Call it the LV Effect.
Although Colm Dillane had managed to build a profitable underground business with his colorful KidSuper collection of art-inspired streetwear, it wasn’t until he was tapped as guest designer for Louis Vuitton’s fall 2023 collection that he really broke through.
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Dillane was in the running to succeed the late Virgil Abloh as the luxury brand’s men’s designer and the show in February was seen as an audition of sorts. But when Dillane’s muse and chief cheerleader, Michael Burke, exited the Vuitton brand after a decade, its new chief executive officer Pietro Beccari went in another direction and opted to bring Pharrell Williams on board instead.
While he may be disappointed not to have snagged one of the most prestigious jobs in fashion, Dillane has been busier than ever since he returned from Paris.
Since the guest designer gig, he has created collaborations with everyone from Sir Elton John and Stuart Weitzman — the latter of which featured a film starring Mariska Hargitay — to Ugg, Suicoke, the NBA and Superplastic. Coming soon will be collabs with Puma and Canada Goose.
Two days after the Vuitton show, Dillane held his own KidSuper event in Paris — his second on the official calendar — where he presented the fall line as part of a stand-up comedy show hosted by Tyra Banks. Some 1,500 guests attended and the scene outside was pure bedlam, with people who had never given him the time of day before clamoring for tickets.
Closer to home, he’s putting the finishing touches on his 10,000-square-foot studio in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, which will also serve as a gallery, recording studio and retail store.
And he’s eagerly looking to expand his team to keep up with the demand. A recent Instagram job posting said KidSuper Enterprises is hiring for “senior design roles,” seeking applicants with “years of experience” who “understand the brand, can take a joke” and know about obscure art and fashion history “to inspire Colm.”
Not your typical job posting, but then Dillane is not your typical fashion designer.
“I always considered myself on the outside of fashion trying to break in and then, I’m the most inside of fashion you could possibly be,” he said of his guest designer gig at Vuitton.
At first glance it’s easy to dismiss Dillane as just another under-the-radar designer who will ultimately crash and burn under the weight of his own creative juices. In his younger days, the 31-year-old would famously post naked pictures of himself on Instagram, show up late for appointments and stay up all night working, grabbing a catnap on soiled, threadbare couches surrounded by his artwork and his collection in progress.
But beneath the surface, Dillane is whip smart and knows when he needs to straighten up and fly right, including when he’s dealing with big corporations such as Converse, an early investor, as well as longtime supporter Jagermeister.
And over the past few years, he’s matured, both as a person and a designer, which may be the reason he caught the attention of Vuitton. Even before the guest designer opportunity, he was a joint winner of LVMH’s Karl Lagerfeld Special Jury Prize in 2021.
“I started making T-shirts at 14 and making money at 16,” he said during a recent visit to his Williamsburg studio. “But I’ve never had a real job. And now I’m figuring out how to be a businessman. I started as an artist so being business-minded is the hardest thing for me.” He declined to provide a volume figure for the business.
He considers himself the “fun, creative guy,” so it’s hard for him to take on the role of “everyone’s boss.”
He recently hired a director of e-commerce who had worked previously for a larger brand and the first thing that person did was ask Dillane to write down the company’s structure.
“I realized I was doing 75 people’s jobs and I probably suck at doing half of those,” he admitted. “Everyone assumes KidSuper has more structure and people than it actually does.”
Case in point: when Vuitton wanted an address to which to send his pay for the guest designer role, “I didn’t have a business bank account and they wouldn’t send it to a personal account. So I created Made in My Basement LLC. I bet LV loved sending money to that,” he said with a laugh, adding, “I need to build structure.”
Right now KidSuper has five employees — a production manager, content manager, art studio manager, logistics manager and the director of e-commerce. And he’s also brought on an adviser/consulting chief operating officer on board. Most of the additions have joined the business over the past three months, and Dillane is struggling to learn how to delegate. “It’s not like I’m a control freak but I’m a harsh critic,” he said. “And a lot of people don’t know or understand how hard I’ve worked to get here.”
While his business may be experiencing growing pains, what Dillane is adept at is coming up with really creative ideas. His past shows for KidSuper have included art auctions, a Stop Motion film, virtual doll fashion shows and other experiential-style showcases.
But it was an eye opener to work with a company like Vuitton with its army of employees.
