Raf Simons, 2009


Raf Simons’ Fall 2009 Ad

While LVMH’s Bernard Arnault has refined the method on reviving couture prestige and turning half a century old names into contemporary powerhouses, there’s been another approach to fashion business and marketing that’s been on the cusps. While most brands thrive on tapping into the greatest common denominator, ramping up their appeal to reach the masses, there’s been a history of backlash to the populist system and a niche for high end obscurity has emerged as a modern luxury.

No brand has understood this and has taken advantage of it more so than Comme Des Garcons. It was Rei Kawakubo who understood the appeal of a concept and the possibility that products could be sold with one rather than the promise of a glamorous lifestyle. The success of CDG, especially in commercial divisions such as small leather goods and perfume, has awakened the industry to the full extent of what an intellectually and culturally exclusive name can do for their profits.

That isn’t to say every attempt has been successful. Prada Group tried their luck with Helmut Lang only to have the designer walk out and render the brand impotent. The same happened with them at Jil Sander. Diesel group bought out Martin Margiela and Viktor & Rolf but as product development pressures mount the brands’ integrity and original ethos has fallen apart, and soon their reputations as part of the avant-garde, the very thing that gives them their appeal, will be lost. It’s a tricky path to navigate but that isn’t to say that it’s impossible.

Belgian menswear designer Raf Simons is the latest brand to have found the happy medium between keeping his company small (he has a team of no more than 4), creative, and high in profits. He had been in total obscurity, known only to fashion insiders with a cult following until he took over creative direction for Jil Sander in 2006. It was then that Simons headed into the spotlight and the pressures to grow emerged. Simons’ secret is an Italian company called Futurenet, it specializes in licensing, sales, production, and other practical aspects of brand development. They own all the rights to Raf Simons’ licenses, they oversee the showrooms for his mainline, Raf by Raf Simons (which is also a licensee), and his string of collaborations (Fred Perry, Dr. Martens, and Eastpak,). It’s a similar formula to what CDG uses, instead of merely licensing out the brand’s name to capitalize on diverse product categories and risk ruining the brand’s integrity, you do it openly with collaborations that actually increase the value of the product. Futurenet ingeniously negotiates the new lines collaborating only with brands that connect with Simons’ universe.

With lower priced lines for Simons to express his multi-faceted vision we see his main collection going upscale and taking on a new audience. Simons’ last two collections put a special emphasis on traditional suiting (which is where the label began) and sitting more with Brioni and Kiton than your standard European designer fashions. This Fall is notable in that Simons will be launching an ad campaign, a sure sign that the stakes have gone up and Simons is ready to break into the mainstream.


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