Creative Coalitions Finding Multifaceted Success

Forget private equity. A new wave of independent fashion brands in Europe is carving out success in a tough industry by being jacks of all trades.

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PARIS — Forget private equity. A new wave of independent fashion brands in Europe is carving out success in a tough industry by being jacks of all trades.

These creative coalitions — such as Acne Jeans, Surface to Air, Kitsuné and April77 — are not only churning out cool clothes and music, but excelling in such diverse areas as advertising and industrial and graphic design, and not necessarily in that order.

"[Creative coalitions] are a new form of company made up of advertising gurus. They have a lot of power because they know how to reach a new audience," said Robert Burke, founder of consulting firm Robert Burke Associates.

In fact, by assembling a variety of creative talents, these coalitions are able to not only diversify their revenue streams — just as luxury conglomerates do — but fast-track their products and services thanks to expertise in new media and reach into multiple retail outlets.

Consider, for example, Acne Jeans, the Stockholm-based company that's charting increasing sales growth annually, last year up 42.2 percent, thanks to its ability to multitask in manifold creative arenas.

Initially increasing its income from external clients, quickly the label's internal projects gained momentum and developed into profitable separate entities. Today the company counts Acne Jeans, Acne Film, Acne Digital animations, Acne Creative (an advertising arm) and Acne Paper.

To be sure, these companies operate on a small scale, but they're attracting the industry's interest. Take Surface to Air, a purveyor of its own fashion and accessories label, which also runs a graphic design business that produces CD covers for the music industry, films and advertising. The Paris-based firm was recently tapped by Louis Vuitton to make a film on the luxury brand's new line of fine jewelry by Pharrell Williams, himself a multitasking music-and-fashion impresario. Surface to Air also designs campaigns for luxury brands such as Burberry and Tsumori Chisato.

"We are heading toward a new breed of little design houses that are self-financed, an assembly of creative talent around one idea," designer Christian Lacroix told WWD, citing the likes of Surface to Air and Acne Jeans as prime examples.

"The idea was to expand into all forms of media, without any hesitation," said Jérémie Rozan, one of the four founding fathers of the Surface to Air collective. "We were going against common belief that businesses should focus on one specific category; instead we found it was very important to not count on just one source of income."
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