David Beckham has taken the first step toward building a fashion empire of his very own.
Under an exclusive, five-year agreement with the Kent & Curwen brand revealed early Wednesday in the Far East, Beckham will play a multifaceted role in expanding the British brand’s appeal to younger consumers. The agreement is the first deal for Seven Global, the joint venture between Beckham and his partner Simon Fuller with Li & Fung spin-off Global Brands Group Holding Ltd. formed late last year. Beckham and Fuller are 50-50 partners with GBG.
This story first appeared in the September 17, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Trinity International Brands Ltd.— which owns the Kent & Curwen brand — said Beckham would be personally involved in all aspects of the brand’s business, including product development, market expansion, advertising and store design and location. Under the terms of the deal, the Kent & Curwen brand would be Beckham’s only apparel line. He has other partnerships, such as a long-standing relationship with Coty and David Beckham Bodywear by H&M. The latest partnership includes a nonexclusive right to distribute other David Beckham products in Kent & Curwen stores. Kent & Curwen currently operates 113 stores in 51 cities in China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
Beckham said, “I’m always looking to work with brands and companies that have a rich history and authenticity. When this authenticity is rooted in the country that I came from, it attracts me even more to the partnership.”
He added, “What I love is that Kent & Curwen has a pedigree and excellence that has been passed through generations,” citing Laurence Olivier, Michael Caine and Mick Jagger, as well as many others who have worn products, as some influencers of style. “Our aim is to build on its existing popularity and success in China and establish it as a powerful brand globally.
“I’ve always been inspired by simple, effortless style. Sometimes it’s a pair of classic jeans and a T-shirt and sometimes it’s a great suit from a classic British tailor. I experimented with fashion a lot when I was younger, but as you get older you tend to have a greater understanding of what fits and suits you.”
Kent & Curwen was founded in 1926 and has its roots in the manufacture of sports uniforms, particularly for cricket but also for rowing. The brand evolved into a men’s sportswear collection that includes in its offerings polo shirts, trousers and button-down shirts.
The updated Kent & Curwen line will include a separate capsule collection, also influenced by Beckham, which will be available in fall 2016. The capsule collection, still unnamed, will include accessories, eyewear and boy’s apparel. One individual with knowledge of the thinking behind the capsule collection said an option being considered for the name is “Kent & Curwen, Inspired by David Beckham.” The former athlete will also be making personal appearances to promote the brand.
Jason Weisenfeld, Seven Global’s president, said, “Our partnership with Kent & Curwen allows for both David and Seven Global to participate in shaping the future direction of the brand.”
Weisenfeld added, “We’re pairing David’s influence” as Britain’s leading global athlete “and celebrated style-setter with a highly respected British heritage brand with more than 100 stores throughout Asia. This collaboration leverages David’s fashion authority and Kent & Curwen’s distribution and retail prowess to create growth opportunities across all platforms.”
Weisenfeld emphasized that while Beckham would not be actually designing product under the terms of the partnership agreement, “Beckham will be working closely with the design team, and his inspiration and influence will be felt throughout the entire business.”
According to Weisenfeld, the plan includes opening new stores globally, with a redesigned store concept having input from Beckham. Seven Global’s president emphasized that the deal is “not an endorsement deal,” adding that Beckham’s involvement throughout the Kent & Curwen business shows the full extent of the partnership.
Bruce Rockowitz, chief executive officer of GBG, also emphasized that Beckham will be “very involved in the way things look, the DNA of the brand.” He clarified that Tommy Hilfiger remains a part of the brand’s creative direction. “He was very much in favor of bringing David on board,” Rockowitz said.
A few years ago, Trinity signed a license with British Heritage Brands LLC, a joint venture between Li & Fung Ltd. USA and Star Branding LLC, a company owned by Hilfiger and several associates, to develop the brand in the U.S. and Europe. British Heritage Brands recruited Simon Spurr to design a full men’s collection for Kent & Curwen, which was shown during men’s fashion week in London beginning with the fall 2014 season.
As for the next Beckham project with Global Brands, Rockowitz said skin care is one of the areas it is looking at next. He said it is too early to disclose details.
Speaking of the partnership with Beckham, Richard Cohen, Trinity’s ceo, said, “It’s a worldwide exclusive deal. Nobody else can have David Beckham in men’s wear.”
Instead of just growing old with its customers, having Beckham involved with the update of the brand and its business is one way of bringing in new customers to the men’s wear brand.
Cohen explained, “Our product wasn’t cool. It was cool for 50-year-olds. That’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with that…but now I need to bring another part of it, which is much more relaxed.”
Trinity is also basing Kent & Curwen’s international expansion strategy around the deal, with plans to open 20 new Kent & Curwen stores around the world in key destinations for Chinese tourists like New York, Miami, Milan and London, Cohen said. The executives said they expect the brand to remain a China-centric business.
Trinity could use some help in boosting its business. The men’s wear group has seen tough times recently as China’s luxury market and overall economic growth slow. The company posted a first-half loss of 47 million Hong Kong dollars, or $6.1 million at current exchange, compared with a year-earlier profit of 79 million Hong Kong dollars, or $10.2 million. Revenue slid 20.1 percent to 1 billion Hong Kong dollars, or $129 million.
Rockowitz said Kent & Curwen has been experiencing negative comps, but the company is hopeful that the Beckham venture will give sales a lift. He also stressed the importance of looking at China in the long-term, given the sheer size of the market.
“We believe in China, and I think anybody that’s against China is probably wrong,” he said.
Trinity plans to create marketing campaigns inspired by the soccer-star-turned-style-setter and launch an e-commerce site. The company is hoping to capitalize on Beckham’s enormous popularity in China to relate to existing consumers and lure new ones, Cohen said.
Cohen said he has seen Beckham at events in China where he has been “absolutely mobbed,” and he wants to translate that popularity into a “competitive advantage” for the brand.
The products from the Beckham line will be priced more affordably than Kent & Curwen’s main collection, or around “$150 for a polo [shirt]. It will not be that expensive. I’m going after the premium price point,” Cohen said. In Asia, the premium price point is typically the level below high-end designer price points.
Seven Global is guaranteed a minimum royalty ranging from $3.5 million in the first year to $7.25 million in the fifth year. If net sales exceed $100 million, Trinity will pay 5 percent of net retail sales of the licensed products and 10 percent of net wholesale sales sold through wholesale channels, capped at an annual fee of 60 million Hong Kong dollars, or about $7.7 million at current exchange.
Cohen said the company is exploring similar licensing deals fronted by celebrity personalities for its other brands, although he did not provide either any specifics or a timeline. Trinity is in the midst of a repositioning of its four men’s wear labels. In August, management said it would be tweaking the images of the brands in its portfolio, which also includes Cerruti and Gieves & Hawkes. Trinity recruited Jason Basmajian, formerly of Brioni, as creative director of Gieves & Hawkes and he has injected a more defined sense of “Britishness” into the label while emphasizing its luxury heritage.
“Gieves & Hawkes will change the least, but we are attracting a younger customer in Savile Row that we never thought we’d get [in their] 30s. Our competition is somebody like [Ermenegildo] Zegna as a British counterpart that’s at a lower price point,” Cohen said.
GBG and Trinity are both controlled by the Fung family in Hong Kong. While GBG is a Li & Fung spin-off, Trinity is part of the privately held Fung Group.