With Shared Artisan Ethos, Chrome Hearts Invests in The Elder Statesman

BoF can exclusively reveal today that Los Angeles based jewellery and accessories label Chrome Hearts has taken a minority stake in high-end knitwear brand The Elder Statesman.

From left: Greg Chait, Jesse Jo Stark, Richard Stark, and Laurie Lynn Stark | Source: Courtesy Chrome Hearts

LOS ANGELES, United States  Following a productive, yearlong mentorship between 2012 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund winner Greg Chait of The Elder Statesman and cult luxury jewellery and accessories brand Chrome Hearts, today BoF can exclusively reveal that the two brands have entered into a new long-term partnership.

Chrome Hearts, founded in 1988 by husband and wife team Richard and Laurie Lynn Stark, will take a minority stake in the burgeoning luxury knitwear label. The funds will be used to accelerate The Elder Statesman’s growth and expand production capabilities. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“My daughter Jesse Jo and I met Greg back way before he did The Elder Statesman. We saw his talent way back then. There was something about him – a true artist,” said Laurie Lynn Stark of Chrome Hearts. Equally, Chait was tipped off about Chrome Hearts by Ian Kwon of prominent Korean boutique Boon the Shop, discovering that he shared a philosophy of artisanal handiwork and craftsmanship with Chrome Hearts.

“I began paying attention, little by little, and started realising, ‘Wow these guys have a great business.’ It’s totally vertical, here in LA, and there were a lot of similarities. Sensibility wise, our companies are obviously different but the point is that it still comes from the same place. Richard and Laurie live what they do and I live what I do as well,” Mr Chait told BoF.

Formerly the chief executive of niche Australian denim brand Ksubi, Chait launched The Elder Statesman in 2007, with ultra-luxe, hand-spun cashmere blankets, slouchy apparel and accessories. The brand is now stocked at some of the world’s most selective boutiques, including Barneys in New York, Maxfield in Los Angeles, and L’Éclaireur in Paris.

“The investment in The Elder Statesman by Chrome Hearts not only recognizes Greg Chait’s considerable talents, and the wonderfully supportive relationship that can form between CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund winners and their mentors, but it also underscores just how much California has emerged as a center for American artisanal luxury,” said Mark Holgate, fashion news director American Vogue, in a statement.

The Elder Statesman now employs 25 people and has just moved into a 2,000 square-foot factory in Culver City, in West Los Angeles. The injection of capital from Chrome Hearts will mainly be used to round out the production team — including training artisan knitters — and to purchase equipment.

“I go to sleep thinking about this at night because it’s just so cool, to open up your capabilities internally, literally underneath your roof in Los Angeles,” said Chait. “It’s pretty rare these days that people are building.” The company’s website will launch in the next few weeks, and Chait hopes to open its first retail store before year’s end.

After winning the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund prize in November 2012, Chait requested that Richard and Laurie Lynn Stark of Chrome Hearts be his business mentors, a key benefit of winning the prestigious award, which is worth $300,000.

“Part of our conversations would lead to, what’s your next step and where are you going to get the money to grow? Because he got a lot of orders and a lot of growth happening but he didn’t have the bigger space or machines he needed — growing pains,” said Laurie Lynn Stark. “When we had growing pains we charged our credit cards and wrote cheques and bounced them. That was a different time, you know?”

Chait had written a business plan and spoken to several interested investors, but ultimately he forged a deal with the Starks, having developed a relationship with them based on shared values and a mutual respect for artistry.

This may not be the last investment for the Starks. “My daughter is 22, so we’re identifying talent in different places and are open to ideas. It helps open and inspire us to what’s going on. We enjoy the process and I’d say the process can happen again; we are constantly exploring that area,” said Laurie Lynn Stark.