There has been a recent slew of big-name brand entrants to the $90bn beauty sector, all keen to capitalize on designer star power in order to score soaring sales via the most accessibly priced luxury products on the market.
It makes commercial sense – a pyramid-style business model where a luxury collection at the “pinnacle” rests on a base of less expensive diffusion lines and offerings that provide the bulk of a company’s profits. Lipsticks, mascaras and fragrances are the lucrative entry point upon which to target the aspirational consumer, building up an appreciation of a brand and its heritage that increases over time – and possibly alongside a budding bank balance.
In recent weeks, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds the world over have been awash with videos of triumphant participants taking part in the “Ice Bucket Challenge”, a stunt in which an individual has – you guessed it – a bucket of icy water dumped over their heads, all in the name of charity.
The hook that’s taken this viral is the subsequent nomination of others to take on the challenge within 24 hours, or to donate $100 to the ALS Association, raising both awareness and cash for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, more commonly known Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Earlier this week Hermès’ womenswear designer Christophe Lemaire announced his impending exit from the ultra-luxe label to focus on his namesake collection.
This news, coming just days after the company undershot expectations in its latest quarterly performance, got me thinking about the rapidly evolving status quo forming for one of the star brands in the luxury galaxy.
After months of hype and incessant drum-rolling, the recipient of the inaugural LVMH Young Designer Prize was announced in Paris today – and rather refreshingly, its not who I would have expected.
The winner? Canadian-born, London-based Thomas Tait.
Who, I hear you ask?
Well you’ll certainly be hearing more from him from now on, after some of the fashion world’s biggest names decided he was the worthiest young designer out of an incredibly strong shortlist of a dozen international names and some very stiff wider competition.
The on-again/off-again love affair between private equity and fashion seems to be heating up again, what with Blackstone taking a minority stake in Versace, Permira courting Cavalli, and, as of today, a new swain in town making its move on Opening Ceremony. According to WWD, Front Row partners, which was launched earlier this year by Glen Senk, ex-CEO of David Yurman and Anthropologie in conjunction with Berkshire Partners (who threw in $350million) to target “innovative, high-growth retail and consumer businesses”, has taken a minority stake in the hip downtown retailer. The amount was not disclosed, but still: Can you hear the heavy breathing? Anyway, it seems to me this marks the resurgence of the relationship, which has been abandoned in recent years as luxury brands from Prada to Ferragamo, Michael Kors, and Brunello Cucinelli turned to IPOs instead of PE. So what changed?
If, like me, you live in the US, then you may be feeling a touch of Michael Lewis overload. If you live elsewhere, you may be spared this condition, which brings with it a sudden fatigue with dimples, floppy hair and pink gingham. If you are involved in the financial world anywhere, however, I suspect you, too, may have it, given that the author and journalist’s latest book, Flash Boys , a “surprise” tome (ie one that was not described in its publisher’s catalogue prepublication) hit the media and banking worlds with a boom a fortnight ago and set off a perfect Lewis media storm, from 60 Minutes to CNBC. (Yes, I am theoretically contributing to it here but the idea is to act more as a punctuation mark than a continuation.)
Whichever platform you used, there was no getting away from Lewis; his image, rooted in the iconography of the courtly southern gent, complete with pastels and open-necked collars, was everywhere. It got to the point where if, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a blond fringe on a screen, I knew exactly who was on.
The general reaction from most laypersons upon seeing a Comme des Garcons show (left) can be boiled down to a single word: “huh?” Or maybe three: “What was that?” Or four: “I don’t get it.” You can kind of understand it, when designer Rei Kawakubo says things like “I was trying not to make clothes,” and it was about “monsters.” And yet Comme des Garcons is a very healthy, $200m business. So how do they get from the extremity of what’s on the catwalk to this commercial reality?
LVMH has confirmed it has taken a minority stake in Young Italian Designer (we will not acronym that for obvious reasons) Marco de Vincenzo, making him the second such up-and-comer to receive such investment from the luxury behemoth, and underscoring the increasing competition among the established groups to identify, and potentially own, new talent. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, but there’s no question, it’s putting its money where its mouth is. At least some money.
In Paris for the couture shows, I was tooling around yesterday to some appointments, and stopped by JW Anderson’s showroom to see his pre-fall, pre-Versace (for the latter, if you want to know: Swarovski, skin and very Sunset Boulevard). Anyway, we got to chatting about the change in his life since he signed on as Loewe’s creative director, and LVMH took a minority stake in his eponymous brand, and the YBD (young British designer) reeled off some pretty interesting numbers.