PARIS — Fashions with the label Charles James may rise again soon — but without the involvement of Harvey Weinstein.
WWD has learned that the heirs of America’s best-known couturier have joined forces with serial brand reviver Arnaud de Lummen, the French entrepreneur behind the comebacks of such long-dormant brands as Vionnet, Moynat and Paul Poiret.
The partners have assembled their joint intellectual property rights and given a mandate to London-based mergers and acquisitions firm Savigny Partners to seek licenses, joint ventures or an outright sale.
De Lummen has been locked in a legal tussle with the heirs and Weinstein Co. since 2014, when the movie studio claimed it would revive the Charles James brand on the eve of a major exhibition of his work at the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. De Lummen held trademark rights for several important jurisdictions.
“We are beyond thrilled to be spearheading the revival of this brand and bringing it back to the world’s finest retailers,” Harvey Weinstein said at the time. His wife, Marchesa’s Georgina Chapman, was to serve as a co-creative consultant on the project.
But the much-ballyhooed relaunch never came to fruition. The Weinstein Co. quietly walked away from the project last month, failing to renew its initial two-year license with the heirs.
That opened the door for de Lummen and his Luxembourg-based company Luvanis SA to pursue fresh negotiations with siblings Charles and Louis James, revealing the deal exclusively to WWD. Financial terms were not disclosed, but it is understood Luvanis holds a larger share of their venture.
According to sources, the Weinstein Co. was stymied by the wrangling over trademarks and wished to focus on its core film and TV business amid a challenging climate for Hollywood studios.
Endorsed by such European fashion stars as Cristóbal Balenciaga and Christian Dior, James was known for his sculptural, scientific and mathematical approaches to rethinking ballgowns and tailoring. Among his innovations was the spiral cut and the “Taxi dress,” which was called that because it was so easy to wear it could be slipped on in the backseat of a cab. James also championed strapless styles in the Thirties; the puffer jacket, and the Pavlovian waistband that expands after a meal. He died in 1978.
“He was definitely more an artist than a fashion designer, which is why the Met was interested in having his exhibition,” said de Lummen.
“The legacy and the DNA are more condensed, and focused,” he noted, explaining that James kept refining and perfecting silhouettes, leaving behind perhaps several hundred designs, as opposed to the thousands of a peer like Madeleine Vionnet. That lends itself to “something very exclusive in terms of fashion or perfume. There is definitely some leverage.”
De Lummens also noted the name is easy to pronounce in many languages “and that is a strength right from the start.”
Savigny Partners expects to start contacting potential partners in September.
“The interest, but also the difficulty, of reviving a ‘sleeping beauty’ lies in the limitless scope of possibilities, from one single investor to redevelop the brand globally to multiple licensing partners, from a luxury positioning to a more affordable price point,” said Pierre Mallevays, founder and managing partner of Savigny, who noted the partners would “take time to review all expressions of interest with a view to build on James’ legacy in a respectful manner.”
Asserting that “product creativity and storytelling” are the two principle routes to standing out in a crowded marketplace, Mallevays noted that “never is the storytelling more credible and authentic when drawing from a rich heritage.”
Given the “artistic dimension” to the couturier’s work, he predicted its “prestige and legacy will long continue to resonate in museums and fashion institutes.”
Calling his late father a “designer’s designer,” Charles James said “a brand revival would enable a greater public awareness of his accomplishments.
“Our father worked hard to build a lasting reputation and a foundation for the design world.”
“Charles James is both an American fashion label and a true luxury brand,” added Louise James. “We believe there is a shortage of elite American fashion brands having a strong heritage on which to build.”
She added that the “avant-garde” aspect to his design canon “would enable the brand to remain innovative and not purely retrospective.”