Fashion Sees A Shift in Power From the Investor Back to the Designer

Tomas Maier

Tomas Maier might not be a face with which you were previously familiar, but you’ll know him now, thanks to Kering.

Competing luxury groups Kering and LVMH have attracted attention recently for numerous investments in young labels, countering slowdowns in growth from their more established holdings by taking a stake in young brands on the rise.  It’s possible to interpret these purchases similarly to traditional investors’ interest in tech start-ups, with big luxury groups getting in on the ground floor via relatively small investments.  However, as Kering, in particular, builds a number of joint ventures with individual designers, the creators themselves seem to be coming back into their own as the stars of the fashion show.

Kering announced yesterday that it was investing in the German designer Tomas Maier’s eponymous brand to further develop the label, which is currently pretty small, with annual revenues around $10 million.  However, the unnamed but probably comparatively minor investment accomplishes two things — it’s an idea with foresight, given Maier’s potential for growth, and it’s a way to keep the designer happy.  It was Maier, after all, who grew the global luxury label Bottega Veneta into one of Kering’s champion brands.  Third, and possibly less planned for, is that even though it’s Kering’s money, the investment puts the spotlight back onto Maier.

Kering, as you might recall, recently bought Christopher Kane outright, while investing a majority stake in Altuzarra.  Again, even though it was the big corporate luxury player making all the moves, it’s the designers who benefit, by becoming bigger names with, ostensibly, the financial freedom to design as expansively as they see fit.

Moreover, these designers are broadening their industry reach, thanks to the luxury groups, commonly being given the lead designer position at heritage brands while maintaining their eponymous labels.  Alexander Wang, for example, has his own company, but now leads Kering-owned Balenciaga.  Raf Simons designs Dior, owned by LVMH, but Raf Simons, the label, exists on its own.  Even if these creatives were to be ousted from the big brands they design, they’d still have their own names to fall back on.   In the meantime, they’re following in Marc Jacobs’ footsteps, who certainly became the archetypical, giant cultural influence he is today through years of holding dual positions, as the head of both his own brands and Louis Vuitton.  The corporate titans might hold the purse strings, but the consumer-facing power is going back into the hands of the designers.