It was fate, according to Wolfgang Joop. A Spanish fortuneteller told the German fashion designer years ago that he would eventually find the right business partner. “And she was right,” said Mr. Joop, smiling.
The founder of the fashion label JOOP! and father of designer Jette Joop, discovered his business partner in Ancona, a town on Italy's Adriatic coast in May 2014.
It is there he ran into a former employee, Peter Kappler, at the espresso machine at the airport. The two got to talking and soon after Mr. Kappler was the new head of Wunderkind, Mr. Joop’s luxury fashion label headquartered in Potsdam, just outside Berlin.
The 51-year-old Mr. Kappler is now charged with rearing Wunderkind and making it profitable. “Wunderkind is Germany’s sole remaining designer brand, it has enormous potential,” said Mr. Kappler. Mr. Joop added: “With Peter, we are placing Wunderkind on a solid footing.”
Wunderkind, which has gained critical acclaim for its sophisticated cuts and colorful fabrics since its inception in 2003, has also unfortunately accrued millions in losses and vexed investors. But starting this January, Mr. Kappler has taken the first steps to turn the company kept alive all these years by Mr. Joop's creative spirit into a viable business.
The Sander family, heirs to the Wella beauty product empire, bought a stake in 2007. Four years later, all they wanted was out.
Mr. Kappler, who had already worked with Hugo Boss and Strenesse and most recently headed the Italian label Dondup, immediately doubled the number of collections to four. Mr. Joop used to produce artsy-expensive dresses costing around €2,000 ($2,254) for the big shows in February and September, but very few of those ever went on to be sold.
Now, the 70-year-old designer is creating an extra 200 items twice a year, just like high-end competitors Armani or Prada. The new collections will be sold during the intervals between the big shows.
“Our competitors are making up to 90 percent of their turnover with these collections,” said Mr. Kappler. “That’s where we want to be.” The first of these in-between-seasons series is supposed to be presented in Milan by mid-June. To that end, Mr. Kappler is hiring additional people, planning to increase staff by 30 percent to 40 employees by year’s end.
At the same time, the two men are working on entirely new patterns for Wunderkind. Just last week, they opened their fifth store in Germany in an upscale street in Hamburg. The first shops abroad are in the planning, with possible locations in Milan and Paris.
In order to give the brand a broader foundation and to make it more affordable, for example, for fans of Heidi Klum's casting show Germany’s Next Top Model where Mr. Joop is a member of the jury.
And Wunderkind is thinking of new product categories, from fragrances to beauty products and purses.
But the new label boss is cautioning overdone expectations of quick financial success: “I’m not a miracle worker, we’ll only be successful with a strong team.” The reason for this modesty probably lies just as much in past bad experiences, as it does in the unpredictability of the fashion industry.
Video: Wunderkind's fall/winter 2015/2016 collection.
The Sander family, heirs to the Wella beauty product empire and Mr. Joop’s neighbors in Potsdam, bought shares in the label in 2007. Four years later, all they wanted was to get out. While the media was admiring Wunderkind’s glamorous outfits, the business side of things wasn’t living up to expectations.
The Sanders’ exit descended into proper mudslinging. When financial investors came into the picture, Mr. Joop more or less voluntarily bough out the Sanders, making him once again sole owner of Wunderkind.
The label’s finances were deep in the red by then. In early 2013, the company had a total debt of €12.6 million, accruing losses of more than €40 million over the years. Back then, Wunderkind was on the verge of bankruptcy.
Today, Mr. Kappler said, the label’s survival is secured by a couple of “international families.” Neither he nor Mr. Joop want to go into more detail. Just that “Wunderkind isn’t living off my private funds anymore,” Mr. Joop said.
Despite the disaster with the Sanders, Mr. Joop would still consider adding a co-owner again. This time, however, it would need to be the right guy, with experience both with Mr. Joop as well as in the industry.
So maybe Mr. Kappler? The Wunderkind manager took a long pause before saying, “I could very well see that happening.”