Versus in New Strategy, Parts With Christopher Kane

Milan-based firm plans to reposition its younger brand as a seasonless line with a strong digital element that will be overseen by Donatella Versace.

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This story first appeared in the November 20, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

MILAN — Versace is forging a new path for Versus — and without Scottish designer Christopher Kane, who had a hand in the line since 2009.

The Milan-based firm said it plans to reposition its younger brand as a seasonless line with a strong digital element that will be designed by Donatella Versace in collaboration with a number of yet-to-be-named young designers, stylists and creative talents. Together they will develop capsule collections, co-branding projects and limited editions under the Versus moniker.

By mutual agreement, the company and Kane, who worked with Donatella Versace on Versus, have parted ways.

“This is consistent with Christopher’s own strategies when he first accepted to work on Versus, and we are now ready to change our approach,” Versace chief executive officer Gian Giacomo Ferraris told WWD. “He and Donatella Versace had a beautiful, personal symbiosis,” he added.

The executive underscored that there was no termination of contract but that the relationship “evolved naturally and matured, so that this was the right moment and a logical decision for everyone. We started thinking about the new Versus months ago, before the summer.”

The executive said the company plans to unveil the new Versus collections through special events not necessarily held during fashion weeks, nor in a traditional catwalk format. The first of such events is planned for March or April 2013 in New York.

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“It’s an experimental, niche, lifestyle brand — a sort of laboratory, it stands for free spirit, and New York is a symbol of modernity and progress, but maybe it could go on to Shanghai or Hong Kong,” said Ferraris. The line will be for men and women but also include special items — perhaps even furniture, he said.

“This is a very exciting development for Versus, and I’m thrilled to be engaged in such a major shake-up of the fashion world’s rules,” said Donatella Versace. “I want to thank Christopher for his contribution to Versus over six seasons, during which I have been able to appreciate his extraordinary talent. Working with young, talented people, and seeing them grow and develop as I have seen Christopher do over these years, is one of the most rewarding parts of my work. I wish him all the best for the development of his own line. He will always have my total support.”

“I am so grateful to Donatella Versace for her support and the incredible opportunities she has given me,” Kane told WWD. “I respect her enormously and have learned so much from her. I have loved and appreciated working with her and will always be indebted to her. I am excited about the new Versus strategy, but the time has come to dedicate all my focus to the future of the Christopher Kane label.”

Over the weekend, Kane squelched a flurry of online reports declaring him Balenciaga’s new creative director following the exit of Nicolas Ghesquière earlier this month. Kane issued a denial saying that he was not joining the French fashion house.

RELATED STORY: Christopher Kane Denies Balenciaga Move >>

Known for his use of vibrant colors, patterns and juxtaposition of texture and transparency, Kane launched his own line for spring 2007 and won the inaugural New Establishment award at the British Fashion Awards in 2011.

His collections are stocked at stores such as Barneys New York, Neiman Marcus, Opening Ceremony, Joyce, Colette, Liberty, Harrods, Harvey Nichols and Le Bon Marché.

Ferraris highlighted the fact that Versace would leverage its in-house production facilities to develop Versus.

“It’s a structural change, a different way to develop the collections with immediate availability online, and we can do this because we have our own production platform,” he explained. “We could never do it if it depended on outside production and did not have a strategic control of production.”

The executive noted a dedicated Versus online store would be unveiled next year and that he was “banking” on the Web also for the brand’s communication.

After returning the company to the black last year and focusing on the expansion of the signature line, Ferraris said he believed this was the right moment to focus on Versus, as the firm is “ahead of plans.” The Milan-based company is expected to close 2012 with double-digit growth “even stronger” than in 2011, when the group posted a 16 percent increase in revenues.

The signature collection accounts for 80 percent of sales. Ferraris did not detail financial projections for Versus going forward, while stressing, “we believe this is the right path for the brand.”

There is one directly operated Versus store in Hong Kong and 14 franchised units in the world. Three franchised openings are confirmed in 2013, but the company plans to also open additional directly operated boutiques. There are 125 points of sale that carry the brand.

Versus was first launched in 1989. After a four-year hiatus, the brand returned in the fall of 2009. Since the fall 2010 season, Versace teamed up with Kane, who added a youthful, edgy and underground vibe.

Versus was previously under license for apparel for men and women and accessories, inked with the Facchini family, who own the Gruppo Facchini apparel manufacturer, but Ferraris brought production in-house.

Last September, Versus presented its latest collection in the family palazzo on Via Gesù, the same night of the Versace show, with a live performance by Beth Ditto.

Growth in established markets like the U.S., as well as in new regions from Brazil to Asia, helped Versace return to profit in 2011, posting earnings of 8.5 million euros, or $11.8 million, compared with a loss of 21.7 million euros, or $28.6 million, in 2010.

Revenues last year rose 16.4 percent to 340.2 million euros, or $472.6 million.

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