NEW YORK, United States — LVMH Luxury Ventures, an investment arm of the multinational conglomerate, has taken a minority stake in New York-based luxury label Gabriela Hearst. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, although LVMH Luxury Ventures typically invests between €2 and €15 million per deal.
Hearst, who ran contemporary-priced label Candela for more than a decade before launching her namesake luxury brand in 2015, has briskly built a ready-to-wear business based on sharply tailored silhouettes rendered in ultra-expensive fabrics, with a focus on sustainably sourced materials. In 2018, just three years after she launched her label, the collection — which also includes a robust handbag business, mostly sold direct-to-consumer — generated between $15 and $20 million in sales revenue, according to sources familiar with the company. In September 2018, the designer hired former Bottega Veneta Americas president Giuseppe Giovannetti as chief executive.
Before the opening of her first retail store in November, Hearst told BoF that she would only be open to investment if it was from a strategic partner. “I like our independence,” she said. “I like having our choice and not being pressured by a stock market or a private equity return on investment. It would have to be was something strategic that we could learn from, something more.”
Launched in 2017, LVMH Luxury Ventures invests in emerging labels that have already shown an ability to scale. (Previous investments have included French apothecary brand Officine Universelle Buly and sneaker resale shop Stadium Goods, which was subsequently acquired by Farfetch for $250 million in December 2018.) The company uses the phrase “already iconic” to describe its targets.
To be sure, Hearst — who is married to Austin Hearst, an heir to the media empire — has worked hard to ensure her label fits that description. The designer, raised in Uruguay on her family’s cattle ranch, has applied rigor not only to her brand-building process, creating signature stitching and hardware as early as the first season, but also in the way she sources material and approaches sales. A trumpeter of “honest luxury,” she has made sustainability a significant part of her message, touting transparency around the provenance of her materials and the process by which her goods are made. (She has even sourced wool from her family ranch.)
In 2016, she won the International Woolmark Prize. She has also been careful about distribution, limiting the availability of her popular handbags, in particular, the “Nina” bag, an origami-inspired mini-satchel beloved by the likes of Apple designer Jony Ive. About half of her business was direct-to-consumer before the November opening of her first-ever store, adjacent to the Carlyle Hotel on the Upper East Side. The flagship boutique is the only physical place in the world where Gabriela Hearst handbags are available to purchase.
Hearst’s skilful women’s suiting — a notoriously difficult category to crack for emerging designers — has also helped to earn her a fast following. Her elongated trousers and jackets in sumptuous fabrics have, for some retailers, helped to replace the gap left by former Céline designer Phoebe Philo, whose pants were a go-to for fashion-conscious women. Industry heavyweights like MatchesFashion founder Ruth Chapman can often be found wearing one of Hearst’s sets. Hearst’s sleek evening wear also regular appears on red carpets, while Duchess of Sussex Meghan Markle is often seen carrying that famous “Nina” bag.
While the designer could not be immediately reached for comment regarding what she plans to do with the investment, scaling up physical retail would be a logical next step. Hearst has already at least dipped a toe in virtually every product category — including jewellery and home goods. Opening more physical stores would allow consumers to touch and feel the product, which is more impressive in person.
Regardless on the outcome, news of the investment could have an overall positive effect on the American fashion industry, which has struggled in recent years to establish US-based luxury brands that can compete with its European counterparts in terms of positioning, quality and retail distribution. It’s also certainly just the beginning of what will likely be a busy year for luxury mergers, acquisitions and investments.
Disclosure: LVMH is part of a group of investors who, together, hold a minority interest in The Business of Fashion. All investors have signed shareholders’ documentation guaranteeing BoF’s complete editorial independence.