“I am so proud of everything Roy and I achieved,” Malone told FN. “I have always believed that you know when the right time is for you to balance family life with your career, and as I progress to what’s to come next in my professional ambitions, I also immerse [myself] in my personal dreams.”
Luwolt said that he will miss working alongside his business partner and close friend. But he continues to be energized by the brand’s impressive momentum.
Marking a major milestone, the exec officially opened the label’s first boutique in late July. But instead of debuting in one of the expected fashion capitals, Luwolt picked the upscale Villaggio Mall in Doha, Qatar, as the inaugural location.
Now officially known as Malone Souliers by Roy Luwolt, the company plans to roll out nine stores across the Middle East in the next several years. Luwolt’s goal is to capitalize on the collection’s cult following in the market and fuel consumer demand for its well- crafted feminine styles.
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With an established aesthetic, Luwolt decided against hiring a big-name designer to fill Malone’s shoes — instead relying on the team that was already in place. “They’ve been there from the beginning, and they all learned under Mary Alice. While they’re individuals and diverse, we all have a cohesive vision,” said Luwolt, who also recently launched an upscale shirt brand called Absence of Paper that will operate alongside Malone Souliers.
The shoe label, which reports sales for spring ’19 are up 176 percent compared with fall ’18, counts 320 points of sale globally. “They offer something unique in the marketplace,” said Kristin Frossmo, EVP and GMM of Nordstrom’s shoe division. “We love the modern twist on their timeless silhouettes.”
Alberto Oliveros, GMM of Level Shoes in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, said one of the team’s talents is its ability to react swiftly to global demand, while maintaining high-quality production standards.
“Their business and resulting success has also developed as a result of their readiness to work collaboratively with retailers to develop exclusive capsules tailored to each region’s nuances,” Oliveros said.
Outside of the Middle East, the brand has been experiencing robust growth at home, with London retail giant Kurt Geiger singling it out as a top performer at Harrods and Selfridges. (Both Malone Souliers and Kurt Geiger hinted that they are working on a notable new project together but declined to give details.)
In addition to expanding its global retail reach, Luwolt is generating more visibility for Malone Souliers through its continuing collaboration with buzzy British ready-to-wear label Roksanda and a budding partnership with Emanuel Ungaro, a classic French couture house that has been relaunched with a more contemporary feel.
Luwolt, who maintains a frenetic schedule, also is serving as CEO of the Ungaro business. “It’s about getting the consumer to understand, trust and love the brand,” he said.
Luwolt is planning an event at Paris Fashion Week that will showcase all of the brands together. Here, he talks about the road ahead and why selling Malone Souliers isn’t an option.
Why are you focusing on the Middle East for your initial retail expansion?
Roy Luwolt: “You’ve seen a lot of store shutdowns in the West. However, the fortunate thing about the Gulf and Middle East is that food and fashion and luxury lifestyle [retail] is just beginning. The luxury consumer doesn’t travel as much to shop — and the country is creating its own paradise, so people aren’t looking elsewhere.”
What do you think has made Malone Souliers resonate with consumers more than many other brands?
RL: “We’ve been focused with our collection, and the R&D can’t be overemphasized. Consumers retain their trust in a product that has quality. We’re taking a slower approach to luxury — our collection isn’t meant to be buy now, wear now or made to have the highest possible margins.”
The label developed a signature style early on. How important has that been?
RL: “You must be able to recognize a luxury product by its proposition. You have to feel something about it before you see the name. We’ve created a carryover business with the core offering and freshen it up during runway and pre-collections. You want to keep inventing but not reinventing.”
The London market also has been a huge driver for the business. How have you approached growth with Kurt Geiger?
RL: “When Harrods first wanted to work with us, I said no. I thought the brand would get swallowed up, and I prefer to step on a stage when I’ve done my homework. My biggest issue was that Selfridges was one of our best accounts, and I worried that it would cannibalize our business since both stores were in London. But we debated it internally and did start selling [to Harrods]. We sold out, and then we sold out again. It was quite stunning. Kurt Geiger manages their business and identity for each store — the customers are different ages and have different personalities and mentalities.”
How much potential do you have in the U.S.?
RL: “It’s always been a big market. I don’t think we’ve explored half of it. But counter to most competitors, I didn’t want a multitude of stores. That’s not how you resonate or touch the consumer in the U.S. Our first wholesale rollout there was with Bergdorf Goodman and Saks, and now we’re working with Bergdorf and Nordstrom. We want to nurture the stores we have and grow our boutique business. Brand awareness is generated from microstores.”
What will you miss most about working with Mary Alice?
RL: “As best friends living together, our conversations went late into the night. We could be a sounding board for each other: ‘Is this stupid? Do you think it feels right?’ We made collective decisions, and that’s the part I’m going to miss most.”
Would you ever consider selling the business?
RL: “No. [People always get excited] by some envelope of cash. But how often does one sell to a larger house and have to compromise art for commerce? I’m not going to let the business turn into something that’s pressured for returns. We are doing much better than the actual targets. We’ve protected the art aspect and been rewarded quite beautifully. It’s bizarre that the world doesn’t get that. Quick returns can equal quick burnout.”
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