His race horse might not be a winner, but the founder of Theory is betting on the premium brand’s change of direction to gee up its international growth plans.
How does a man who is equally passionate about horse racing and fashion combine his two loves? By buying a race horse and naming it Theyskens’ Theory. But if Theyskens’ Theory’s performance at Royal Ascot this summer is anything to go by, then Andrew Rosen’s fortunes certainly lie in fashion. “It had rained all day and she doesn’t like the rain. She’s a US horse,” he laughs, referring to Theyskens Theory’s eighth place out of 13, after starting as third favourite.
If you haven’t worked it out yet, then Rosen’s horse is named after designer Olivier Theyskens’ collection for premium US brand Theory, which Rosen founded in 1997. The collection made its debut for spring 11 and this month sees the autumn 11 launch in stores of Theyskens’ new direction for the Theory mainline, after his appointment as the brand’s artistic director late last year.
On top of that, Rosen has just taken a stake in New York Fashion Week label Proenza Schouler via an undisclosed personal investment, along with 20 other backers. But the American won’t be drawn into a detailed discussion over his plans for it. “I’m excited about the opportunity and the boys [designers Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez] have immense talent. The opportunity [with Proenza Schouler] is a global opportunity,” Rosen says.
And global opportunities will also be driving growth at Theory. The US is its biggest market with 50% of sales, followed by Japan at 35%. The UK is its biggest market within Europe. “One of the reasons for bringing in Olivier was to drive global growth,” Rosen explains. “We wanted someone who resonated globally. We’re expanding in France, and aggressively in China, while in the US we’re opening a flagship on Madison Avenue in New York this month.”
Rosen believes the next 10 years will see a shift in the sales ratio, with China leading the way. “But that doesn’t mean we’ll be doing any less business in the US, for example,” he adds, referring to China’s “uncontrollable growth”. He sees the expansion over there being led by standalone stores while in Europe and the UK growth will come from a combination of wholesale and retail expansion. Last year, the company recorded sales of $500m (£307m), which will increase “significantly” this year by “high double digits”.
Rosen has previously been on record as saying that Theory is “very strong in the UK”. He believes this is still the case. “The UK market is clearly an international market and it is still under-penetrated; there is a lot more opportunity for us to grow. But we’ll concentrate on London first,” he says, with London the only city in the UK where Theory has standalone stores (two). The brand has seven wholesale stockists in the UK, including department stores Selfridges and Liberty and womenswear indie Morgan Clare in Harrogate.
Theyskens’ new direction for the Theory mainline has certainly gone down well in the capital. “It’s got a softer, lighter, feminine touch now which is very him,” says Liberty managing director Ed Burstell. “I love it. Before Theory was mainly luxury staples but this has taken it to a different level. It’s a big buy for us and a big business, relatively speaking.”
But for some, and notably those outside London, the autumn 11 collection may be a little too directional. Morgan Clare buyer Emma Pitt says the brand is one of its biggest sellers, but she admits to spending slightly less on it for autumn. “It does really well, especially the knitwear, cashmere and trousers, but it’s gone a bit edgier now, which can alienate our customers slightly,” she says. “It also looks slightly younger, with flared cords, and the way they’ve styled it is younger, by teaming short skirts with chunky knits. Our customers will go with trends but only to a certain point. The prices have gone up too.”
Rosen, then, has to balance the more directional tastes of his London followers with the commercial needs of regional consumers. He admits the new direction “could be interpreted as younger. But I don’t think of an age; I see women of any age wearing our clothes. Olivier has brought a steer and energy that we didn’t have before”, he says. He adds that although prices have increased, they are “consistent with the rest of the industry”.
Burstell has every confidence in Rosen’s decisions and the ability of Theyskens’ new direction to please everybody. “I don’t think he’d abandon the brand’s main consumer base so I can’t see the collections moving too far away from it. Olivier has lifted it. The new direction will most likely add an additional customer so it’s a win-win,” he says. “It’s Andrew Rosen. He’s very clever.” l
2011 Invests in Proenza Schouler
2006 Heads Link Theory’s acquisition of Helmut Lang
2003 Link International and Fast Retailing buy Theory to form Link Theory Holdings
1997 Launches Theory
1985 Puritan acquired by Calvin Klein and Barry Schwartz
1983 Becomes president of Puritan
1977 Joins Puritan Fashions
Theory has been credited with the rejuvenation of Helmut Lang and you’ve invested in labels like Rag & Bone and Proenza Schouler. What do you look for in a brand?
My whole life has been spent in the fashion industry. My dad [Carl Rosen, owner of Puritan Fashions, which developed licences for Mary Quant, Diane von Furstenberg and Calvin Klein Jeans] was a very famous clothing manufacturer. There are not that many third-generation clothing families in the US, so I have a unique perspective. From merchandising to marketing and manufacturing, I look for opportunities or companies that have a point of view, integrity, and that will resonate first with the US consumer. Then I look for global opportunities.
What labels do you wear?
I hadn’t worn jeans for a long time, then all of a sudden I started to because of Acne – I’m into their jeans.
What’s your style?
It’s very straightforward, sophisticated and simple.
Who is your mentor?
My father, who passed away in 1983. I started working for him in 1977. He gave me lots of very valuable philosophies that are still with me today.
Do you enjoy going shopping?
Of course. But I’m a quick shopper and I can shop wherever I am.
Whose style do you most admire?
I’m into the whole late 1950s, early 1960s, the Rat Pack guys. That post-modern look – very Frank Sinatra.