In the crowded DTC fashion market, there is a notable absence of names.
Brands like Warby Parker and Bonobos have become incredibly popular, swiftly moving from online-only to having physical stores and growing customer bases. But these brands lack a single designer, a recognizable name or a personality that customers can identify as the creative force behind the brand. Who is Warby Parker, anyway?
This lack of designer-led DTC fashion brands is something Lauren Bucquet, the former design director of footwear and accessories at Rag & Bone, is aiming to highlight with her new footwear brand, Labucq. Launched last week, Labucq combines high-quality Italian manufacturing, at a more affordable price than many luxury brands, and the design knowledge Bucquet developed as the designer of some of Rag & Bone’s most popular boots, like the Newbury.
“There are a lot of brands out there now who are trying to push themselves and product, but they don’t have an identity beyond that,” she said. “In the traditional sense, what establishes a brand is the designer. There are a lot of companies making shoes, or whatever, but you are not buying into a specific person or a specific mind guiding the brand. The designer-led proposition is important to me, because I have a lot of respect for traditional fashion. I went to Parsons [School of Design], and I feel that some of that designer perspective has been lost.”
The focus on Bucquet’s presence behind the brand as a designer puts it more in line, from a consumer’s perspective, with traditional fashion brands like Chanel with Karl Lagerfeld or Tom Ford, whose designers’ personalities are a key part of the brand identity. Tom Ford, for example, appeared personally in a series of Instagram videos with comedian Celeste Barber to promote his New York fashion show. Bucquet herself has appeared in Instagram posts from the brand and has been featured on the brand’s site explaining Labucq’s mission statement.
The idea behind putting a designer front and center in brand identity is that it creates a personal connection between the consumer and the designer, and ultimately, the product. But the tactic does have downsides. Bucquet pointed out an awareness that if the product is not up to snuff, that will be tied to her personally.
“Because I am the designer, and I’m standing behind the product and putting my name on it, I need to be able to deliver on what I’m saying,” she said.
Brands relying on these sorts of big-name designers are well aware of the drawbacks associated with them. For example, Celine is currently weathering the storm of criticism from new creative director Hedi Slimane’s new direction for the brand.
The DTC space has become an incredibly fertile ground for new fashion brands. Brands like Dagne Dover, Everlane and Allbirds have started in the online-only DTC space before making their move toward more permanent physical retail operations. Bucquet is hoping to take Labucq down the same route, with one showroom currently in place in Los Angeles and more planned for the future, once the brand takes off. While the path is well-worn, Bucquet is confident that the designer-led focus of the brand, along with the DTC model freeing up resources to focus on product, will buoy the brand to success.
“I had seen other brands in this DTC space that had kind of the same marketing position as I do about the quality of their products, and a lot of those products were not living up to the messaging.”
For now, Labucq’s biggest hurdle will be brand awareness. Without the traditional support from wholesale retail partners, it will no doubt be a struggle for Labucq to build up the kind of awareness other brands might take for granted. For now, Labucq is focusing on digital marketing, building up a stable of influencers and leaning heavily on the permanent showroom in Los Angeles. She has no plans to bring in wholesale retail partners at any point in Labucq’s life.
“In terms of brand awareness, and without traditional retail partners, it’s a big mountain to climb,” she said.