Christophe Lemaire free to focus on own label after leaving Hermes
On Monday, Christophe Lemaire announced that he would be stepping down as Hermes' artistic director for women’s wear to concentrate on his own personal line. The French designer's brand, which includes both men’s and women’s lines, posted more than 40% sales growth for the past two seasons. That sets a record for the label, created in 1991, and is partially the work of the company’s new "business developer," Bastien Daguzan, who studied law and fashion business management at the Institut Français de la Mode (IFM).
First Bastien Daguzan got Christophe Lemaire a slot on the official Paris Fashion Week calendar to show his men's collection, telegraphing a clear message about the brand’s new ambitions. The manager was brought on last October to structure the company's new "framework" and has just been promoted to general manager by Christophe Lemaire.
The designer himself was short on time and probably also resources, being forced to wear both the hats of his fashion company’s creative director and business manager. Such a mix of genres "can be dangerous, both for the health of the business and its creative design," says Bastien Daguzan, who started his career with Belgian designer Kris Van Assche, where he stayed for five years before joining Christophe Lemaire.
The first step in Daguzan's business plan was to relocate the studio and offices to one place. He merged the design studio in Paris’s 20th arrondissement and the office above the store in the Rue de Poitou, housing both activities in the rue du Temple in Paris's Marais district. "We had to get everyone together in the same space, bigger and one in sync with the brand’s codes, as a means to make the whole team more cohesive,” he explains.
Next, the new managing director took a look at the company's foundation, namely its production. "We had the opportunity to bring in an industrial partner, ECCE, to manufacture the collections," explains Daguzan Bastien, who had already scouted out the French group's strengths during his time at Kris Van Assche.
Prior to these changes, the collection had entirely been made by hand in the designer's former studio in Paris. Today Christophe Lemaire offers three distinct lines: a sartorial concept (suits), a more unique, designer creative direction and thirdly, a wardrobe of basics that lets customers "get into the brand" without breaking the bank. Here again, faced with the emergence of cheaper competition from France or northern Europe, independent designers have few choices: "We have to maintain some accessibility if we want to stay relevant," says Bastien Daguzan.
Regarding men's wear, the business manager says it is finally time to "institutionalize the brand and position it in the competitive environment." The first step was an official runway show of the spring-summer 2015 men's collection. Previously Christophe Lemaire himself had presented his men’s wear line to the press and buyers in the privacy of a showroom and without photographers.
After the men's spring-summer 2015 show last June in Paris, the season orchestrated by the new business-focused CEO became all the more convincing, attracting market leaders such as Canadian Ssense and Italian Luisa Via Roma in Italy.
Net-A-Porter, Matches and Printemps all took the bait for the first time, placing orders for last season’s women’s collection.
Now fully vertical, the brand's new company structure should enable Christophe Lemaire "to face up to the realities of the market," says Bastien Daguzan, who also tackled a full modernization of the company's IT system during the move to the new premises: "to facilitate communication between each element of the chain, from studio to suppliers to customers."
Is the next step direct-owned stores? "That is the logical continuation," he admits, "but for now, we want to consolidate our achievements by being able to meet our customers' demands."
Next up for the brand, which currently has twelve full-time employees, is a first women's pre-collection for fall 2015. Christophe Lemaire women’s wear accounts for nearly 60% of the brand's sales, which the designer oversees together with his work and life partner, Sarah Linh Tran.
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