LONDON — Ruth Chapman may be easing her way out of the day-to-day fashion business — and moving on to more cerebral pursuits — but that hasn’t tempered her passion for seeking the industry’s next great talents and rethinking brick-and-mortar retail.
It’s been a buzzy 12 months for Chapman, who sold Matchesfashion.com, the retailer she founded with her husband Tom Chapman in 1987, to Apax Partners in September in a deal valuing the company at $1 billion.
The sale was the surprise of the summer: For years the Chapmans had expected to pursue an initial public offering for their business, but in a matter of just a few weeks, they had multiple suitors knocking on their door, with Apax emerging as the winner.
“We got to a position where we were doing extremely well, the business was growing extremely fast and a lot of people came knocking. So we thought: ‘OK, we’ll continue to grow the business for IPO, but we’ll listen to what they have to say’ — and conversations began to develop,” said Chapman.
“We felt like we had done this for a really long time, and if we could step back that would be an exciting thing to do. Apax are a really smart business, they do things really well, they are extremely elegant people. There were four businesses who were after us, and it was a very competitive process — but they stood out.”
According to The Sunday Times of London, which will publish its annual Rich List on May 13, the Chapmans are among the wealthiest fashion families in the U.K., with a net worth of 450 million pounds, an increase of 290 million pounds from last year.
Chapman has also been nominated, along with Amanda Neville, chief executive officer of the British Film Institute, for the annual Veuve Clicquot Business Woman Award, which will be revealed Wednesday in London. Past award winners include Anya Hindmarch, Zaha Hadid and Gail Rebuck.
There is no doubt that Chapman is already moving on — and out of her full-time job in London. As reported, the Chapmans spent $24 million on a home in Los Angeles, where their daughter is living.
Asked how she hoped to spend her time now, Chapman said she plans to hit the books.
“I’m really interested in reading — my house is literally stuffed with books I haven’t read. I’m also thinking of going back and studying for a degree. I studied business originally, business and communications. My role at Matches has been such a creative one, and that’s reminded me of all the creative things I would like to do. I’d study 20th-century American literature, which is what I tend to read. I hope I do it, I just have to get round to organizing it,” she said.
Despite the changes in her professional life, Chapman remains committed to the business in a variety of ways. During the interview, she talked about the new Matchesfashion.com townhouse, 5 Carlos Place, an experiential space that’s set to open in September.
“It will be very personalized,” she said. “You know, maybe there will be Gabriela Hearst talking about the sustainable element of her brand. You’d get a really tribal element of Hearst devotees in that space and people who are maybe interested in her work, but who haven’t known or understood her before who may also come along.
“It’s about bringing people together, having them socialize and giving them an experience. It’s also about giving them an education in fashion. We sell expensive clothes at Matchesfashion, so it’s about ensuring that they understand why.”
Asked about the runway shows she’ll continue to attend and which designers she’s been following of late, Chapman said she’s planning to support the friends she’s developed in the industry.
“I wear a lot of Roksanda, Duro Olowu and Gabriela Hearst, and I still wear quite a lot of The Row — that’s always in there. That’s probably the sum of it.”
She named some brands she’s watching, including Represent, a men’s wear street-style label out of Manchester, England. “It’s T-shirts, hoodies and jeans, and they’re doing so well. It’s three boys, all 24 years old, and they’ve been doing it for six years. They have so much potential.”
She also named the New York label Batsheva, which does retro-inspired clothing for women and girls, and The Vampire’s Wife, known for its ruffle-edged dresses, by Susie Cave and Alex Adamson. “They are cool and are being very clever” in their approach, Chapman said. “At the moment they are doing one dress style, and they have such huge potential, plus Susie is awesome.”
Chapman pointed to the eveningwear label Galvan and their ability to “stay outside the fashion system. They are doing their own thing and delivering great eveningwear to young women — and it’s well-priced. We launched them originally and we collaborated with them ever since. Now they are getting into bridal and all sorts of different things and it’s very exciting,” she said.
She said there is always room for small brands: “I believe that if somebody connects to their customer and knows what their customer wants, then they can really do something wonderful. How they connect to their audience is the thing — and having a great product.”