In the asymmetric warfare that is fashion today, the useful connections are not always obvious. That’s just what former Haute Hippie chief executive officer Jesse Cole is looking to capitalize on with Design & Industry, his follow-up foray on Seventh Avenue.
Design & Industry is building out an ecosystem that can connect celebrities with opportunities for brand endorsement deals or book contracts, while providing staffing services to apparel producers or even rustling up investment capital.
The effort to build a one-stop shop is a response to an increasingly fractured fashion world where consumers are being very careful with their money, shopping in new ways and taking more of their cues from big names they see on their mobile devices.
“The landscape of apparel has changed dramatically,” Cole said. “Consumers are a lot smarter and knowledgeable about their spending and shopping habits. The whole way that people promote has changed. The day of the glamorous model is over. Celebrities are the strong endorsers of product.”
Well-known names are increasingly cognizant that they are their own brand.
“The way that they keep modern and relevant is through social media, and what better time than now to endorse their own products or get behind a product line that will keep their brand consistent and moving forward and ahead of the game?” Cole said. “Many celebrities have a huge love for fashion and they all feel that they should be pushing some sort of fashion or apparel product. We’re looking to increase the viability for our celebrity roster by pushing them into certain categories that may not have had a celebrity.”
Brands have long recognized that a nod from a famous face can be a boost, but how to make that happen?
With Design & Industry, Cole has forged a network of experts specializing in various categories. The thinking is that a deal in one area will lead to another connection, so an athlete represented by Martin Morse’s MM Group can also turn to literary agent Ian Kleinert for that book they want to write; tap into the Chambers Group for PR, or work on a licensing deal with Christian James or Andy Hilfiger — all part of the Design & Industry network.
Likewise, brands that turn to the company when they’re looking for help with an executive search or staffing needs can find, perhaps, a celebrity endorser in the offing.
That’s something like the Wall Street business model, where the banking business feeds trading and the trading business is fed by the research arm, which attracts banking and so on. The parallel makes sense, especially given that Cole founded financial services firm Schonfeld IBS and then developed Merlin Institutional’s research sales and trading unit.
Morse said, “We’ve come to a place where we’ve said, ‘This is what your strength is’ and, ‘You focus on that.’” MM Group manages the lives of 32 athletes, such as baseball player Gary Sheffield, but doesn’t specialize in branding or licensing deals.
“It’s been great to have Jesse and his team kind of manage that,” he said. “It’s easy to have an introductory conversation.”
For instance, MM client and controversial wide receiver Plaxico Burress is a sock lover who has started his own luxury sock line and could benefit from some more fashion connections.
“Fashion is the one common denominator, connector between all the groups,” Morse said. “Entertainers and athletes love fashion and obviously from a business perspective, the retail side is where you’re really ringing the register. Look at Jessica Simpson and Jessica Alba.”