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Can a Fashion Line Backed by Joss Sackler Ever Find Success Without Controversy?

Elizabeth Kennedy, the designer tapped to work on Joss Sackler's LBV line, says the duo are trying to create "something new and fresh" — but they can't escape its founder's ties to OxyContin.
The show finale of Elizabeth Kennedy for LBV Spring 2020 collection. Photo: Courtesy of LBV

The show finale of Elizabeth Kennedy for LBV Spring 2020 collection. Photo: Courtesy of LBV

It's difficult to break through the noise of New York Fashion Week, especially as a new brand yet to make a name for itself. Joss Sackler's LBV may be an exception, although its notoriety may stem less from the clothes themselves or an exciting runway than from Sackler's own family troubles: She is married to David Sackler, third-generation owner of Purdue Pharma, which makes OxyContin, the drug at the center of America's opioid crisis. 

While Sackler herself is not technically part of the pharmaceutical company, she is yet unable to distance herself, or her brand, from the controversy (not to mention ongoing litigation). In February, The New York Times first reported on Sackler's LBV line, making clear her connections to the Sackler family and Purdue Pharma; Sackler herself responded with a Facebook post, suggesting that the criticism against her was unfair and motivated by misogyny.

Still, LBV showed its Spring 2020 collection atop the Bowery Hotel terrace in New York on Monday. Many runway shows host a celebrity-packed front row to build buzz. To that end, Sackler's team reportedly offered $100,000 to Courtney Love, a musician and ex-opioid addict whose late husband, rock legend Kurt Cobain, suffered his own substance abuse issues, to attend the show, according to both the New York Post's Page Six and an angered Love's social media. Love has posted 15 times on Instagram in a 24-hour period about Sackler's line, Purdue Pharma and the opioid epidemic, prompting even Marc Jacobs to comment on one of Love's photos of a Purdue Pharma drug bottle, "SHAME!" (Sackler's team did not respond to Fashionista’s request for comment by the time of publication, though denied to Page Six that Love had been tapped to attend.)

Elizabeth Kennedy for LBV. Photo: Courtesy of LBV

Elizabeth Kennedy for LBV. Photo: Courtesy of LBV

Arriving instead was an audience more notable for their proximity to the world's wealthiest people, like the Sacklers themselves: Grace Kelly's granddaughter, Jazmin Grimaldi; New York Society fixtures Mackenzie and Pamala Wright (the former accused of squirreling away a $1 million art piece in her FIT dorm); and Shala Monroque, former creative director of Garage Magazine who made headlines nearly a decade ago for her then-relationship with art mogul Larry Gagosian. 

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Two security guards accompanied Sackler into the venue, but she didn't take a bow at the finale; that's because clothes were designed by former dressmaker Elizabeth Kennedy, a Parsons design graduate who has created eveningwear for her own brand since 2016. She says she met Sackler "randomly" at one of her wine parties and the two became friends, eventually deciding to partner. She notes she was not hesitant to work with Sackler given the recent media attention, adding that, "Joss and I are trying to create something new and fresh and a new brand that doesn't have anything to do with any of that" — "that" referring to the Purdue Pharma battle.

From the Sackler-Kennedy partnership, a collection of about three dozen separates and dresses, inspired by "medieval armour," appeared rather literally in the form of lacquered bodices in silver, cherry red, black and tan hues; an army green vinyl coat; and large, metallic phoenix belt buckles. One white and one black power suit with '80s shoulders were thrown in, too, alongside at least one "naked dress" circa 2017, for good measure.

A look from the Elizabeth Kennedy for LBV Spring 2020 collection. Photo: Courtesy of LBV

A look from the Elizabeth Kennedy for LBV Spring 2020 collection. Photo: Courtesy of LBV

"Power dressing for 2020 sort of was the goal," Kennedy said. "It's modern with an edge, it's sexy and feminine and it really celebrates women's bodies and shows off women's bodies but is also very strong and powerful, the modern, strong warrior, if you will."

Given that this was the brand's debut collection — a pivot from Sackler's original idea of LBV as "luxury streetwear" — it will first be sold on LBV's e-commerce site, to launch in January, and the collection has "soft commitments" from stateside retailers, Kennedy said. The former eveningwear designer also said they plan to take the collection to Paris to appeal to international buyers. Perhaps there they may find those less tuned in to American news.

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