Van Noten at Puig: can designers survive without a large corporate backing?
Dries Van Noten is a distinctive figure in the small circle of high-end fashion. To start, he is one of the few independent designers who have managed to keep his businesses afloat for several decades, without the support of a larger company. Secondly, the Belgian designer manages to stand out in media coverage without buying advertising space -- quite a feat, considering how dependent fashion magazines are on advertising revenue.
It is very challenging, if not impossible, to be featured on the pages of a major fashion magazine without becoming one of its advertisers. What is the cause of this? Is it because editors and journalists lack curiosity? Not exactly. As brands are becoming concentrated under an ever smaller number of large corporations, such as LVMH and Kering, the power of those companies over the fashion media has become unparalleled in the history of ready-to-wear. As traditional media becomes more dependent on advertising revenue but cannot keep adding more and more pages to the magazines, the space devoted to journalistic articles becomes almost an extension of the advertising pages.
The fact that an independent house like Dries Van Noten has never yielded, either by choice or necessity, to the rules of media advertising, yet still manages to remain relevant to influential editors, qualifies it as an exception to the rule. In short, Dries Van Noten is a perfect example of an independent creator with both commercial and critical success.
Puig becomes majority shareholder of the brand Dries Van Noten
In mid-June, Catalonian company Puig announced in a press release that it had acquired a “majority stake” in the Dries Van Noten house, founded in 1986. The 60-year-old stylist, who had until then been the sole owner of his namesake label, will continue to serve as the brand’s Creative Director and Chairman of the Board.
Puig is a leading player in the perfume and cosmetics industry. Founded in Barcelona in 1914, this family-owned company holds fragrance licenses to Jean Paul Gaultier, Nina Ricci and Paco Rabanne, which leads us to believe the future of the Van Noten brand will probably be linked to perfume.
Although the financial terms of the transaction were not disclosed, Van Noten’s aim is clear: to ensure the longevity of his brand in a competitive environment, in which the ferocity is elevated by the increased power of its' players. With big players such as LVMH, Kering, Richemont, Chanel and Hermès dominating the market, it is difficult for an independent designer to remain relevant, however brilliant they may be. Dries Van Noten’s annual turnover is estimated in 80 million euro. For the sake of comparison, Chanel’s turnover is estimated in 8.6 billion.
For many, this announcement confirms that there is no room left for an independent creator in the current luxury and high-end fashion landscape, regardless of his or her talent. Many reacted by saying Dries Van Noten was the last independent designer standing, the last one to throw in the towel. Such a statement is an exaggeration, considering there are still some independent designers out there, such as Rick Owens or Rei Kawakubo from Comme des Garçons.
Furthermore, there are also many discrete, tenacious and hardworking designers that spice up the current fashion landscape. Their turnover, although modest compared to the giants of the sector, demonstrates their obstinacy and talent.
These independent creators enjoy little to no space on the pages of magazines. It remains to be seen how they will they keep up, despite the disappearance of concept stores like Colette. However, we must believe that talent will always find a way to the heart of consumers who search true vision. We can also believe, albeit less poetically, that most of these creators have no choice but to join a large conglomerate either in the role of artistic director or as a consultant behind the scenes, usually in an assignment basis (i.e a fixed-term contract).
Upon the announcement of Dries Van Noten’s acquisition by Puig, independent designer Lutz Huelle, who assisted Martin Margiela from 1995 to 1998, posted the following message on social media: "I have always sold the clothes that I designed to a very loyal clientele, even when I was invisible in the mainstream press. It was precisely this invisibility that enabled me to focus on my task: to improve myself and to become the best designer possible. That pushed me to work for those men and women who wear my clothes; in the end this may be the only recipe for success and longevity”.
Huelle founded his namesake label at the dawn of the new millennium, whilst acting as a consultant at MaxMara. He has recently joined the fashion label Brioni. It’s creators like him, who are discreet and "under the radar", who keep the fragile flame of passion burning in fashion.
This article was originally written for FashionUnited.fr.photo: AW18 Dries van Noten, Catwalkpictures