Will there be another Ralph, Donna or Calvin? – WWD

Ralph Lauren, Donna Karan and Calvin Klein once ruled Seventh Avenue from the top.

Could Kim Kardashian or Rihanna take their place?

Ralph, Donna and Calvin created brands that were based on the first name with all the fashion. They had the brand enthusiasm, reach and personality to build a mega-business, setting trends that put American fashion on the map and into multiple product categories worldwide.

These brands—and their namesake founders—not only led fashion, but also served a desired purpose. They were the designers that other designers wanted to work with, with the business that other brands aspired to.

As Ralph, Donna and Calvin have evolved over the years, they have become part of the foundation of fashion. It is no longer the new brands that are taking over, but the establishment that the next generation seeks to topple or compete with.

There are other designer namesake brands of scale and profile that have followed the lead trio, from Tommy Hilfiger to Michael Kors and Tory Burch. They are all established, similar.

But where is the next generation?

Both Kardashian with Skims and Rihanna with Fenty x Savage have made a big splash with incredible success in what are still very targeted offerings.

Rihanna is one of the founders of the underwear brand Savage x Fenty.

Photo with kind permission

The question is whether they can get really big — and stay big.

“Today, branching multi-category brands will gain global popularity,” said branding expert Martin Lindstrom. “Just like the idea of ​​truly global models, bands or artists are considered. The extreme fragmentation of the media and music industry, where millennials barely know the artists behind the auto-generated playlists streamed from Spotify, where loyalty is more to the platform or playlist aggregator than to the actual artists, has permeated all corners of commerce.”

Lindstrom pointed to FashionUnited’s ranking of the world’s most valuable fashion brands, which was topped by Nike, Louis Vuitton and Hermès, but with only one brand under 20 in the top 30, German e-commerce player Zalando.

“Staying young is hard — being younger is even harder,” he said. “The concept of global brands is experiencing an existential crisis. It’s too difficult for a brand to create a truly global appeal while navigating the difficult waters of aspiration, race, sexuality, gender, age, media use, nationality—while remaining relevant.”

Lindstrom said Kim or Rihanna could make it big, but few actors, reality TV stars and performers actually do.

“Most of them are not able to translate their global appeal “on stage” into a new category [commercial product] — much harder than going from the microphone to the camera,” he said.

Kim Kardashian Skims

Kim Kardashian in the movie “Skims”.

Photo with kind permission

And while Kim, Rihanna and others have giant megaphones on social media, they’re shouting into an increasingly crowded and competitive space where consumer attention is particularly sparse.

By all accounts, Skims underwear and Fenty lingerie are growing at an incredible pace. But at the same time, they’re competing with a host of other up-and-coming brands, from ThirdLove to Sofia Vergara’s Parade and EBY and a slew of big-name lines, including US market leader Victoria’s Secret, which is back on track after its previous stumbles .

For beauty, ready-to-wear, swimwear and more, the story is the same.

“It’s easy to start a brand today, you can build it, I could build it, the barriers to entry are relatively low,” said Patrice Louvet, president and chief executive officer of Ralph Lauren Corp. You can sell your product online, you can have relatively easy access to manufacturing, you can advertise online relatively easily.”

In this case, Louvet said the market was “extremely fragmented.”

“A lot of brands come and go,” he said. “There are a lot of brands that can probably get to a few $100 million, but then when you need to get back to $1 billion, you need to invest in physical presence, you need to invest in digital capabilities. We’re talking about big dollars here.”

Lots of brands means lots of competition—for consumer dollars and consumer opinion.

And then, to build a brand like Ralph, Donna or Calvin, you need not just to break through, but to stay at the top. Consider the designers who were to become the next generation after the Big Three: Michael Kors admitted that his business was not “shining” at the time was purchased by Lawrence Stroll and Silas Chow in 2003 and rebuilt. Isaac Mizrahi’s business was just sold to brand management firm WHP Global for $68 million, while Marc Jacobs has had years of ups and downs, although he’s now back on the growth path under LVMH parent Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton. Even Donna Karan struggled after her IPO and acquisition by LVMH, eventually being sold to G-III Apparel Group, which discontinued the high-end Collection line but revived the business. There are many other names that have come and gone through the 80s, 90s and Aughts.

Louvet said Ralph, Calvin and Donna have “a very unique timeless point of view.”

Designer Ralph Lauren and models walk down 42nd Street in Times Square, 1977.

Designer Ralph Lauren and models walk down 42nd Street in Times Square, 1977.

Lynn Carlin/Fairchild Archives

It’s a rare quality that takes time to really emerge.

“Is Supreme’s positioning timeless, or are the values ​​that underpin the brand generally appealing and timeless?” Louve was surprised. “Is there clarity of purpose for this brand?”

