In an age of hyper-communication, Dries Van Noten has been the quiet brand sitting in the corner — and, though recently acquired, it wants to keep it that way.
“We don’t advertise, and we don’t use influencers. We are very cautious with social media,” said Patrick Scallon, Dries Van Noten’s communications director. “Our form of promotion tends to be more word-of-mouth. We’re very press-orientated, and we focus on the trickle-down from the core of the industry outwards.”
He owed it to wanting to maintain an aura of mystery, and also a lack of budget.
But in June, fashion and fragrance business Puig acquired a majority stake in the previously independent Belgian brand, which showed its spring 2019 collection during Paris Fashion Week on Wednesday. (Dries Van Noten’s namesake designer remained the significant minority shareholder.) A precursor to Versace’s sale to Michael Kors, announced on Tuesday, the fashion industry was quick to proclaim the deal as the end of independent fashion businesses altogether. Dries Van Noten didn’t see it that way.
“For us, with Puig, we consider it a strategic alliance,” said Scallon. “Dries is remaining on as the designer, and his independence as a designer was very important to us and to him.”
What’s more, Puig’s stake in the company hasn’t meant changes to strategies, which is in keeping with expectations. Scallon said Van Noten was in talks with other buyers, but went with Puig for its discreet nature, and understanding of Van Noten’s distinct place in the market and point of view on all aspects of the business, marketing included.
“Your most valuable asset can be your intangibility or that you don’t become overfamiliar, or that you are discoverable by somebody who wants to have something that belongs to them rather than being prescribed constantly,” said Scallon. Without advertising, the clothes are seen as being for whoever discovers them — it’s natural and “uncalculated,” and there is no idealized woman or man, he said.
“What I bemoan to a degree is how transactional [influencer marketing] has become. Our industry has lent itself to being dumbed down,” he said. “But I think that’s come to an end. Companies are starting to realize it’s just like an editorial in magazines — the readers are ahead of the game, and they’re aware there is a link between advertising spend and editorial content. When it’s organic and natural, it’s fine, but once it becomes transactional, it becomes cynical.”
A recent survey by global digital marketing consultancy Bazaarvoice showed 47 percent of European consumers are beginning to tire of influencer marketing, particularly the repetitive nature of the content.
However, the influencer marketing industry was reportedly valued at $1 billion in 2017. And, with the most traditional fashion houses caving to even digital marketing, relying solely on organic buzz could read like a death wish.
Luckily, there is indeed some marketing at play: It’s worth noting that Dries Van Noten has Instagram account with 790,000 followers. What’s more, the brand signed on for “Dries,” a 2017 documentary on the brand that’s currently available to stream on Netflix.
The deal with Puig was designed to secure long-term growth for the brand, including expanding its retail presence (it currently has eight stores and is sold in 400 stores globally) and facilitating more efficient production.
“The responsibility of running the company was too great; it was too heavy. We needed somebody to work with on making clothes,” said Scallon, of the acquisition. “Getting clothes made and existing in retail is a much more difficult process nowadays.”
The value of the sale was not disclosed. Dries Van Noten’s annual revenues are reportedly estimated to be between $35 million and $70 million, and overall, Puig — which is primarily a fragrance group, but also owns fashion brands Carolina and Nina Ricci, among others — is aiming to generate $3.5 billion in annual revenue by 2025.
Dries Van Noten maintains it’s moving in the right direction.
“What we’re noticing at the Dries Van Noten store in Tokyo, Japan is sales going through the roof,” Scallon said, noting that it’s despite the transformation of the area into a luxury conglomerate playground, “with X holdings group occupying one side of the street and Y holdings group occupying the other.”
But regardless of whether the brand identifies as such, Dries Van Noten is now part of a luxury holdings group — and as such, maintaining its mysterious presence could easily prove a challenge with time.
“They allowed themselves to be acquired so they could gain leverage to innovate and grow the business,” said retail technology analyst Paula Rosenblum. “But I do worry a bit about all the M&A in the luxury sector. Michael Kors is on an acquisition spree, including having just bought Versace. At some point, temptation arises to look for some kind of cross-corporate synergies.”