This week, a look at the strategies of two luxury fashion brands mid-makeover. Scroll down to use Glossy+ Comments, giving the Glossy+ community the opportunity to join discussions around industry topics.
September and October’s Fashion Month Spring 2024 is set to be one for the books. Along with designers taking their final bows for brands, a number of newly appointed creative directors are set to reveal the first fashion collections showcasing their brand visions in all their glory. Among them: Halston and Hervé Léger.
As they discussed this week during an onstage session at The Lead Innovation Summit in NYC, Halston creative director Ken Downing, appointed to his role in August 2022, and Melissa Lefere-Cobb, the Centric Brands svp overseeing Hervé Léger since 2018, have been making big moves to modernize the luxury brands, which are around 60 and 40 years old, respectively.
For Lefere-Cobb, that included hiring designer Michelle Ochs, one-half of the founding duo behind Cushnie et Ochs, in June. Like Hervé Léger, best known for its bandage dresses, Cushnie et Ochs was synonymous with body-con silhouettes. That was before shuttering under the name Cushnie in 2020 — Ochs had stepped away from the company two years prior.
Come September, both Downing and Ochs will debut the first collection under their full creative control, in their current post. For Downing’s part, a transitional, “cleanup” period was needed after he joined Halston. That was to both work through “fabric that had already been purchased and [sort through] all-over-the-place licenses for products [he] didn’t know existed,” he said. The brand’s former creative director, Robert Rodriguez, left the company in February 2022.
But considering the pandemic’s impact on fashion, and everything else, the task at hand is about more than just reviving a stagnant, storied brand — which, in itself, is nothing to sneeze at. To be successful, each refresh must factor new consumer behaviors — namely, shoppers’ prioritization of top-of-mind values, nostalgia, experiences and cultural relevance. Also key will be the brands’ ability to overcome shoppers’ newfound fickleness, when it comes to loyalty. And that’s not just Gen Z.
Lefere-Cobb, a 10-year Oscar de la Renta veteran, said she joined Hervé Léger due to its brand equity and the exciting challenge of making it a fashion favorite again. Its first “peak” period was in the mid-‘80s, when it was popularized by supermodel fans of the brand. And Rachel Zoe’s celebrity clients put it back on the map two decades later.
In the years since then, the brand has experienced challenges including the rise of a softer, more feminine look, with brands including Zimmermann. There was also Kim Kardashian’s notorious style glow-up, inclusive of a Kanye West-directed closet cleanout. In the process, he ordered Kardashian to throw away all of her Hervé Léger styles.
Lefere-Cobb’s first three years with Hervé Léger centered on a turnaround plan that involved improving the brand’s products, press and production. Before leaving the company in 2022 to focus on his own brand, designer Christian Juul Nielsen was brought on to evolve Hervé Léger beyond a “one note” bandage dress brand. At the same time, Karla Otto PR was hired to create a “constant drumbeat” of Hervé Léger being “seen by people,” Lefere-Cobb said. J.Lo subsequently wore the brand. Redoing the brand’s website and Instagram account — when marketing budgets were low — was also key. And product collaborations helped expand the audience. For example, Hervé Léger collaborated with French designer Julia Restoin Roitfeld on a clothing collection made using recyclable yarns. That led to the brand permanently producing all of its bandage styles, or 65-70% of its full assortment, in the more sustainable material. In step, the brand updated its packaging to also be recyclable, based on consumer demand. Coincidentally, the Restoin Roitfeld collab dropped “as the world opened up” following the pandemic, Lefere-Cobb said. A collaboration with stylist Law Roach, which led to more celebs wearing the brand, soon followed.
The three-year plan was decidedly successful, with publications from Vogue to The Cut proclaiming some form of “The bandage dress is back,” within 2021-2022 stories about Hervé Léger’s revival.
Lefere-Cobb and Downing used similar examples when describing the importance of, to a suitable extent, adhering to brand tradition. For example, Lefere-Cobb quoted a shopper who reported meeting their husband while wearing an Hervé Léger dress. Meanwhile, Downy noted shopper comments like, “Halston designed my daughter’s bridesmaids dresses.” In short, both brands have loyal fans that loved the OG iterations.
“You don’t want to throw out the proverbial baby with the bathwater,” Downing said. But, at the same time, you don’t want to aim for a “Studio 54 moment,” for example, “when Studio 54’s been closed for decades.” The way he’s striking a balance is by catering to women and the way they want to live today, in keeping with brand founder Hervé L. Leroux’s reputation for “liberating” women via clothes, he said.
Halston experienced some luck — depending on who you ask — when Netflix debuted its “Halston” docuseries about the brand’s founder, in 2021. Prior, there were two generations of consumers unfamiliar with the Halston name, Downing said.
To further “blow the dust off” the brand when taking the reins, Downing introduced sportswear to the eveningwear-focused product assortment – though he kept to sportswear that can also be worn for evening, to avoid any jarring changes, he said. So far, that’s included cashmere capes and kimonos that drag for added drama.
Ken Pilot, retail advisor and investor, backed that approach. He stated that, to make a comeback, brands need to come out with products that both “take from the past and nod to the future.” And he reiterated the importance in today’s market of “great brands with great products.”
“Oftentimes, creative directors in these roles leave because they’re not successful; they stray too far from the brand’s [DNA],” said Robin Barrett Wilson, executive fashion advisor at SAP. “And they only get two or three seasons to prove themselves.”
Still, she noted that decades-old brands including Levi’s and Carhartt have successfully evolved.
In addition, Downing brought back Halston’s made-to-order service, which he renamed “made to desire.” For a couture-level experience, customers can pay for a customized outfit developed through a hands-on process. It involves a lunch meeting with Downing, sketch reviews, fabric selection, measuring and fitting sessions, and dressing services on the day the look is worn.
With 30 years of archival fashions he unearthed from the brand’s warehouses, Downing has also established a Halston “couture closet” which stylists can access for clients’ red-carpet events.
“Everything old is new again,” Barrett Wilson said, calling out the current notalgia fixation. Among examples, she noted Margot Robbie’s archival red carpet looks for “Barbie.”
Along with providing new access to archives, she predicted that, as a result, more brands will launch resale in-house. In doing so, they’ll increase customer lifetime value while also tapping into a growing trend.
As for his first Halston collection, Downing said to expect “youthful exuberance” and “glamour.” The brand will host an intimate showing of the looks during New York Fashion Week. In step, it will update its website and social media with the brand’s new look and feel, which will also be announced on a billboard in Times Square. Downing made hints about the corresponding marketing campaign, noting that “Halston is a genderless name,” and that “anyone can be Halston” when they’re wearing Halston clothes.” The brand plans to launch menswear within the next year.