Sergio Hudson’s out to prove he can build an American fashion empire – Vogue Business


They are in no rush to add categories, but home and menswear are being discussed. “A lot of men wear my jackets. They like the tailoring,” says the designer.

Sergio Hudson has adopted a different model from the usual process to get orders to retailers, following what’s closer to a see-now-buy-now runway model that gets collections to sales floors shortly after they’re shown, rather than months later. It’s a delicate dance to make it work. Based in LA, the brand produces two main collections per year, using mainly Italian fabrics and manufactured entirely in America. By the time its New York Fashion Week show happens, 80 per cent of retail orders are in and delivery is sometimes within weeks. Hudson adds about 10 or so special runway pieces.

The format allows the brand to lower its risk by getting deposits closer to production time, while the runway shows perform a double duty. “The show has become like a commercial for the stores, while we are in a place where we can’t afford co-op advertising,” Beckham says.

“We find this works for us,” she adds, though she admits their calendar takes getting used to for some retailers. She’s a savvy dealmaker and protector of Sergio Hudson the brand and the person. The brand has been more selective as a result. “I’m not going to lose money to do business with you,” she says. “I know that one plus one makes two.”

What quibbles retailers have, tend to dissolve with good sell-throughs of 50 to 80 per cent. The industry high mark for luxury is 80 per cent, according to Shopify.

The Michelle Obama effect

For a few years after he graduated from fashion college in Atlanta, Hudson stayed afloat by making custom looks for $300-$500 in Columbia, in South Carolina, and in 2013 won $100,000 on Bravo TV’s Styled to Rock. In 2016, he moved to LA to facilitate the quick turnaround often needed by his growing celebrity clientele. He got mentorship from designer Kevan Hall and the help of stylists including Zerina Akers (who once bought his entire collection) and Law Roach, who got him work as a costume designer.

Michelle Obama in Sergio Hudson at Joe Biden’s inauguration.

Photo: Jonathan Ernst-Pool/Getty Images

In 2020, Hudson was tapped to propose outfits for both Michelle Obama and vice president Kamala Harris for the 2021 inauguration. When Obama walked out onto the dais with her husband in a plum Sergio Hudson pantsuit, “from that moment,” Hudson says, “everything’s been different.”

He recalls how Jason Wu’s brand took off after Obama wore Wu’s white one-shoulder dress to the inaugural ball. The power of celebrity, and of Obama, to raise brand awareness and drive sales was on full display with both designers. But, in what even non-fashion observers agree was an unusually stylish inauguration, Obama in Sergio Hudson stood out and went viral.

Now, he and Beckham talk about their business in terms of pre-inauguration and post-inauguration. “The whirlwind from there is still going,” said Hudson. “My purpose behind everything I do is to show we can do this. We [Black designers] can sell luxury and people will buy from a Black designer.”

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