co-op advertising through the stores.

Has the economy affected Hunter?
We’re lucky that we sell a $125 boot that feels like luxury--and it rained a lot during that time.

What’s the best part of your job?
Coming to work every day. I love the people I work with, and I love my job. I truly see Hunter as a lifestyle brand.

How many pairs of Hunter boots do you own?
Do I have to tell? Probably about 13 pairs.

What’s your favorite style?
The new Lapin boot, which laces up the front. I’ll always covet the original.

What are your top sellers?
The original is still popular, and the Brixen is doing really well.

How did your customer react when you introduced leather?
We launched the leather footwear in 2009, and our sales in leather were actually higher than our sales in rubber. It’s very difficult to get the press and buyers to shift, but we made it happen.

What makes a good rubber boot?
Foremost, it's function. When you wake up, and it’s dreary out, you want something comfortable and fun. I always say, a woman is as happy putting on her Hunter boots as her Manolo shoes. The one fabulous thing about Hunter, is that someone who wears Chanel or only designer shoes, will put on Hunter. Our $125 boot feels like a $1,000 boot when you put it on.

Who’s your stiffest competition?
People will throw out names because of brands they associate with rain, but we are the go-to rain boot. Some might say Burberry.

What do you think of the quality of other rain boots?
Aigle is a great rubber boot. Burberry’s quality is clearly there. The one thing that differentiates our rain boot is that it’s rubber; most brands don't use 100% rubber. Our boot is made in the same way an Italian boot is made. It’s got 28 pieces. Each piece is hand cut.

How often do you go to the U.K.?
I travel there on average four times a year. I don’t have a lot of time to shop, but I like to go to Selfridges' shoe floor!

Do you know any British slang?
It’s not slang, but I must say, the word ‘whilst’ was never in my vocabulary before.

Has the brand won any awards?
In 1977, having continued to supply wellies to the Royal Households, Hunter was awarded a Royal Warrant from HRH The Duke of Edinburgh. That was shortly followed, in 1986, by a Royal Warrant from HM The Queen, which basically means we provide their rain boots.

Who in the royal family wears the boots?
They all wear them. We’re their go-to. The Queen wears the original, of course.

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