Friday Column | Failure to re-launch?

Matteo Marzotto, courtesy of The Sartorialist

Matteo Marzotto, courtesy of The Sartorialist

LONDON, United Kingdom — The recent news that Matteo Marzotto and Gianni Castiglioni have bought the Vionnet brand reminded me of the old saying about second marriages: a triumph of hope over experience. Arnaud de Lummen has already had a hand at reviving Vionnet, the classic couture brand, over the past few years, but has now moved on to other projects. (You can read all about it in BoF’s exclusive interview with de Lummen.)

In announcing the purchase of Vionnet, Marzotto said “I am convinced there is always room for projects that have at their core originality, energy and passion. With Vionnet I would like to bring back to life an idea of fashion that is contemporary without forgetting its history.” And, Marzotto is not the only one who thinks so.

Halston is probably the highest profile re-launch, but the $20 million plus purchase price paid by Hilco Consumer Group, Harvey Weinstein, and a small group of private investors, means the pressure is on to see big-time results in a shrinking economy.

By comparison, Azzaro, bought by Reig Capital in 2007, has been taking a slow and steady path – and managed to maintain positive results despite the disappointing times. Managing Director Sagra Maceira de Rosen puts it down to the focus on performance in their two stores – the flagship in Paris and the new pop up store in Mount Street, which recouped its costs in the first two days of sales. (Full disclosure: Sagra is also the co-author of a book on Jimmy Choo that I am publishing later this year.)

I’m enamoured with JT handbags, based in Florence, who have exclusive distribution in Bendel’s in New York and are still considering European partners. And Lela Rose, who made her name dressing the Bush twins, is embarking on a new push into Europe under the guidance of sales director Sandra Ellis, who joined from Zac Posen.

But is it a foolish time to attempt these kinds of initiatives? On the surface of things, the answer would appear to be ‘yes.’ Sales of established brands are suffering, so retailers are going to be extra cautious about taking risks on new brands with unproven sales performance.

On the other hand, the suffering of the big brands could provide an opportunity for leaner, smaller bands. If established mega-brands are cutting back on their ads, so much the better for smaller, independent brands whose single pages have a better chance of being noticed in the glossy magazines. And even if they don’t have money for advertising, creative marketing ideas (read about Halston’s innovative online video in our CEO Talk with Bonnie Takhar) have a better than usual chance of getting noticed.

If Giorgio Armani isn’t in London throwing celebrity-studded extravaganzas at Earl’s Court (like he did in 2007 to celebrate his collaboration with the charity RED), then the press is all the more likely to head over to the Azzaro pop-up store on Mount Street to get a snap of Jemima Khan.

The danger is falling into the trap of getting over-extended. This is not the time for ambitious launches. Fortunately Marzotto and Castiglioni have the industry experience and deep-enough pockets to fund Vionnet through a transition stage. Brands without big backers aren’t so lucky.

So, while it may not be a good time to make money, if these re-launches are carefully managed, it could still be a good time to establish a fan base that will pay off when the recession ends.

Lauren Goldstein Crowe has returned from sartorially-challenged Whistler, so we are now back to our regularly scheduled BoF programming. You can expect more of her popular Friday columns to come.