Christopher Kane, at barely 30 years of age, is having quite a year. It started with whispers of a possible appointment to Balenciaga, in November. Then, he delivered a fashion shake-up shock when he left Versus a few weeks later. And last week, French multinational holding company PPR gave Christopher Kane a large influx of cash by investing in 51% of his namesake label. If it isn't abundantly clear by now, Christopher Kane isn't just one of London's most prominent designers — he's one of the world's most prominent designers.
As Kane's influence grows — and, boy, does it grow — it becomes apparent that his ascent isn't due solely to talent that rivals the likes of Alexander McQueen, but also is to a mix of ingenuity, luck, and the support of a close-knit family. The designer rapidly morphed from a firebrand fashion student to one of the most watched (and betted on) labels in Europe...all before he turned 30. Oftentimes in the industry, a fiercely independent POV does not a lucrative brand make, but Kane's refusal to play by anyone else's rules has paid off — and managed to make him the fashion underdog that could.
From the out-of-this-world patterns that launched a massive photo-print trend to why a Balenciaga appointment would have never worked for Kane, here are the five things he did (and didn't do) that have ensured a charmed career...despite not having even a trace of online presence. (Nope, not a single Tweet, Instagrammed sunrise, or even a website. Nothing.)
Photo: David Fisher/RexUSA
Step One: Keep It In The Family
When Christopher Kane was 12 years old, he saved up to buy his 17-year-old sister, Tammy, a wet-look Versace mini-dress to wear to a school dance. Since then, the two have been inseparable. In 2006, after he graduated with a B.A. and M.A. from Central St. Martins (and cut his teeth with Giles Deacon), Tammy supported Kane, financially. And today, she monitors his label's finances and is almost as crucial to the brand as the designer himself.
About his early collections, his former CSM professor Louise Wilson says, "When you talk about people like Lee McQueen or Christopher Kane, they did everything themselves — with no money, they could generate whatever they needed to." The pop-art-meets-bondage collection, all made in-house by the Kanes, quickly netted him a capsule collection with Topshop — a collaboration which was repeated twice.
Of his first collection, Suzy Menkes wrote: "Imagine Marie Antoinette off to the disco in a concoction of lace, frothing like champagne. And that the silhouette of her stretch dress is as curvy as a corset and in neon bright colour. Absolutely fabulous!" Yet, Kane's process is hardly glamorous, and the ingenue kept his sister as his support, muse, and...fit model? He says of an early season dress: "I hated it at the beginning. Tammy's also my fit model and she's trying it on, taking it off, and we hate it. And then, three days later, we love it."
Photo: Steve Maisey/RexUSA
Step Two: Get The Gals To Wear Your Goods
For his fifth collection, which arrived in September '08, Kane took his penchant for neon and radical silhouettes and blew it out, making the runway offerings even bigger and bolder. Short hemlines and skirts textured with scalloped leather were rendered in acidic hues and bright prints and patterns. Inspired by The Flintstones and Planet Of The Apes (seriously), his collection was a critical success.
Yet, while great reviews don't necessarily translate to commercial coups, Christopher Kane's fifth collection sold out on Net-A-Porter…in 24 hours. As Vogue writes about this era, "Turn around at a party in London, New York, or Paris, or flick through bloggers’ street snaps, and Christopher’s pieces jump out from all directions." The manic cut-out doll of spring '09 was one of the most electrifying silhouettes of the season — endlessly bloggable and total street-style fodder.
Photo: Maria Valentino/MCV Photo
Step Three: Get A Famous Mentor Who Understands The Brother/Sister Thing
Donatella Versace took an early interest in the young Scot, and even offered him a staff position post-graduation, which the determinedly independent Kane turned down. But in 2010, she finally made an offer he couldn't refuse. Together, they relaunched Versus, which had been put in hiatus in 2005 due to a lack of sales. The partnership was an immediate, albeit strange, success, at the intersection of Kane's Scottish cool and Versace's sex-kitten vivaciousness. As Cathy Horyn put it, "For those who remember Versus of the early ’90s, when Ms. Versace designed the line and Joe McKenna did the styling and Bruce Weber shot the advertisements, Mr. Kane’s free approach seems just right."
Kane's flair for rock'n'roll was apparent in his work with Versus — leather bustiers, studded and folded booties, and the ultimate colors of punk rock (red and black, of course) flooded the runway. The collection was dear to Donatella; Gianni gave it to her to run on her own, and the similarities between the Tammy-Christopher relationship and her own with her brother wasn't lost on her. She tellingly revealed to British Vogue that Kane "reminds me of my brother Gianni when he was young." Coming from Donatella (and directed to a boy who once saved up to buy his sister a Versace minidress), there could be no higher compliment.
Photo: Maria Valentino/MCV Photo
Step Four: Secure A High-Street Collab, Have It Be Wildly Popular
Next up: very literally, an alligator and a bomb. Christopher Kane (along with Mary Katrantzou) might have singlehandedly started the photo-print craze of the late '00s. While Katrantzou's graphics were much more abstract, Kane loved big, bold, and obvious imagery...and so did everyone else.
Based on a spring '09 print of an aggressively angry monkey, his Topshop collection included 39 pieces — Topshop's largest to date. The pieces, including a much-loved alligator peering menacingly from a mesh shirt, sold out lightning fast. (In fact, today, the collection is still hot on eBay.) His print-mania only increased with his next project, which featured simple shift dresses with massive atomic explosions — for Opening Ceremony. Remember the galaxy print of summer '11? After he emblazoned his tanks and tees with ethereal bodies, it felt like every single blogger under the sun was searching for a cosmic print of some sort.
Photo: Courtesy of Topshop
Step Five: Do It Your Way, Until Someone Else Wants In
When fellow young gun Nicolas Ghesquière announced his departure from Balenciaga in 2012, Kane was one of the first names bandied about — in fact, even this publication thought he was a shoo-in. Of course, those rumors didn't turn out to be true, but Christopher Kane continued to provide fodder for gossip when he announced that, after several successful seasons and a complete relaunch, he was parting ways with his mentor and leaving Versus. Kane told WWD, "I am excited about the new Versus strategy, but the time has come to dedicate all my focus to the future of the Christopher Kane label.”
While the industry took his exodus to mean he was Balenciaga-bound, it's important to remember that this is a designer who didn't want to helm Versace fresh out of college. His label was built from the ground up, with the help of his family, and is made in-studio. Kane has, impressively, never wanted to design under anyone's name but his own.
This is precisely why last week's PPR acquisition, with the ink barely dried, is so important. Investing in accessible designers like Tory Burch is one thing, but volunteering to be a majority shareholding in the work of a young designer with a flair for the weird is an entirely different risk. As Business Of Fashion writes, "While PPR must be pleased with its new brand asset, the biggest winner is Christopher Kane, who has found a partner who believes in him and his talent, and has the patience to allow his brand to develop and discover the path that works for him."
Yet, with Kane's impressive spring '12 collection still fresh on our minds (Those crisp whites! The cheeky leather embellishments!), plus his British Fashion Awards Emerging Designer win in November, PPR's investment seems to be a smart one. As for Christopher and Tammy, the duo still have full control over the creative direction of Christopher Kane, but these days, they can hopefully afford real fit models.
Step Six: Build A Website
Just kidding...kind of. C'mon, Christopher, not even a Tumblr? The Internet feels a void where your forward-thinking presence should be.