PARIS — LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton has netted London fashion star J.W. Anderson, taking a significant minority stake in his fledgling business and tapping the designer to assume the creative helm of Loewe.
This story first appeared in the September 26, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
WWD first reported on Sept. 11 that the French luxury giant was in discussions with Anderson, who launched his label in 2008. Financial terms were not disclosed.
“He’s part of this emerging generation of talented new designers,” Pierre-Yves Roussel, chief executive officer of LVMH’s fashion division, said in an exclusive interview. “We believe in the potential of his brand.”
At Loewe, Anderson is to succeed Stuart Vevers, who in June said he was exiting the Madrid-based luxury firm to join Coach Inc. as executive creative director, succeeding executive creative director and president Reed Krakoff.
Interviewed in Paris on Wednesday morning, Anderson called LVMH the “Oxford [University] of luxury goods” and the right partner to help his fledgling business realize its potential.
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Anderson said his immediate priority would be to build a management infrastructure, allowing him to focus on designing his signature women’s and men’s collections — and take on his new responsibilities at Loewe. The 29-year-old noted he “hit it off” immediately with Roussel and Delphine Arnault, daughter of LVMH chairman and ceo Bernard Arnault and executive vice president at Louis Vuitton, who was a driving force behind the deal.
The deal is the latest in a spate of transactions involving Europe’s luxury giants and buzzy, up-and-coming talents, dovetailing with LVMH’s majority acquisition of British shoe designer Nicholas Kirkwood last week and rival Kering’s minority investment in Altuzarra and majority stake in Christopher Kane.
Roussel, who oversees LVMH brands including Céline, Givenchy, Kenzo and Marc Jacobs, balked at the suggestion that the Anderson deal is unusual, given that the French conglomerate is known mostly for large-scale heritage brands like Christian Dior, Bulgari and — its most recent megapurchase — Loro Piana, bought for $2.56 billion last July.
Roussel noted that when LVMH invested in Jacobs’ business, and hired him as artistic director of Louis Vuitton in 1997, the American designer had a small operation and was known mainly among fashion’s cognoscenti.
“Now it’s one of the biggest brands in the industry,” he said, also trumpeting that Jacobs was a pioneer in the hot contemporary category with his 2001 launch of the Marc by Marc Jacobs label with a runway show in New York.
“It shows we can do things, investing at an early stage,” Roussel said. “Marc learned a lot at Vuitton and it has facilitated his work at his own brand — and vice versa.”
While he declined to discuss figures, market sources estimate that the Jacobs brand is now approaching $1 billion in revenues.
As reported in WWD on June 10, Jacobs is enmeshed in negotiations with LVMH that could see the partners list the Jacobs company and trademarks and the designer relinquish the design mantle at Vuitton to focus on his own brand. Speculation is rife in Paris that former Balenciaga designer Nicolas Ghesquière, who has held talks with LVMH, is the heir apparent at Vuitton.
Anderson’s company, headquartered in London’s gritty Hackney district, comprises 14 people and counts about 75 wholesale clients for his women’s and men’s collections, including Net-a-porter, Selfridges and Matches in the U.K., Ikram and Opening Ceremony in the U.S., and 26 doors in Japan.
Anderson is to remain the majority shareholder, but happily shed some of the roles he currently juggles: “Ceo, cfo, stock manager,” he rattled off with a chuckle.
An articulate and effusive young man with a thick crop of blonde hair, Anderson said he approaches fashion as a narrative, linking one collection to the other, and building a wardrobe in the process. While his men’s clothes, which have included ruffled shorts and halter tops, are often described as androgynous, Anderson said “it’s about how garments can translate differently on a man or a woman.”
He also said he relates strongly to the contemporary market, with his brand sitting at the “advanced” end of that spectrum. “It’s a modern kind of thing,” he said, also describing his men’s wear, which represents about 20 percent of the business, as a “think tank” for his women’s designs.
His spring collection, paraded early this month during London Fashion Week, nodded to Rei Kawakubo and Issey Miyake, and Anderson is up front about his “massive respect for the Japanese approach to design. It’s very theoretical and it’s willing to break a code.”
Born in Northern Ireland, Anderson studied men’s wear at the London College of Fashion, graduating in 2005, going on to work in visual merchandising at Prada under Manuela Pavesi and consulting for several brands before launching J.W. Anderson in 2008.
Last November, Donatella Versace tapped him to do a capsule collection for Versus, Versace’s second line, which Roussel said proved that “he can interpret a brand.”
Roussel said discussions initially focused on LVMH investing in Anderson’s London-based label, but he realized the designer could also construct a compelling vision for Loewe, attract the right talent and lead the teams to realize his vision.
The young designer submitted a “brilliant” proposal for Loewe that was “fresh, modern and a new way of looking at the brand, while respecting the history,” Roussel related.
The executive said Anderson enters a well-run and healthy business at Loewe with a state-of-the-art leather goods facility.
Still, a “compelling vision” that brings more “character and emotion” to the brand is needed, Roussel noted, “otherwise you run out of steam.”
Roussel said he set no timelines for Anderson to show his first collection for the Spanish brand, noting ready-to-wear represents a small percentage of the Loewe business, making its offering less seasonal and less reliant on fashion’s breakneck pace.
Anderson said he would start at Loewe in the coming weeks, and he is eager to “put new eyes on it and learn from it.”
Defining the brand’s “personality” and “building the characters, for men and women” are the first tasks, he said.
Anderson noted he visited the brand’s factory over the summer and marveled at its technological capabilities and the superb quality of its leathers.
While acknowledging he has limited experience with accessories, he said that “for me, bags and shoes make a look,” and he noted that he has used leather in his collections “since Day One. Leather is such a modern material and you can do anything with it.”
With Loewe, Anderson will be given a broad, and global, platform. The brand, founded in 1846 and acquired by LVMH in 1996, has a directly operated store network numbering about 120 doors.
Before Vevers, José Enrique Oña Selfa and Narciso Rodriguez also designed Loewe.