TROUBLED WATERS?: Artisan House, Steve Russo’s contemporary handbag endeavour, appears to be under pressure.
According to sources, Artisan House, the upscale spin-off of Russo’s lucrative children’s accessories company Fab Starpoint, has not only lost Gwen Stefani’s L.A.M.B. license, but is also losing employees in various departments, including public relations, marketing, sales, graphics and design. The latest, and perhaps biggest, departure is Dana Foley, cofounder of Foley + Corinna, the quirky lifestyle handbag and apparel brand Russo purchased two years ago.
This story first appeared in the January 11, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Russo did not return calls or e-mails seeking comment.
With a stable of six relatively well-known brands, Artisan House, which launched in late 2011, had emerged as a potential powerhouse in the highly competitive contemporary handbag market.
Although Carlos Falchi had left Artisan for a licensing deal with LF USA in 2011, Russo had Charlotte Ronson and L.A.M.B. signed to multiyear deals. Russo, who previously owned Isabelle Fiore, also bought Danielle Nicole and Foley + Corinna and launched Narr, an upscale exotics bag line.
But last year L.A.M.B. left after sales slumped, and Russo pulled the plug on Narr within three months of its creation due in part to high costs, according to people familiar with the situation.
“A high-end collection doesn’t take off in one season,” a source said, referring to the quick closure of Narr. “It takes time to nurture and grow.”
A Gwen Stefani spokeswoman confirmed that L.A.M.B. is no longer with Artisan, but noted that the split was “amicable.” While the brand signed a licensing deal with Titan Industries, Stefani continues to produce her Harajuku Lovers and Harajuku Mini collections with Russo’s Fab.
Former employees charged changes at Artisan are related to management’s reluctance to invest in growing the various brands.
One source noted that once Russo shut down Foley + Corinna’s ready-to-wear operation a few months ago, it was only a matter of time before Foley left the company. Currently, F+C makes only handbags.
Charlotte Ronson chief executive officer Aaron Nir, who still works with Artisan, had high praise for Russo and his team .
“It’s not my company, and I’m not sitting there but we’ve only had positive experiences with them,” Nir said. “I think our handbags look amazing and they are at great price point. They got our brand DNA on to the product. It took a little time to get everything up and running but, to our delight, the kinks were worked out.”