ANGELS – There’s perhaps no better place to watch Hollywood work than the Polo Lounge at the Beverly Hills Hotel at 9 a.m. on a Friday morning, and the team behind denim brand Frame – co-founder and creative director Erik Torstensson and CEO Nicolas Dreyfus – positioned herself in a lacquered wooden kiosk at the center of it all.
On a walk, a Nicky Hilton Rothschild wearing Birkin, soon joined by her friend, Fernando Garcia, designer of Oscar de la Renta. Snapchat Content SVP Ben Schwerin, with Bob Iger, is stepping out days before it was announced he would be coming out of retirement to join Disney as CEO. Torstensson and Dreyfus receive nods, and exchange a few hellos. Soon, RXBar founder Peter Rahal is standing at their table, eager to show off the label on his T-shirt. He wears Frame from head to toe, he says, and Torstensson is thrilled.
“I couldn’t have arranged it better,” he laughs.
Rahal’s impromptu appearance fits perfectly into Torstensson’s carefully crafted narrative. Frame, the high-end denim company he started with Jens Grede in 2012, when consumers were more interested in Lululemon leggings than jeans, not only succeeded, but flourished, becoming a style brand lifestyle rooted in denim, rather than a denim brand with nothing else to say. .
Now Tortensson wants fashion credibility, and he’s hired an as-yet-unnamed designer — a European heavyweight, he says — to give the collections a real identity in 2023. There are plans to hold a parade. Can Dreyfus and Torstensson go where no denim brand has gone convincingly before – outside of Los Angeles, no less? (Diesel, whose critically acclaimed designer Glenn Martens, is perhaps the only exception.) Torstensson says it will be a “mixture of what Paris does best – in everything from image to clothing and products – and what California and LA in terms of technology and modernity”, which, if executed correctly, could result in “the most exciting thing in American fashion”.
Financially, Frame is in a solid position. In 2022, the company generated approximately $170 million in sales, up 50% from pre-pandemic levels. (The company declined to share 2021 numbers.) Profitability on an EBITDA basis (earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization) increased more than 90% from 2019, thanks in part to tripling online sales. (The company now generates 30% of its revenue through direct-to-consumer channels, up from 20% before the pandemic.)
Despite the difficult economic context, Dreyfus, who joined the company in March 2020 after having co-founded (and sold) the French contemporary brand The Kooples, is convinced that Frame will be able to continue to develop its talent pool in Los Angeles, recruiting not only in other parts of the United States, but also internationally.
Torstensson credits Frame’s early success to his and Grede’s somewhat unorthodox approach. In 2012, the duo – then best known as the marketers behind London-based creative agency The Saturday Group – opted to embrace a tired concept instead of diving into a trending category. High-end denim from JBrand and Diesel dominated fashion in the 2000s, but few of these labels – largely run by manufacturers, not designer brands – had managed to stay at the forefront of consumer concerns. as they transitioned to athleisure.
Torstensson and Grede led the brand by introducing standard skinny jeans – the de facto silhouette of the time – but positioning them as the choice of their model friends. (A collaboration with Karlie Kloss on a pair of super-elongated flares in 2015 was a first win.)
A decade later, the jeans are still selling – accounting for half of the company’s overall revenue – but Frame has managed to do something unusual for your ordinary premium jeans maker: entice consumers to buy non-denim jeans items too, like silk blouses and satin mini-skirts.
“They’ve built a strong brand around timeless, elevated versatility,” says Pete Nordstrom, president and chief brand officer of his family’s eponymous department store chain, adding that Frame provides “pieces that are center stage.” of the client’s wardrobe, and that the line “still feels relevant.”
It has a lot to do with the first frame established by Torstensson and Grede: Frame was never about a certain style of jeans, but rather a lifestyle. Relaunching a men’s collection after a failed first — the first attempt was too denim-focused, says Torstensson — was a risk that paid off. As a standalone line in its own right, it still accounts for a small portion of sales – Frame declined to say how much – but is better positioned to grow.
For many, the obvious next step would be to sell the business as soon as the market tilts more favorably towards sellers – or immediately, if the right deal comes along. Grede and his wife, Emma, now help run the Kardashian empire by running Skims and Good American, so he’s less involved on a day-to-day basis. Dreyfus, who sold The Kooples to Lacoste owner Maus Frères in 2019, is the kind of executive who can help set up Frame for this sort of deal.
But Torstensson insists a sale is not the goal. “We definitely don’t want to sell the business,” he says. Instead, it focuses on building Frame by continuing to act nothing like a denim brand.