Rushemy Botter and Lisi Herrebrugh

PARIS — Buzzy young Dutch designer duo Rushemy Botter and Lisi Herrebrugh have been named the new artistic directors for fashion at Nina Ricci, WWD has learned.

The pair, which scooped the Première Vision Grand Prize at the Hyères International Festival of Fashion and Photography in April for their men’s wear collection infused with Caribbean style, begins at Puig immediately overseeing Nina Ricci’s women’s ready-to-wear business.

Their first collection for the house is to be presented during the pre-fall 2019 season. Then the fall 2019 line will be shown in March on the official Paris Fashion Week calendar.

According to José Manuel Albesa, president of brands, markets and operations at Puig, the Spanish fragrance and fashion group that owns Nina Ricci, Botter and Herrebrugh will bring a contemporary edge to the brand that’s already full of femininity and heritage, as well as “a big dose of coolness.”

“We were looking for someone unique,” he told WWD in an exclusive interview. Albesa also characterized the designers’ work as poetic, playful and bold. “They did some sketches to show their vision for the brand, and I was really amazed because it was not an evolution, it was a revolution.”

The executive called Botter and Herrebrugh, who grew up on the islands of Curaçao and Dominican Republic, respectively, masters of color. “They have this kind of Caribbean joie de vivre. It’s very appropriate for the brand, and it’s extremely appropriate for the times,” he said.

The duo is relocating from Antwerp to Paris in September with their men’s wear brand, Botter. The designers drew interest from several major brands after reaching the final of this year’s edition of the LVMH Prize for Young Designers.

“Their universe expresses a passionate force, a sincerity and an extraordinary boldness deeply rooted in their time,” Charlotte Tasset, the recently appointed general manager fashion and fragrances at Nina Ricci, said in a statement. “Mixed with the natural sweetness and poetry present in their vision, this unique creative spirit will give birth to the new Nina Ricci woman.”

The designers said they “feel very inspired by the fresh, feminine and subtle codes that make Nina Ricci such a beautiful ode to femininity. We aim to create a new spirit, a spirit of our times, effortless yet sophisticated, strong yet positive.”

The Nina Ricci nomination is part of Puig’s plan to develop a new business model for its fashion houses, according to Albesa.

“We see that today, the typical model is getting obsolete and things are changing in a big way, not only because of the Millennials and the digital acceleration, but overall. When you see what the consumer is looking for today, it’s not the same as when we started in fashion,” he said.

The first order of business has been to recruit a strong tandem of a general manager and an artistic director at each brand. The appointment of Botter and Herrebrugh is Tasset’s first big move since joining Nina Ricci in May, two months after the departure of creative director Guillaume Henry following a three-year stint at the house.

Other creative heads at Nina Ricci, which in its recent history has had a lot of designers come and go, have included Peter Copping, Nathalie Gervais, Massimo Giussani, James Aguiar, Lars Nilsson and Olivier Theyskens.

Boldness is needed for the house, according to Albesa, who said, “We have been perhaps too shy with Nina Ricci.”

He suggested the brand take a cue from the name of its best-selling fragrance, L’Air du Temps, and move with the times. “You cannot neglect your heritage, but you have to adapt to the changes. And fashion has changed so much in the last years that perhaps we were quite conservative in respecting and protecting this heritage,” he said.

“It needs a new fresh vision of what is Parisian today, what is poetry today, what is femininity today. It really needs to capture the Millennial. It has always had a more mature target, and it’s time to shake this up and to come back with something more L’Air du Temps,” Albesa added.

Parallel to the developments at Ricci, Puig plans to expand the Dries Van Noten label, which it acquired in June, and is on the lookout for further acquisitions.

“This brand is like a treasure. It has so much potential,” Albesa said of Van Noten. “We want to do something unique and precious. This really shows our commitment to develop our fashion houses together with our existing houses, and we are open to see new opportunities with brands in the near future.”

Puig is working with Van Noten, who remains chief design officer and chairman of the board, on a strategy that will involve opening stores, starting with New York; launching e-commerce; expanding accessories, and entering into fragrance.

“His floral patterns, his passion for gardening and for interiors and for traveling, make the whole brand very appealing for a fragrance universe. That’s something that is already in the DNA, so for sure I see a fragrance world coming by 2020,” Albesa explained.

“Direct-to-consumer is the name of the game, whether it’s through retail or whether it’s through digital. This is where the brand wants to put more emphasis, because it was too dependent on wholesale,” he added.

Meanwhile, Puig is pleased with the direction its other prestige brands have been taking.

After several years of turmoil, culminating in Carolina Herrera stepping down as designer of her namesake brand in February and becoming the brand’s global ambassador, the New York-based label now appears to have a solid top team in place, with Emilie Rubinfeld as president and Wes Gordon as artistic director.

Sales have grown in the double digits since Gordon’s arrival and the resort collection he presented in June, his first solo effort, was acclaimed by the press and retailers, Albesa said. Gordon will stage his first runway show for the house on Sept. 10 during New York Fashion Week.

