AZ Factory transforms into a multi-brand retailer and showroom – WWD
Until now exclusively digital, AZ Factory will operate a pop-up store in Paris that will straddle menswear and haute couture weeks and prefigure what Alber Elbaz’s start-up is in the process of become.
The 3,500 square foot space located at 16 rue de Minimes in the Marais district, open from June 21 to July 8, will be both a specialized store, showroom, brand incubator and cultural curator, relying on collaborations in series initiated in the wake of the founder’s death – with designer Thebe Magugu the first “amigo guest” and Esther Manas the second.
Magugu’s collection for AZ Factory will be on sale, Manas’ will be showcased to buyers and the press, while a third amigo, recent fashion graduate Cyril Bourez, will unveil 35 unique looks interpreting Elbaz’s iconic designs via recycled vintage Americana. : Hawaiian shirts, sports jerseys and the like.
Eventually, AZ Factory could even consider investing in some of the talent it brings to projects, which would make it a kind of mini conglomerate within the Compagnie Financière Richemont, which created a joint venture with Elbaz in 2019. The start-up unveiled its first fashions in January 2021, centered on smart fabrics and with storytelling, problem-solving and entertainment integrated into design, distribution and communications.
Revealing all of these new developments in an exclusive interview, Richemont executive Mauro Grimaldi called the pop-up “a tactile experience of what we want to do with AZ Factory in the future.”
Since joining AZ Factory last January, Grimaldi, strategic advisor to Philippe Fortunato, Managing Director of Richemont Fashion and Accessories Houses, has refined and developed the strategy and business model, which retains the Elbaz’ central idea of ”intelligent fashions that care” launched via product “stories” rather than collections.
“We want to support independent creativity,” he said. “I think it’s something very important for all the big luxury groups.”
Grimaldi, who was previously CEO of Printemps International, said AZ Factory plans about six product stories a year with guest creatives, and already has collaborating amigos lined up through March 2023.
While its first three guest designers qualify as young designers in need of support and help at a critical time in their development, AZ Factory is expanding the profile of creative partners it will invite. These could include:
- Well-known and seasoned creators who are perhaps at a turning point, or a little on the sidelines, like Elbaz was when he forged the JV with Richemont
- Young graduates and students with high potential from renowned fashion schools
- Left field designs are not directly related to fashion. For example, AZ Factory has already recruited the Italian DJ collective Club Domani from the famous Milanese club Plastic for the musical creation, and perhaps a merchandising project later.
All invited amigos will find benefits analogous in some respects to fashion awards, offering only a complete ecosystem – a design studio, workshop, marketing muscle and communication channels – all team members recruited by Elbaz before his death.
Grimaldi noted that Magugu and Manas “loved this exchange with solid professionals and the opportunity to work with a larger team than they are used to”, he said. “We are offering them financial support… We are producing and funding this collaborative collection, and distributing it through our website and other platforms such as Net-a-porter and Farfetch.”
AZ Factory also set up a showroom for the Magugu collaboration and sold it in 30 additional specialty stores, including Selfridges, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman.
“There’s such curiosity and interest in new designers,” he enthused about the reception from retailers.
“From a consumer perspective, we would like to become a beautiful online store where you can find unique collections,” Grimaldi said. “We are therefore moving from a brand to a tool to support, finance and distribute the collections.”
He noted that some creative amigos might become a recurring part of the AZ Factory offering, while others might be unique. “Each collection will follow a different trajectory,” he said, noting that product stories would likely reflect a diversity of price points, and some will only be distributed in certain parts of the world. “We really operate with a retailer’s eye.”
Grimaldi noted that visiting designers could stay longer than a season, or even attract investment from AZ Factory.
“We only consider brands or creators with whom we can potentially create a long-term relationship. And we start with a one-time collaboration the same way a retailer selects a new brand to wear, thinking long-term, but maybe ends up buying it for just one season.
“Each of the projects that we carry out, potentially, they can become long-term projects,” he added. “We have values in common, which are Alber’s values, and from there we start.”
“If we are successful in funding and distributing a number of emerging brands, it could become a profitable business for sure,” he said, drawing an analogy to successful multi-brand showrooms with strong brand retention and business results.
The pop-up gives further clues to the cultural and aesthetic universe of AZ Factory: attendees include stylist and photographer Maripol, who will exhibit Polaroids and jewelry, and hit the decks with her son; the Milanese ceramic workshop Atelier Brume; the jewelry designer Marion Vidal and the perfume house Sous le Manteau.
“We like this idea of keeping the [AZ Factory] project as a sort of ‘mutant’ entity that adapts to different situations,” Grimaldi said. “It can bring new energy, new inspirations and new different angles to the group to continue to analyze what is happening in fashion.”
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