“When I was at LV, it was very much a creative director role where I had a whole team. And that was incredibly easy.” But he was surprised that the run-up to the show wasn’t as structured as he had expected. “They’re as last minute as we are, which is kind of interesting because you think if you go into the biggest brand ever, it’s going to be perfect. But they’re changing things last minute, too.”
He also learned a lot from the Vuitton design team. “I really enjoyed speaking to the other creatives because I had never worked at a job or seen a creative director work before,” he said.
But there he was, thrust into a situation with 70 of the most esteemed designers in the world, he said. “I found they’re not all that different. And they were very impressed that I could do everything. I was on Photoshop and Illustrator, working on the tech packs, doing the colors. It was super fun.”
It also surprised him how accepting they were of his role. He had expected that one or more of the designers would step up to apply to take Abloh’s place, but instead they were open to working with him and embracing his ideas of how to infuse the KidSuper aesthetic into Louis Vuitton’s universe.
“I had the utmost freedom,” he recalled, adding that the other thing he liked was that once the Louis Vuitton stamp was put on something, it made the items “much more respected and well-received. With the letter bag I did, if it had just said KidSuper, everyone would be like, ‘That’s cool, great.’ But put an LV on it and it’s the most brilliant idea of all time. It’s just the tag, but the power of the LV brand means a tenfold difference.”
Although he admits he was super nervous about working with such a storied French luxury brand, Dillane credits Burke with paving the way for him to succeed. “Michael Burke’s vision is amazing and he’s awesome as a human,” Dillane said. “He has an unbelievable sense of humor, he’s really quick and witty and mischievous. He likes to do the unexpected. But unfortunately, he left.”
However, Burke’s influence — and the experience of working for Vuitton — remains.
Dillane said over the past few months he’s felt a lot more pressure than he ever has before. “Every day I have a meeting every hour,” he said. “I don’t get time to design anymore but I’m also getting opportunities I would have killed for five years ago.”
He joked that anyone who approaches him about working with them now needs to add a zero to the end of their offer.
But in all seriousness, it has also marked a sea change in his attitude and his business. “What it really did was change the perspective of what Colm could be,” he said, referring to himself in the third person. “Before, I was just doing these ‘things,’ but didn’t have structure — and no one knew what I was doing. Now, if any brand is looking for a creative director, and they have 10 names on the board, I have to be one of them — which is crazy to think about.”
Dillane’s name has come up to succeed Jeremy Scott at Moschino, for example, and although he’s yet to receive a phone call, he’d be open to a discussion.
On the business end, the brand is still 60 percent direct-to-consumer, but is “definitely selling more” as retailers including Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, H Lorenzo, Ssense, Selfridges, Luisa Via Roma, Dover Street Market and others have added the line, Dillane said. But now that he’s having some commercial success, he’s also had to tweak his line to appeal to a wider audience.
“I was making these crazy, loud, colorful clothes, but now I’m saying: ‘Do I have a real collection? What’s the core stuff that’s easy to sell?’ It’s boring but real, and I really have no choice. You have to switch from the creative guy to the business guy. I have to grow up a little bit.”
In addition to his fashion collection, Dillane is continuing to explore his other passions: art and film. He was signed by a talent agency, WME, after it saw his short films for his collection, and he’s now brainstorming about a KidSuper series and pitching potential movies and TV shows.
In order to keep so many balls in the air, Dillane needs to hire some design help — and quickly. “It’s hard to find people and I hate everyone, but I need help ASAP,” he said. “And I need someone who is a better designer than I am.”
He pointed to Jacquemus and its designer Simon Porte Jacquemus as a brand he admires and would like to emulate. “I don’t know him at all, but he’s the best brand in our generation,” Dillane said. “Not only is he creative and people like him, but he has very salable product. But it still feels really like elevated, and it seems to be making a lot of money.”
Dillane also admires Mike Amiri and said the two have been chatting about the best path to take to make a mark in fashion. “But getting from where I am to where he is is not going to happen overnight,” he admitted.
And at least as of now, the business remains self-funded and Dillane has not taken any kind of external funding.
In order to maintain the momentum and build his business, Dillane knows he’s going to have to figure out a way to juggle it all. “I’m saying yes to everything,” he said. “I have five collaborations, my own collection, I’m doing some video and TV stuff, I met with three theater writers, I’m trying to organize this company, I’m trying to hire people — no other creative director is doing this.”
The solution sounds easy on paper but it is tough to execute. “You have to be multifaceted but also have good people around you.”
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