Indie, no more. Dries Van Noten, the founder of one of fashion last big-name independent brands, has sold a majority stake in his eponymous label to Puig, the designer and the Spanish group confirmed on Thursday. According to a statement from the two, Puig will serve as “the majority owner alongside Dries [Van Noten], who remains, over the long term, a significant minority shareholder.” They further announced that Mr. Van Noten – the Belgian design great and member of the legendry Antwerp Six – “will continue as chief creative officer and chairman of the board.”
The acquisition deal comes after Van Noten held full control and ownership of his completely independent brand since its founding in 1986, something of a significant rarity in the upper echelon of fashion industry. Meanwhile, Puig has been busy building up its arsenal of fashion brands. The Barcelona-based company currently owns Carolina Herrera, Nina Ricci, and Paco Rabanne, and has dibs on the right to exclusively make, market, and claim profits on fragrances (and in some cases, other beauty products) bearing the Prada, Comme des Garcons, Christian Louboutin, and Jean Paul Gaultier names, among others.
As aptly noted by the New York Times’ Vanessa Friedman, the acquisition serves to “underscore how hard it is for independent fashion brands to fuel their own growth in the current business climate.” That climate is one utterly dominated by the industry’s profit-happy luxury conglomerates, which have been snapping up high fashion brands left and right since the 1980’s. The result has been a large-scale corporatization of the upper echelon of the fashion industry, one in which revenue – which is in the tens of billions for the likes of LVMH – is driven almost exclusively by handbags, footwear, licensed goods, and other high-margin items, and a lot of them, as distinct from runway garments.
Interesting, this model stands in stark contrast to how Van Noten has operated his business to date. The Belgium-based designer – who staged his 100th seasonal runway show in March 2017 – is one of the few to insist upon making and offering for sale all of the garments that it presents in its bi-annual runway shows. “For me [producing every single look from on the runway for retail] is absolutely necessary,” Van Noten has said. “We don’t make couture; we make prêt-à-porter. And I’m very strict with that.”
The 60-year old designer has also been measured in terms of expansion. As of now, he boasts just eight stores in the world, all of which are owned and operated by the brand. As noted by the Times, he maintains “a limited presence in the lucrative accessory market of shoes and handbags, all areas ripe for expansion.”
This is all going to change now that Dries has made a friend in the corporate fashion world. Yes, with Puig – which certainly operates at least to an extent in the vein of the LVMH and Kering’s in the world of corporate fashion, although one could argue not quite as aggressively – at the wheel, it is safe to assume that the Dries Van Noten that we have long known is on its way out. And with it, pre-season collections, large-scale advertising, and a heavy emphasis on licensed goods – all things that Mr. Van Noten, himself, has shunned – are in the pipeline.