“He has redefined and refreshed the DNA of the Carolina Herrera brand. We are very excited because he has an ability to put the different pieces of the brand together to pass a very strong message,” Albesa said. “It’s growing globally and in all different categories.”

Herrera plans to launch a makeup line next year, which Albesa promises will be “completely different” to the way traditional or independent brands are approaching the category.

At Paco Rabanne, general manager Bastien Daguzan and creative director Julien Dossena are uniting the fashion and fragrance divisions under a project dubbed One Rabanne, which should bear fruit next year.

“It is the first project where Julien has been completely involved and has put his vision of what’s Millennial today, what’s a new way of fragrance, so it’s something quite revolutionary,” said Albesa, adding the new fragrance family will target more prestigious doors.

“We want to also do pop-ups putting fashion and fragrances together. It’s a new way of showing how fragrance and fashion can work in a dialogue where both are winning,” he continued, noting that Dossena’s last three rtw collections generated double-digit sales increases.

“Business was multiplied by three with his last show collection, and the brand is ready to go to the next level,” he said.

Meanwhile, Jean Paul Gaultier has seen steady growth in its haute couture business since shuttering its rtw business in 2014. This fall, the designer will raise his profile with the opening of his “Fashion Freak Show” musical revue in Paris.

“We’re also working on a series of different collaborations that are going to be very important in the months and years to come for the brand,” revealed Albesa, who declined to divulge any details, except to say the collaborations would also involve the fashion side of the business.

Part of Albesa’s remit in his expanded role since April is to bring innovation to Puig’s brands and markets. That’s where Puig Futures, the new collaborative platform he oversees, comes in. It’s involved in three technological partnerships on the perfume front, the details of which remain undisclosed.

José Manuel Albesa

José Manuel Albesa  Courtesy Photo

“We have to catch up with retail excellence, and this is something very important mainly in the fragrance category,” he said, adding that disruption is key.

Throughout the year, Albesa takes “innovation treks” to meet start-ups in cities such as London, Los Angeles, Hong Kong and Singapore with a group of some 20 “change-makers” selected from within Puig. “We are redefining the way we work,” he said, explaining that sometimes a start-up is paired with a brand in the company to try to reinvent the fragrance or pop-up experience.

Puig’s perfume business is divided into numerous segments. Penhaligon’s and L’Artisan Parfumeur comprise the retail unit. “We are experiencing phenomenal growth in both brands because we are bringing storytelling into this category, which was not existing before,” Albesa said. “This retail category is something we want to push.”

In the niche brand segment is Comme des Garçons, which launched the Concrete scent last year to “phenomenal success,” Albesa said.

Earlier this year, Puig acquired a majority stake in EB Florals, the fragrance label begun by Los Angeles-based florist Eric Buterbaugh. “We want to grow this brand. We are focusing and working with Eric and the team on how to accelerate the performance of this brand, which is really exciting,” Albesa said.

In March, Puig inked a beauty license with Christian Louboutin. The idea with the brand is to develop the strategy for the makeup coming in eye-catching, pointy containers and perfume.

“Both examples in niche, EB Florals and Louboutin, prove that we are — through acquisitions or licenses — looking for new adventures in the category,” Albesa said.

The license with Prada makes up Puig’s prestige segment, though a question mark hangs over its future. Carlo Mazzi, chairman of Prada, was asked by a financial analyst during a recent earnings call about the possibility of Prada parting ways with Puig. At the time, Mazzi said the license is to expire in 18 months and that, before then, Prada will discuss with Puig and other big companies in the sector about a renewal or a new agreement.

“Our license contract is ongoing for a few more years, and business continues accordingly,” Albesa said when asked about it.

Puig’s prestige division includes its own brands, such as Paco Rabanne, which with its three pillars — Million, Invictus and Pure XS — has been growing over the past decade to reach the fourth largest fragrance brand globally after Christian Dior, Chanel and Giorgio Armani.

“This year, we want to reinforce Pure XS with the launch of Pure XS for Her,” said Albesa, of the scent being fronted this fall by Emily Ratajkowski. “It is a very bold, à la Rabanne proposition of femininity, very daring with a sense of humor.”

He added to date Paco Rabanne is perceived more as a men’s scent brand than a women’s. “We trust this launch is a way to bring femininity to our portfolio. This will help us consolidate the Olympea and Lady Million [businesses].”

Herrera has seen success with its women’s fragrance Good Girl, which is Puig’s first feminine pillar that ranks in the top five in the U.S. and was the U.K.’s best launch of a women’s fragrance this year. The designer’s Confidential perfume collection is being expanded, and in 2019, along with the makeup will come the unveiling of a new strategy for lifestyle, while Good Girl is to become a masterbrand.

In 2017, Gaultier launched Scandal, the women’s perfume, to good reception. It will be the fragrance focus for the brand before a men’s version comes out in 2020.

Nina Ricci’s new feminine fragrance Bella recently joined the franchise begun with Nina more than a decade ago and includes Luna, as well. Their three-pronged story at the label has been pioneering in the perfume industry, according to Albesa.

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