How to Create a Fashion Icon : Christopher Kane

The recent Christopher Kane SS2014 collection reminded me that I was planning to write something about this up-and-coming designer and his ascent to the echelons of fashion stardom. It’s a little bit off my regular beat, but I like the brand and the story, so I hope my regular readers will bear with me; I do have some new Armani updates coming from Dusseldorf, Moscow, Barberino and Dubai in a little while.

I first noticed Christopher Kane about a year-and-a-half ago, while surfing through some collections from the 2011 winter shows for the following summer. I was struck by a couple of the tops and coats from his SS2012 collection, containing flowery prints and sheer greys – and even more impressively my wife actually asked me “who made those?” when she saw them on the screen. I kept the name in the back of my head since then, and watched for the next collections.

christopher-kane-rtw-ss2012-details-49_184540129116(Photo thanks: Vogue)

One aspect of the recent Christopher Kane runway from this week’s LFW was the use of words (“PETAL” and “FLOWER”) and specific shapes (the almost Paisley-esque petal) on a large part of the collection. This is also how fashion iconography starts – a seminal idea from a rising star is filtered, edited, copied, re-copied, down-mixed, re-coloured and exploited by high street chains until it becomes the common fashion language of a certain summer. Watch out for those words and shapes in the high street knock-offs next summer…

Christopher Kane is pretty good at making strong, attention-grabbing collections. His first outing post Central St. Martins MA, in 2006, was a semi-famous neon / bandage collection which sparked a wildfire of highlighter fluorescent colours the following summer season, making the fashion press sit up and pay attention like an energetic Yorkshire terrier. A fair amount of media and critical acclaim followed over subsequent seasons, for ideas as diverse as gorilla prints and slinky, flouncing, prehistoric scales. Various starlets found themselves photographed in Kane creations, raising his profile with each passing season, collaborations with Versace and prestigious awards followed, and the combination of increasing fame and pretty, eye-catching garments drove sell-out sales.

00270big(Photo thanks: Vogue)

That kind of repeated, sustained attention-grabbing fashion sense – plus a more important ability to transmute those elements in to wearable, high value, desirable clothes – is what spins a nascent, interesting, but small-time brand into something investable. In 2011 Christopher Kane Limited (CKL, the corporate vehicle) was turning over less than five million GBP per annum; this is revealed from the fact they did not need to file full accounts in the UK for 2011, and various other clues in the abbreviated accounts. That looks small until you put it into the context of other well established brands like Westwood or Hamnett or Temperley, who are turning over sums that aren’t orders of magnitude removed from CKL’s results. But the potential was clearly there to scale that brand into a fashion rocketship, providing somebody could bankroll the growth into boutiques, new markets, new products and so on.

00200big_592x888(Photo thanks, once again: Vogue)

And it was therefore not much of a surprise when Kering (formerly PPR, owner of Gucci etc., run by Francois Pinault and now his son) took a large stake in the company earlier this year. As always with large companies investing in smaller ones, it’s slightly more complicated than simply buying a chunk of equity on equal terms; there are a bunch of exit rights, director rights and two classes of shares, which will be important as time passes. The valuation number can also be easily guessed at by reading between the lines of Kering’s financial statements (pages 11 and 69).

But all those things are typical in any kind of investment like this, and broadly speaking this is a good, strong long-term luxury invester who brings capital, a massive distribution channel and skilled manpower such as Alexis Babeau, managing director of Kering’s luxury division and new CEO Alexandre de Brettes to the mix. Kering, Christopher Kane and also, importantly, his sister and equal business partner Tammy Kane, should profit handsomely from the investment over the coming years as the brand rises to the upper financial reaches of the fashion hierarchy – perhaps not to the multi-billion dollar empire of Giorgio Armani, but to a pretty comfortable seat at the global table.