Among the more than 500 collections that showed in New York, London, Milan and Paris, one question sits at the front of the industry’s mind: which are the next labels worthy and ready to ascend to big brand status?
In the last two decades we’ve seen the establishment of former up-and-comers such as Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Marc Jacobs and Micheal Kors. The designers were lauded and supported early on by the industry, but the pivot towards big business began at the point of an important strategic investment. For McQueen and McCartney, the Gucci Group became a benefactor, while LVMH tied in Marc Jacobs and Micheal Kors secured his investor in Chinese textiles mogul Silas Chou. Now that we’re on the cusp of defining the next group of brands poised to go big, a similar measure applies.
Alexander Wang’s rapid rise in the past six years includes womenswear, menswear and a home collection, flagship locations in Beijing and New York and sales to 550 stores worldwide. A diverse product mix of the right blend of studded “it” bags, t-shirts, and directional show pieces selling to the tune of $64m have all helped to ear-mark this category-defining line for big commercial success. The designer’s surprising appointment as creative director at Balenciaga only provided firmament to his already rising stock. “I believe in him,” says Patrick Cabasset editor-in-chief of L’Official Magazine. “He had several cards in his hand from the beginning including his Chinese manufacturing which has worked well for him.” If Wang can achieve a fraction of the success Marc Jacobs has had in his dual roles at LVMH and at his own label is a win across the board.
The Row is arguably the most confident fashion label to have launched in the last 10 years. The Olsen sisters quietly honed their minimalist and deeply thoughtful design sensibility, gaining accolades (including the 2012 CFDA award) for polished and restrained collections. Fall 2013 showed the girls in a particularly early ‘90s mood.
The Comme des Garcons and Yohji influences are clear in the over sized coats and droopy dresses, but the modernist aesthetic has more of the clean imprint of a latter-day Helmut Lang and Jil Sander. Magazines love the brand’s austerity but it’s the unbelievable sell through that have retailers hailing the label as the new word in American luxury—and as designers for the every woman. Think Calvin Klein of the naughties. The duo has already expanded into shoes and eyewear, and the freestanding stores surely cannot be far behind. Tom Ford’s emergence as American luxury brand par excellence seems a fitting title considering his Gucci and YSL pedigree. But the most American feature of the brand is in the deft strategy employed to build out a neo-luxury line in a flash. The eyewear and the fragrances came first, quickly supported by shopping emporiums so luxurious and the merchandise so expensive that buying into the cult of such extravagance is a strategy all to itself. Ford’s fall 2013 collection of heavily embroidered separates are enveloped in the slick sexiness he’s been defining since the mid-‘90s. When Christopher Kane sent out expertly worked artisanal dresses and chubby fur clad models on a rouge tinted catwalk at his extravagant fall 2013 show in London last month, it conveyed a certain confidence taken in the fact that the designer had sold 51% stake in his label to Pinault Printemps Redoute. After showing consistently strong collections for the last three years—and having already cut his teeth at Versus for two years—it’s no surprise that PPR sees big brand potential in the talented London based designer. Stores and a diffusion line are upcoming for the label.
Meanwhile Proenza Schouler’s “it” status hasn’t waned in a decade, but the brand now has big brand stars within its grasp thanks to a new deal with 20 investors (led by Theory founder and CEO Andrew Rosen) as well as a freshly opened Madison Ave store, with ten more planned in the next two years. Rosen has declared the brand “the future of American luxury.”
From Paris, Isabel Marant’s meteoric rise sees hipster girls the world round, seemingly overnight, grow obsessive to her dead-on ethnic cotton tops, cigarette pipe jeans and hot Southwestern-influenced footwear and accessories in both her namesake label and Etoile, the diffusion line. In addition to standalone stores from Soho to Sanitilum, thousands of doors stock the brand. Forget the French arrogance, Marant proudly flaunts a “Made in China” tag and continues to massively expand in Asia
Tory Burch is similarly promising in her proposition. The brand has snared over $600m a year in annual sales in less than five years thanks to a deft combination of accessible with 15 stores already in Korea—and growing. “Everything in the show was beautiful, says Naomi Bartee, associate buyer at Barneys New York of the designer’s show last week in Paris. She’s a good designer with a strong brand, women relate to her and she’ll go for a long time,” she opines. Luxury balanced by a bcbg flair and an attractive price point. No other fashion brand has been able to build a billion dollar business in a shorter amount of time. One can say that Burch has already reached big brand status but we forecast impressive growth going forward—especially considering that the line is not near saturation point and hotspots such as Brazil, China and Korea are just now only weaning onto it.
Other brands are less certain to go big still beg more questions still. Despite Olivier Theyskens less than consistent track record, could his partnership with Theory on Theysken Theory finally bring him big business success? L’Wren Scott turned up the volume in her collection by launching bags and shoes last season, but are her designs too specific to win over a wide audience? Does Peter Pilotto’s commercial prints have legs to take it to Missoni status? Or perhaps it’s Erdem or Jonathan Saunders who have the chops to ride a massive commercial and expansion wave forward? Could the buzzy yet practical designs of JW Anderson and Thomas Tait sail the head of the pack in the next couple years and go big? Time will tell but these designers are the ones with the best shot and who are already in the race.