Breakout Italian shoe designer Samuele Failli has just signed a licensing agreement with Onward Luxury Group.
The deal gives production and distribution rights to OLG, with Failli retaining full creative control. The initial term of the contract has been set at five years. However, according to Fabio Ducci, CEO of the group’s shoe division, the agreement is the first step of a long lasting relationship.
“We look for opportunities in the market if we see potential to grow we are open to invest,” Ducci said. “Samuele is a fantastic story.”
Ducci got to know Failli when the latter worked at Prada. Failli also previously partnered with the same factory that produces Charlotte Olympia (another recent OLG acquisition).
In Failli, Ducci said he saw the opportunity to have a different proposition that wasn’t in the OLG portfolio, adding that they share a similar attitude and philosophy.
“I knew immediately we could work together in developing the brand; we feel the business in the same way, but there is also the human aspect,” he said. “Sometimes you work with a designer where you know it will be impossible to have a long journey together.”
Failli, who launched his brand in 2017 on the advice of the late Azzedine Alaïa, said he could not be happier — he can now concentrate exclusively on the creative side. “Before I was doing everything myself, so it’s going to be much easier,” he said.
His collection will continue to be produced at the same factory and the brand’s ownership structure — Failli is the majority stakeholder with three partners taking equal shares— will remain.
The new deal will also facilitate the growth of his emerging label. “Before, we only had the one showroom in Milan but now the distribution will be much larger taking in Paris, Tokyo and New York so we will reach more customers,” he continued.
He will also have dedicated merchandisers to help with textile research and to explore the needs of the market, like the demand for heels to flats. “I won’t have to stress about what to do and not to do in that respect any more,” he said.
While the deal might be considered unusual, especially for a brand that launched barely two years ago, Failli says it’s not a rare occurrence. “It was more common in the 80s,” he noted, predicting that more labels will want to follow suit. “So many designers wish that they could have my deal.”
It is also facilitating the development and launch of Failli’s new bag line, which will debut for either pre-fall or fall ’19. “It’s something I’ve wanted to do since my second season,” he said, “but it’s now possible with OLG’s support.”
He is working on his pre-fall collection. The bows and velvets give it a ’70s feel, he says, but it’s “done in a modern, very technical way with laser cutting and no stitching.” Resort ’19 featured sculptural ruffled pumps, while spring, with its knots and PVC details, was all about lightness.
Failli always challenges himself to think outside the box. The resort silhouettes were inspired by the flowers he saw during a hiking trip to the Andes. “I wanted to do florals differently,” he said, “not as embellishment, but as if you’re actually putting your foot in the flower and wearing it.”
OLG itself is owned by Japanese parent, Onward Kashiyama, which also owns factories in Tuscany and the northern Italian shoe district of Brenta.
The company has always had a keen eye for spotting new talent. “It is within the DNA of OLG to look for emerging designers,” said Ducci, who noted that they backed a little-known Marc Jacobs over 30 years ago when he launched his namesake brand.
Similarly, the group started to work on a nascent Chloe footwear category some 15 years ago. “I remember the first season we only sold 400 pairs of shoes,” he said.
These days, OLG works with both big names and emerging designers. It owns Jil Sander, Joseph and, most recently, Charlotte Olympia, while it produces footwear for Alaia and Chloe, and licenses both production and distribution of the footwear offering for Rochas, Mulberry, Proenza Schouler, See by Chloe and Nina Ricci.
Come November, the group is also launching its own brand. It will be “a new contemporary streetwear label called F_WD,” Ducci revealed.
FW_D will be designed by a very young team of eight people, he said, headed up by Off-White alumnus — the South Korean-born Raphael Young — who grew up in Romans, France and up-and-coming French designer Deborah Hanau. The label will begin with footwear, but there will also be ready-to-wear, Ducci said.
OLG, which recently shuttered Jil Sander Navy in favor of the new, more sophisticated Jil Sander Plus, is also looking to expand its footwear portfolio. It is currently in discussions with two shoe labels regarding further licensing. Under wraps for now, all Ducci can reveal is that they are not Italian. It’s all about getting the right mix.