PARIS — The Karl Lagerfeld brand is temporarily stepping away from its Paris home base to spend a couple of days in Florence.
As reported, at Pitti Uomo the label will stage a series of events honoring its founding designer Karl Lagerfeld, who passed away in February at age 85.
Ahead of the Italian fair, WWD sat down with Karl Lagerfeld chief executive officer Pier Paolo Righi to learn more about its Pitti presence, discuss the brand’s plans for men’s wear and generally figure out what’s next for the French fashion label, four months after Lagerfeld’s passing.
WWD: You’re gearing up to do a couple of events at Pitti Uomo. What are they?
Pier Paolo Righi: Pitti is an important moment for us for a variety of reasons. Karl personally liked Florence, and for men’s wear, of course, Pitti is an important moment. Particularly for us because it also kicks off a series of initiatives related to Karl. We commissioned the street artist Endless to create a tribute to Karl at Pitti, an artwork that will be painted live on a wall. The idea for the collaboration had already been set up before Karl passed. It felt only logical to take it further. We were all sitting together at the office with Karl and sharing what we had seen, including on Instagram, and Endless’ work made us curious. As Karl was endlessly curious, we wanted to meet him. And that’s what we did. There will also be a capsule collection to go with the artwork, and more projects with Endless to come.
What is also great is that Carine Roitfeld, someone who is part of the Karl Lagerfeld family (Roitfeld was named style adviser for the Karl Lagerfeld brand in April) will also be at Pitti, as well as Sébastian Jondeau with his edit of the men’s spring 2020 collection. These are not just names that have been popping up: Carine and Sébastien have both been working with the brand for a while. It’s a bit of a family moment where we all come together, not just for men’s wear, but basically everything that we stand for as a brand. It kicks off a series of tributes, including the Karl Lagerfeld memorial at the Grand Palais on June 20 and another significant initiative that we will be announcing soon, organized by the Karl Lagerfeld house.
WWD: Jondeau was recently named men’s wear ambassador for Karl Lagerfeld. Is this a long-term role?
P.P.R.: When we say “ambassador,” it’s not a seasonal partnership. It is meant to be long term. Sébastien is a family member, he was one of Karl’s close companions, therefore he has become and will continue to be an integral part of the brand, and of men’s wear specifically. He always liked being associated with the brand and he knows a lot about Karl’s aesthetic when it comes to men’s wear, what was important to him and what he liked. It would make no sense for us to not take on board this plethora of knowledge about Karl in that particular field.
WWD: But he has no impact on the creative direction of the brand (whose creative director is Hun Kim)?
P.P.R.: He’s not a designer or a creative director, but of course we have big ears. He has an idea of what he likes and what Karl liked, so of course that would have an influence on the collection. We have a strong design team, but we’re also listening to what influences people.
WWD: How has men’s wear been doing for the brand?
P.P.R.: Women’s wear still represents 75 percent of global sales, but men’s wear is growing. We have been bringing the design direction of the men’s wear line much more in sync with where we are going for ready-to-wear. The sportswear part of the collection is taking much more room than in past seasons and it’s selling very successfully. As a result, men’s wear has grown in a zone of about 15 percent in the last two years, a solid double-digit growth. The overall business has grown more than 50 percent for fiscal year 2019.
WWD: You merged the Karl Lagerfeld and Lagerfeld men’s wear lines in early 2018. What has the reunion changed?
P.P.R.: The change is not only in the brand name: It’s in the whole way you look at the collection. As mentioned, it’s much more in line with the rtw: more sportswear-influenced, a bit more streetwear, less tailored — it’s cooler. I think this change has given more of an edge to the whole way the men’s side of the business has been looking at things. It was not only a change on paper, but basically a change in signature handwriting, in spirit.
In terms of points of sale, we have over the years uplifted the distribution quite a bit. There is a broader alignment between partners for men’s wear and women’s wear, particularly in the franchise zone. It wasn’t a revolution from one season or one year to another, but a gradual process.
WWD: There’s no easy way of putting it: this has been a shattering year for the maison. How does a brand go forward after losing its founder?
P.P.R.: It has always been important to Karl that his maison was never seen as a one-man show but as a team, but even more than that as family. Everybody knew how to work best for the brand’s business, to make it greater and bigger. Karl never set it up in a way that it was not meant to survive after him. It’s the opposite: he very clearly set it up so that it was standing on several strong feet. If we look at where the brand is today and the icon that is Karl, there is so much to build upon. We see the business nicely continuing to grow.
The interesting thing is I’ve not heard anybody — either partners, coworkers internally and externally, or customers — ever doubt this in the last months. Quite the opposite — everybody said to me, “You are the only fashion house that carries the Karl Lagerfeld name on its doorbell. There is none other. Not Chanel, not Fendi, you are the only one. You’re the one who carries the legacy, which is an opportunity but also a responsibility.”
The pride I have seen from everybody within the organization in continuing Karl’s legacy, in bringing it forward the way he always would have wanted it, has been amazing. It has been more rewarding in the last three months than anybody could have expected. The dynamic has been very positive, driven by people who took it forward in a spirit Karl would have been proud of.