Kris Van Assche & the Plight of Independent Designers

‘Times are tough for independent labels’ confessed Kris Van Assche, when announcing the imminent closure of his eponymous line. The Belgium-born designer is taking a break from producing collections for the decade old brand in order to focus on his role at Dior Homme.

The news came days after, Band of Outsiders, cancelled their Autumn/Winter 15 wholesale orders, stimulating speculation of its potential closure. Neither Band of Outsiders or KRISVANASCCHE will produce or distribute their Autumn collections. Sold in 30 countries worldwide, Van Assche’s namesake line is independent of a conglomerate, owing much of its survival to ‘financial support from friends’. The Creative Director of Dior Homme works under the LVMH umbrella, which has a reputation for enlisting Creative Directors who operate under a signature label. Jonathan Anderson, currently at Loewe, sold a minority stake in his brand to the luxury conglomerate like Marc Jacobs (previously at Louis Vuitton) and John Galliano (previously at Dior). So, is the industry doing enough to support independent lines?

A similar debate was had in 2014, when British designers Meadham Kirchhoff withdrew from the London Fashion Week schedule, much to industry despair. Financial strains meant that their overly girly and outlandish designers were missed during the February shows. Much like Louise Gray, whose abrupt hiatus from her self-titled line has also left a hole of emptiness in the schedule, as she works in collaboration with Fashion East’s Lulu Kennedy for the line Lulu & Co. But here, the argument was about creativity vs design that ticks all the commercial boxes, whereas the lengthy international stockist of KRISVANASSCHE suggests that the press is to blame.

Each passing season, we demand extravagant shows and presentations, to Instagram to our followers. At the same time, such demands are expensive to maintain particularly for young and independent designers. Too often the shows take a large amount of resources from the designers, creating a knock on effect for production. In the UK, we are lucky to have financial networks such as the CFE, Fashion East and the BFC Fashion Trust, supporting independent designers. Womenswear designer, Erdem proudly waves the flag of independence in the UK. Sold in 170 stores worldwide, his only financial backing came from winning £200,000 the BFC/Vogue Fashion Fund Award – later won by indie Mary Katrantzou this year – and a bursary from the BFC Fashion Trust. The latter goes towards a year long placement for a graduate.

In Paris, independent designers are a rarity. Rick Owens, Dries Van Noten and Hussein Chalayan MBE, who is quite vocal about financial challenges, are the few who operate autonomously. Such designers, as well as Kris Van Assche, signified that some designers can still go at it alone, despite living in an era of conglomerate investment. Dries Van Noten, for example, boasts an annual turnover of approximately £50 million pounds for the line he still owns. The clothes on the catwalk are the clothes sold in stores. It’s a principle he’s maintained since launching his line in 1986, so unlike the vast majority, he doesn’t design for marketing reasons, nor place too much emphasis on high sells of the pre-collection. His success offers some optimism for the future of independent labels.

During the course of the last decade, Kris Van Assche has developed a distinct aesthetic, building a loyal following, so the news comes as a surprise. However, it is not the end. ‘This wonderful adventure has reached a point where I feel the need to take a break and some distance, to better think about how to develop my brand in the future’, he told WWD. And perhaps this break will see him make a killer comeback, much like Dao-Yi Chow and Maxwell Osbourne of Public School. After their two year break, the dynamic duo have gone on to receive numerous awards, an ever-increasing international stockist, and the position of Creative Director for DKNY. Plus, it’s not as if he has completely stopped designing. Towards the end of this month, he will present the Spring/Summer 16 Dior Homme collection in Paris. ‘Awaiting the right project for my label, I will now focus on Dior Homme in order to enhance what I have been working on during my first eight years as men’s artistic director for Dior,’ he added.

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WORDS: Rhianne Sinclair-Phillips