Andrew Rosen, Theory CEO Interview Part 1


BY CONSTANCE C.R. WHITE

Andrew Rosen sits in a comfy swivel chair at the modernly sparse New York headquarters of Theory, his contemporary fashion company. He’s spent, he said, “maybe my whole life” in fashion, but hasn’t been content to just bask in the glow of the storied Rosen name or the success of Theory. He’s become a sort of Medici of fashion, lending support to fledgling companies. But it’s a rocky time in fashion.

“The marketplace is definitely in a state of disruption,” said Rosen.

We asked him about what motivates him to patronize young designers.

What drives you to invest in young designers and companies, and how many do you help?
I help them, but they help me a lot, too. It keeps me fresh. I don’t really want to list all of them, but there’s Proenza Schouler, Rag and Bone. [He also been involved I with Alice & Olivia and Helmut Lang.] There are a few other small ones that I have.

 

I love our industry and I invest in companies and at the end of the day I want to make money, but I really invest in companies because people inspire me.

I want to be part of helping our industry move forward.

Things are moving very fast. I want to see what’s around the next corner.

 

You invest money and your time and expertise. How do you work with companies?
Basically, I deal with the principals of the companies. There aren’t any formal quarterly board meetings. My conversations happen on a regular basis, organically, and most of the people are close friends of mine.

The principals would call me. There are always forks in the road. You can make this decision or you could make that decision.

I let them stick to their decision. Hopefully, it’s not one of the decisions that would be catastrophic or business ending, but I genuinely believe that you learn more from your mistakes. Maybe inside Theory it’s a little different [laughs], but generally, I listen to everyone’s opinion and give them my advice.

Who do you have your eye on this year?
I never am looking for new things because I have so much going on. I give advice to a lot of people. The work that I do with the CFDA Fashion Fund is part of that. People want to meet with me. Hopefully, I give them good advice.

How do you do that?
I try to understand where they are and what they are trying to accomplish. I give them my opinion and it may not be what they want to hear. It all comes down to whether they want me to be honest with them or nice.

Has anyone ever asked you to be nice?
No.

Is there any designer who you invested in and quietly exited?
There have been a few of those. Not that we have to talk about them, but not every company that I invest in has to work out.

Do you have a standard equity position that you take?
No. It depends on the make-up of the company. I generally will tailor it so that it works for them and it works for me. I’m investing in the vision they want to achieve themselves.

I will not get into a company where I, in any way, shape or form, have to provide any management.

What do smart designers do that others don’t?
I believe they not only have an artistic capability, but they have to have some sort of vision. They also have to be able to see the commerce, because without commerce there is no art, and without art there is no commerce.

If you look at the successful companies, it has always been about the ability to not only create amazing products, but to be able to have someone monetize them, too.

What’s the outlook for young designers or small design companies?
In some ways, I see a lot of opportunity because stores are going to need something different.