LONDON — Nicholas Kirkwood plans to take back control and ownership of his company by the end of this year, becoming independent from LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, WWD has learned.
Sources described the parting of ways as mutual and amicable, with LVMH planning to support and reshape the business in the coming months to ensure a smooth transition.
Staff at the London-based company were informed of the development today, and it is understood the designer is excited about this new chapter for his brand.
LVMH had acquired a majority stake in London-based high-end footwear business in 2013, part of a spate of acquisitions by the big luxury groups of edgy young brands.
But in recent years, Europe’s key luxury players have achieved strong double-digit growth with their biggest and most profitable brands — Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Dior being three prominent examples — as the advantages of scale and creative renewal lifted them to new heights of revenue growth and profitability.
At the same time, those big groups have learned that small brands require management attention better applied to bigger businesses. In an echo of the Kirkwood separation, Christopher Kane took back full control of his brand from Kering in 2018.
A graduate of Central Saint Martin fashion school, Kirkwood launched his eponymous brand in 2005 and won attention for his use of unconventional materials and techniques marrying traditional crafts with cutting-edge technology. He went on to win accolades from the British Fashion Awards, Footwear News and the BFC/Vogue Fund Award — and attract the attention of the world’s biggest luxury group.
Over the past seven years, with LVMH as his owner, Kirkwood opened a flagship on London’s Mount Street, undertook a handbag collaboration with LVMH-owned Bulgari and ramped up his e-commerce offer, allowing customers, in some cases, to create their own designs.
Known for his distinctive, architectural styles and embellished, sculptural heels, Kirkwood has also embraced sustainable materials and processes, and is working toward making his luxury footwear from plant-based, food industry waste.
“It’s a pipe dream, but there’s a very strong chance the technology will go there. A lot of it is there already,” Kirkwood told WWD earlier this year.
Kirkwood has long pioneered the use of environmentally friendly materials and processes for luxury footwear, and said he is hoping to ply cactus, bamboo, or apple-core waste into leathers that can match the quality and aesthetics of calfskin.
To mark Earth Day in 2019, he reimagined his Beya mule as a slingback for Net-a-porter, working with recycled denim and leather uppers that underwent a toxin-free, chrome tanning process. Insoles were created with 100 percent recycled carton cardboard, while the leather-covered block heels were made of ontano wood, which can be dried naturally rather than with chemicals.
Kirkwood plans to showcase much of the research and development that he’s been pursuing over the past few years in his spring 2021 collection, which will be 60 percent biodegradable, 20 percent chrome-free, and 20 percent using stock from his archive.
Spring 2021 will also be the first time the shoes’ uppers are made from fully biodegradable materials, such as organic silk, wool, hemp, suede and nappa leather. The shoes will have recycled soles and biodegradable linings, which he has used in past designs.
He’s using a mix of contrasting wood for the heels: The theme is mid-20th-century Brazil, and particularly the furniture and architecture of the period. Kirkwood said his use of wood fits the theme, and his ambitions in the green space.
Kirkwood believes he’s made big leaps in the last two to three years, testing everything from glues and backings to production techniques.
The designer is also concerned about the afterlife of his shoes: The brand already offers repairs at its Mount Street flagship in London, and the designer now wants to educate customers about the best way to dispose of them. “We’re looking at options where people can bring them back to us, and we safely and correctly put them in an environment where they will decompose.”
According to the brand’s latest filing on Companies House, turnover in fiscal 2019 was 8.1. million pounds, down from 11.3 million in 2018, while losses widened to 3.5 million pounds from 2.6 million pounds.
The exit from Kirkwood marks a rare disposal for LVMH chief Bernard Arnault, seen as a patient and persistent entrepreneur who takes a long-term view on luxury goods.
It caps off a busy week for the French group, which appointed Kim Jones as Karl Lagerfeld’s successor at Fendi, and revealed that it can no longer move forward with its planned $16.2 billion acquisition of Tiffany & Co. following a directive from the French government amid a brewing trade war with the U.S.