The next generation of Chous is looking to shake up designer fashion and they’re getting assistance from an expert — their dad, billionaire investor Silas Chou, who helped Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors grow into megabrands.
Chou’s daughters, Veronica and Vivian, are looking into buying a designer brand that could be converted to an online, fast-fashion powerhouse with designer-level price points and quality. They are each following their own course, but have familial support and guidance from their father, who is chief executive officer of the family business, Hong Kong apparel producer Novel Holdings.
Veronica, who is 30 and just coming off a stint as president of Iconix China, said she is also considering an array of other investment options, including tech. But she noted that her sister Vivian, 22 and a recent graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, is committed to pursuing the quick-turn designer e-commerce path.
The Chous are casting a wide net and talking to many designers.
One name that keeps being mentioned by sources is Diane von Furstenberg, where former Tommy Hilfiger ceo and former associate of Silas, Joel Horowitz, is working to professionalize the business as cochairman.
When asked about von Furstenberg, Veronica said her family was good friends with the designer and that, “We’ve talked to everyone. The only criteria is that we don’t want any brand-new, fresh designer that came out a year ago.”
But the sisters’ explorations have found a deep well of talent among Asian Americans.
“It just so happens that we’ve been looking at Asian-American designers — American designers as well — but really the Asian ones, because there’s talent there and a lot of them have been in the industry [for some time].”
Thakoon? Alexander Wang? Jason Wu?
“All of them,” Veronica said. “They’re all friends and I’ve talked to all of them.”
Among other prominent Asian-American designers are Richard Chai, Phillip Lim, Public School’s Dao-Yi Chow, Opening Ceremony’s Humberto Leon and Carol Lim.
But she brushed aside the notion that an Asian-American designer might have a broader global appeal.
“America always has that appeal to the world,” she said. “The American dream is still there, especially now with tech.”
Tongues have been wagging among fashion’s financial set about the next Chou blockbuster. Silas’ net worth is pegged at $2.5 billion by Forbes and the investor is revered as having something of a magic touch given his track record (his biggest successes have come with investment partner Lawrence Stroll at his side).
The industry seems set to find out how much of that feel for business has passed down to the next generation.
“I’m definitely looking, that’s true,” Veronica said.
She said there’s huge potential in bringing designer fashions to shoppers more quickly and online.
“Millennials, they want to buy now, wear now and sometimes seeing things at a fashion show and having to wait six months is not what they really want,” she said.
Veronica said companies like Net-a-porter have proven there’s an online customer at designer price points, although she added that she and her sister aren’t looking to get into higher price points that typify Hermès or Chanel.
The thesis is a relatively new take on how to get the most out of the cachet of a designer business. Such businesses often have plenty of buzz, but not that much money.
By keeping a designer price point, but moving goods very quickly and selling them globally online, a designer would be freed from the traditional fashion calendar. It sets up a dynamic that is not so much buy now, wear now, but rather design now, make now, sell now, wear now. The designer in such a scenario would have to travel frequently to Asia or be based there to help shorten lead times.
“What we’re trying to do is a bit disruptive to the industry,” Veronica said. “In fashion tech, already there are people who are making money in e-commerce. It’s definitely a huge market and a huge opportunity. It’s where the world is going.”
There have long been gripes about the cadence of the designer business, with fall shows in spring and long lead times.
“The whole industry is vibrant and it’s growing, but people do question why are they selling summer clothes when it’s freezing outside,” Veronica said. “Can it be changed? Will it ever change? I don’t know. But hopefully we can be people who do something different, and it will work.”
Businesses based online can have a global reach and be closer in touch with their consumers.
“A big part of building an e-commerce platform is actually about logistics and fulfillment and not having shipping be five days, but as short as possible,” Veronica said. “And for designers it would also be a new experience because once you control your own e-commerce…you know better who your customer is.”
All that adds up to a very current spin on designer fashion, something definitely for the next generation to explore.