On a Thursday night in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood, a line formed within the confines of a velvet rope outside of the Soho Grand Hotel. The guests, coddled in fur coats and standing upon spiky heeled boots, were early, waiting for 7 p.m. to head into a hidden room tucked away on the hotel’s second floor behind a thick curtain. When parted, the curtain revealed an intimate setting anchored by a DJ booth, illuminated with a neon sign reading “Kitsuné.”
The December 8 party was the last in the Kistuné Afterwork event series held in New York, hosted by Maison Kitsuné, the Parisian fashion and music label.
Vinod Kasturi, Maison Kitsuné’s general manager for the U.S. and Canada, said Kitsuné doesn’t do much marketing for its events beyond posting a Facebook event to its page and letting it spread on its own. By the time the Soho Grand Hotel event had passed, about 500 people had selected “attending” or “interested,” and around 200 more were invited.
Kitsuné has been hosting international events, mostly DJ club nights, since its launch in 2002, as a way to get face time with existing fans and newcomers. The Afterwork series was started last year in New York and Paris to attract an older crowd who can no longer feasibly swing Kitsuné’s more raucous club events.
“Our events give us a great opportunity to explore new markets, allow us to be in many countries and build brand awareness very easily,” said Remi Le Hong, Kitsuné’s head of marketing, who works out of the company’s Paris headquarters. “Afterwork is for the older people who have to wake up early the next day. It’s been super successful so far — it’s a great way to connect with fans.”
Maison Kitsuné, which was launched by co-founders and creative directors Gildas Loaëc and Masaya Kuroki, has used its global event series to bolster its dual brand. Before Kitsuné, Loaëc was Daft Punk’s manager — he joined forces with Kuroki, formerly an architect. Their common goal was to launch a single business that fostered a fashion line and emerging musical talent side by side.
Now, Maison Kitsuné will use the momentum from its first capital investment in October — an undisclosed amount from Japanese fashion group Stripe International, which acquired a minority stake in the brand — to strengthen its presence as a digital company and invest in ways to build clearer connections with customers and fans, as well as continue to grow in the U.S. market.
Understanding the Kitsuné umbrella
“They’ve built both businesses simultaneously and were one of the first to understand how such a thing could work,” said Max Pollack, co-founder of the agency Matte Projects, who has worked with Kitsuné on bringing its concerts and events to North America. “They created something that’s two sides of one coin, but there are definitely disconnects that can happen. People might say, I had no idea they were a fashion brand, or a music label.”
Over the years, Kitsuné’s business has only become more complex. The company currently houses a lineup of signed electronic artists to its music label; lines of menswear and womenswear, shoes and accessories; and a roster of global events — as well as banner partnerships with major festivals like SXSW. Additional ventures include a string of cafes currently operating in Paris and Tokyo, and an in-house brand consultancy agency. According to Le Hong, the fashion brand — which is sold in 12 international boutiques, online and through third-party retailers like Net-a-Porter, Ssense and Saks — accounts for a majority of company revenue, at an estimated 80 percent.
In Tokyo, one of the brand’s two most dominant markets, it’s easy for customers to understand all that operates under the Maison Kitsuné umbrella, according to Le Hong. In the U.S. and Europe, however, less so.
A recent Kitsuné club night in Hong Kong.
“People in Japan better accept the fact that you can be a music label, fashion brand and cafe. They understand the connection between the fields, and they get what we try to do,” said Le Hong. “In the Western world, it might be a bit harder to pass the boundaries — if you do music, you can’t be fashion. It can be a bit tricky to talk about everything we do, but I think more and more, people are getting it.”
The boom of the lifestyle brand
That may have something to do with the emergence of the so-called lifestyle brand. Kitsuné, which turns 15 this year, was born one, but it’s a concept that many luxury contemporaries are only now catching on to as they look for new revenue drivers. All brands want to be part of a consumer’s lifestyle: Kate Spade has expanded its collection from handbags to bedspreads, kids’ clothes and tea kettles; Karl Lagerfeld is opening a line of hotels for his swank shoppers to sleep in; even lingerie brand La Perla is looking to reach its hands outside of the underwear drawer and into full ready-to-wear and accessories lines.
Each company that follows the path toward lifestyle utopia is met with various degrees of success, dictated by how clear of a connective creative vision customers can decipher from the outside, said Ashley Paintsil, director of outreach at FashInvest.
“It’s a challenge for brands to draw new identifications to one core business,” she said. “They want to be loved by everyone at all times, which is how we got the term ‘lifestyle brand’. But it’s really important for brands to develop one point of view, and then have a unified front.”
Kitsuné, led by its two founders, has long fostered an ongoing relationship with its followers. According to Le Hong, Kitsuné’s demographic spans 15 to 50 year olds, ranging from young EDM fans who encounter the brand in concert to older customers who can afford the brand’s luxury fashion prices. In Pollack’s words, the demographic is made up of “cultural tastemakers.”
“They’ve always been about the longer play of building and fostering fans,” said Pollack. “It’s not, ‘Come to our event and buy a T-shirt.’ Music is inherently open, and fashion is exclusive, but one can feed into the other.”
Closing the loop
While Kitsuné has earlier footing in the age of the lifestyle brand, it’s now looking to close the loop that unites the company’s ecosystem of businesses. Kasturi, the gm, expressed before the December 8 event that the company was working to do a better job capturing the information of those who attend the parties in order to reach out to them later. At the same time, Le Hong said creating a stronger social media community was a top priority for the year.
“Our events build brand awareness. We don’t do paid advertising,” said Le Hong. “But the idea now is to always be getting closer to our customer, and it’s not easy — but with social platforms, we have the tools to do it. We have a lot of content to share with our fans — cafe pictures, events, records, new stores — all of this is giving us a lot to do on social media.”
The challenge, Le Hong said, is finding the right balance between businesses that best project the lifestyle brand. Striking that balance is, at the same time, what’s enabled Maison Kitsuné to establish itself as a multifaceted brand so far.
“When something is manufactured, it feels manufactured,” said Pollack. “Kitsuné does what they do because of passion, not because of a master business plan. It’s a product of what they love.”