He left that question open, but made it clear that he really wants to have another mega-brand.

“We hope it’s possible,” Louvet said. “We believe in entrepreneurship. We believe in innovation. We believe in constantly bringing interesting things to the customer, but it’s more difficult.”

Offering interesting things to customers means more than just an interesting product.

“I think Ralph is sometimes closer to a film director than a traditional fashion designer,” Louvet said. “It all starts with a story, and then the product is incorporated into that story, almost a prop in that story, to bring the story to life.”

Once upon a time, this story was easier to hear.

Designer Donna Karan (C) poses with models at her Resort 1986 debut collection in New York on July 15, 1986.

Designer Donna Karan (center) poses with models at her Resort 1986 debut collection in New York on July 15, 1986.

Fairchild Archives

“When Ralph, Calvin and Donna were building their businesses, and even when Michael [Kors] and Tori [Burch] were building their business, there was no social media, they dominated the press,” said Gary Wassner, CEO of factor Hilldun Corp.

“Think of Brooke Shields and Calvin Klein, we don’t even have supermodels anymore,” he said (although the Hadid sisters are definitely up there). “Social media puts so many things in front of us that we move from one to the other and it’s very difficult to maintain this position on social networks forever. It was easy when you could dominate the press. It was centralized. We had gatekeepers who made sure these brands were front and center, those gatekeepers are gone.

“I don’t think we’re going to build mega-brands anytime soon, I think we’re going to build brands up to $250 million, $300 million, maybe $500 million,” said Wassner, who recently started working with a private equity firm. Brand Velocity Group will create its BVG Fashion & Apparel vertical.

Next-generation brands play a very different game in many ways.

“In American fashion, we may not see another Ralph, Calvin or Donna and Tommy anytime soon,” said Robert Burke, CEO of Robert Burke Associates. “The traditional retail/wholesale model has completely changed… the same path that these big guys used to take doesn’t work anymore.”

Burke pointed to the many New York designers who have been making the scene since 2000 and 2010, launching into rtw, adding a second line, adding accessories, then shoes and then fragrances.

“It was too fast for them and for the customer,” he said. “None of them have reached the level of the big boys. At the same time, big brands like it [those at ] LVMH [Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton]Kering and Prada have become much stronger in their d-to-c relationships and have made concessions with department stores and their own retail.”

None of the New York designers of the Aughts ever managed to translate Ralph into the mode of a film director. Fashion, like media, evolved and everything changed. The big screen in the theater is now crowded with the small screen in your pocket.

This is where Kim and Rihanna rule, but is that enough?

Michelle Clouse, a partner in Kearney’s consumer practice that launched luxury sportswear brand Urban Savage, said the next potential Ralph or Donna would almost certainly have to become an influential celebrity before even considering a multi-category approach.

It’s a change from the ’80s, she says, when Ralph, Donna and Calvin grew their business and gained cultural influence as a result.

“To build such a business [now], you have to have a cultural influence first,” she said. “Audience is king. Content is king. Product is no longer the only king.

“Kim doesn’t design the product, she is the product,” Clouse said.

It’s the end product that’s been a success — Skims was valued at $3.2 billion in a funding round earlier this year.

But that success might just lead to another place in another industry.

“It may be a shorter legacy, but it’s actually bigger in some ways and has the ability to spread more authentically to a wider [range] categories because people are much more spontaneous,” Clouse said. “How well did you really know Calvin Klein as a person? You didn’t.”

Despite this, Calvin built a large business that parent company PVH Corp. developed further, securing revenues of $3.7 billion last year.

When Stefan Larsson, CEO of PVH, which also owns Tommy Hilfiger, laid out his larger vision for the company to analysts this spring, he did so from the same Manhattan space where designer Calvin Klein held his shows, stressing that the brands built on PVH.

Will there be another Ralph, Donna

Calvin Klein poses with Mark Wahlberg during a promotional event for Klein, signing underwear for fans at Macy’s in Union Square on December 16, 1992 in San Francisco.

Timothy Shawnard

“Creating the next Calvin Klein and the next Tommy Hilfiger has probably never been more difficult,” Larsson said. “If you’re competing with something generic, generic products, generic consumer experiences, generic brands, you’re going to get crushed. The new generation of consumers is already here. Generation Z is already leading the market.”

He also made it clear that in fashion, starting at the top is a good way to stay ahead.

“We have a global consumer base, we don’t need to acquire it,” Larsson said. “We have consumers all over the world in all markets who love our brands. We have an omnichannel presence in the market, digital [and] relations with shops”.

Kim and Rihanna have clicks and connections with their followers, but they still don’t have it all.

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