LONDON, United Kingdom — “I never want to be that person who’s taking advantage or seen to be derivative… I think that’s the whole point of being creative,” says designer Christopher Kane. “It’s not about being lazy anymore, especially in this day and age. People just want newness — they strive for it. There’s just so much of the same that you always have to stand out.”
Since French conglomerate Kering took a majority stake in Kane’s eponymous label in 2013, Kane has aimed to stand out on a much larger stage. In the space of three years, the business has opened its first retail store on London’s Mount Street, launched a website, unveiled its first advertising campaign, added Pre-Fall and expanded into product categories including bags, shoes and sunglasses. The next step in the label’s journey: e-commerce.
“This really is the second major milestone,” says Sarah Crook, chief executive officer of Christopher Kane, labelling the brand’s physical store the first (though some might say her arrival at the company was a milestone in itself). Christopher Kane’s forthcoming e-commerce platform will use digital and video content to combine “a brand experience and a commercial experience,” adds Crook. “The two should be very interconnected. If you’re reading about something, you should be able to easily shop through that channel.” The e-commerce store’s back-end is powered by Farfetch, which opened its platform to brands in 2015. The site’s front-end was designed by creative agency Spring.
“Digital allows speed to market and the flexibility to develop and launch limited edition products that are showcased for limited periods only and may or may not sit within an existing product category,” continues Crook. “This allows us to be creative and reactive in the moment, which within our wholesale channels we can’t always do,” she adds. However, the site is able to pull inventory from select wholesale partners, allowing the business to “leverage additional product breadth and in some cases additional depth on key styles,” explains Crook.
It’s an important step forward for the Scottish designer, who is known for his ability to twist together the provocative and beautiful. “I think I'm only human,” says Kane of the “perverse” and “twisted” aspects of his work. “I think I'll always want to look at stuff that I'm not meant to. I think everyone does in their own way. It's only natural.”
Born in a depressed village near Glasgow in 1982 and the youngest of five in a Catholic family, Kane shot to fame while studying at Central Saint Martins in London, where he was mentored by the late Louise Wilson. “She taught me there’s no such thing as bad taste, it’s just different,” says the designer, who still regards the first dresses he made for Wilson as the closest he’s come to complete satisfaction with a design. "I made them with £2, I bought the fabrics from a market, and for Louise Wilson to say they're fucking amazing — that was literally a moment I'll never forget, and for me I'll always look back to that, because I can't beat it," he says.
“If you’re going to send something down the runway, it needs to be lasting,” he adds. “Because there’s so much stuff out there, there’s so much runway, there are so many designers. For you as a journalist and as me, someone, if I want to do a show I want to remember it, it’s a moment in history.”
A key moment in his own brand’s history came in 2012, when Kering (formerly PPR) took a 51 percent stake in the brand, which Kane founded with his sister Tammy. “It came to the point where me and Tammy couldn’t push the company any further, it was like a glass ceiling, it was ready to crack,” he says. The two met with François-Henri Pinault, chief executive officer of Kering, on the advice of mentors including Anna Wintour, who, along with Donatella Versace, has been a mentor of Kane’s since his days at CSM. “To go forward, we had to do it,” he says.
Having the backing of Kering has enabled the business to “bring in people with lots of knowledge,” he says, including Crook, who joined as chief executive in 2014 having previously worked at Stella McCartney. But while Kane’s team has grown to more than 60 people, according to the designer, the “main ingredient” in the business hasn’t changed: “I have this sounding board, which is Tammy — my ally, my best friend, my collaborator,” he says.
As for the future, “the focus is on e-commerce, building the brand position,” says Crook, looking at the next 12 months. The executive declined to provide specific sales projections for its e-commerce business. “Wholesale is still very much driving our business and key to the growth of the brand,” she adds, noting potential for “significant expansion in Asia and taking partners on there potentially in the future,” as well as eventually opening more directly-operated stores.
Watch Tim Blanks’ interview with Christopher Kane above.