A catwalk show by Christopher Kane at London Fashion Week / Getty Images

Natalie Massenet kicks off shows with a warning: we need more business acumen

Creativity is king in the capital, but the business of fashion is finally getting its fair dues too – no mean feat for an industry worth £26bn to the UK economy. That was the message from Natalie Massenet, the chair of the British Fashion Council, at today’s launch of the latest instalment of London Fashion Week.

The founder of Net-a-porter.com, one of British fashion’s biggest business success stories, used the occasion to extol the virtues of the talent grown and nurtured in the city. But Massenet was adamant that more must be done to create sustainable growth and staying-power for younger brands; she is entering the final stage of her three year tenure at the industry body and while the changes she has implemented so far have refreshed the five-day event, there is still plenty of work to be done.

Indeed, in some respects London is a tale of two fashion cities: the best of times yield healthy sales and boutique openings; the worst of times see designers closing their labels.

 

Christopher Kane is enjoying the former – he launched his first flagship store in Mayfair on Thursday, a feat enabled in no small part by the January 2013 sale of 51 per cent of his company to the luxury conglomerate Kering [then PPR], the parent to the Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney labels.

Massenet heralded Kane as an example of how creative ambition can lead business ambition, putting paid to the old idea that the two are impossible to reconcile. “A great bottom line is not just about hemlines,” she said. “Fashion is serious business.”

Kane is not alone in building a fashion business through the largesse of larger companies and angel investors. Jonathan “JW” Anderson and the shoe-designer Nicholas Kirkwood both received investment from LVMH – the conglomerate that owns Louis Vuitton, Givenchy and Christian Dior – in 2013, while Roksanda Ilincic and Jonathan Saunders have both garnered investment from the financier Eiesha Bharti Pasricha.

These talents are blazing ahead and building what the industry is calling a “new establishment”, a cause for celebration for Massenet and her British Fashion Council colleagues. But there are also designers who have struggled to translate their design talent to balancing the books. Richard Nicoll, for instance, has taken a break from producing a collection for the new season, citing a desire “to focus on other creative projects”. Nicoll was announced as the creative director for the British mass-market brand Jack Wills last February, and many hoped that this extra-curricular role would be enough to shore up the difficult financial situation he was facing. “In the 10 years that I’ve been doing my label, the fashion seasonal structure has changed a lot with increased seasons and commercial pressures,” Nicoll explained.

Christopher-Bailey-Getty.jpg
Christopher Kane has just launched his flagship store in Mayfair (Getty)

Since he first showed at London Fashion Week in 2006, Nicoll has collaborated with a host of big brands including Vodafone, Topshop and Disney, and even signed up an anonymous investor in 2012. It’s a shame that even with continued injections of capital, he has been unable to make his business viable in its current state. “I felt the need to pause and think of the best and most relevant way forward,” he said.

Marios Schwab is another talent of the same generation who has struggled: this season Schwab presented his collection through intimate appointments with selected editors. It’s a risky strategy – saving the cost of staging a catwalk show but exposing a designer to potentially harmful rumours of financial hardship.

London has more than its fair share of programmes to incubate and encourage emerging talent,  but none can replace a sound business foundation. To this end, Massenet has enlisted James McArthur, the chief executive of Anya Hindmarch, a British accessories brand, to create a programme that educates designers on how to stabilise their businesses and grow them into brands.

Speaking at today’s launch, McArthur, previously the president of Harrods and an executive vice-president at Gucci Group (now part of Kering), explained his plan to introduce industry mentors who can “bring scars of battles won and lost, as well as talent” and match the determination of young designers.

As well as a mentoring programme that already has almost 40 design and business experts enrolled, McArthur wants to encourage better access to growth finance for those that need it, before it’s too late.

Comments