LVMH’s acquisition of young British designer Nicholas Kirkwood during Milan Fashion Week, and Kering’s investment in new American designer Joseph Altuzarra during the New York shows, sent the fashion rumour mill into overdrive with speculation about what new name would be snatched up next. One industry insider, however, believes there are many opportunities in reviving old names.
Arnaud de Lummen, 36, has spent the past few years buying up the intellectual property and trademark rights to Mainbocher, the house that invented the strapless bodice and designed Wallis Simpson’s wedding dress, but which closed its doors in 1971 – as well as the rights to about 15 other classic brands, with the intention of reviving the names and selling them on.
He is banking on the belief, long the foundation of the modern luxury industry (see: Dior, Balenciaga), that reviving an old name that retains its recognition value is simpler than launching a new one.
Other “sleeping beauties”, as Mr de Lummen calls his brands, include Paul Poiret, the legendary label named after the fashion designer who quickly gained fame for his kimono-style coat and other creations, only to die in poverty in 1944; Herbert Levine, the US shoe brand once worn by Marlene Dietrich, Jackie Kennedy and Marilyn Monroe; and Belber, a US trunk and bag manufacturer founded in 1891.
“Brands can go dormant but they do not necessarily lose their value,” Mr de Lummen says. “Some are too old-fashioned, but there are some that are timeless.”
Until 2005, Mr de Lummen, who studied at Harvard Law School, worked at Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton, the international law firm, as a mergers and acquisitions associate. He turned to fashion when his father asked him to help revive Vionnet, a label he had bought in the 1980s.
“People thought it was a stupid idea at the time,” recalls Mr de Lummen, who spent two years putting Vionnet’s team together, including Sophia Kokosalaki, the Greek-born designer, as his creative director.
He also got Barney’s to agree to buy almost $2m of goods a year for the first two years. A year after that, Mr de Lummen sold Vionnet to Matteo Marzotto, the Italian entrepreneur (Vionnet is now owned by Kazakh entrepreneur Goga Ashkenazi.)
“That was the breakthrough,” he says. “That was when I realised that sleeping beauties could be a business model.” He then revived Moynat, the 19th-century trunk maker, again assembling a small team to get things started and then selling it on to France’s Groupe Arnault of luxury goods fame in 2011 for an undisclosed sum.
Mr de Lummen will say that he generally sells his revived brands for anywhere between €1m and €10m, depending on the name and the rights that come with it, and that this can lead to “rather interesting multiples” of profit. Though Mr de Lummen is French, Luvanis, the company under which he collects his brands, is based in Luxembourg for tax reasons.
Mr de Lummen says two skills are key to make the sleeping-beauties model work: a meticulous approach to the legal aspect of the business, as trademark rights can be hugely complex due to different jurisdictions and the possibility of multiple owners; and the knowledge of what brands to collect.
“The best brands have a story to tell,” he says. One he believes both investors and consumers will pay to hear.