How CEO Remo Ruffini Is Reinventing Moncler for a Faster Fashion World

ITALIAN STYLE Remo Ruffini in his home in Como, Italy. He is forgoing seasonal presentations to bring customers an array of Moncler products in a project dubbed the Genius Building. “It’s a new way to look at fashion,” says Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli, one of the designers collaborating with Moncler.
ITALIAN STYLE Remo Ruffini in his home in Como, Italy. He is forgoing seasonal presentations to bring customers an array of Moncler products in a project dubbed the Genius Building. “It’s a new way to look at fashion,” says Valentino’s Pierpaolo Piccioli, one of the designers collaborating with Moncler. Photo: Salva López for WSJ. Magazine

FROM REMO RUFFINI’S magnificent terrace on Lake Como, lined this summer day with pots of white gardenias, you can almost see the house across the water where he grew up. It’s only a few miles from here, but in its way, Ruffini’s journey traces the history of fashion. His grandfather owned a fabric mill, which is what this region of northern Italy is known for. His father shifted the family business into garments and later had success in the U.S. with disco shirts.

As a young man, Ruffini followed the prevailing winds to America. The world was getting smaller, and Italians were looking for something new. He ended up founding his own brand, which riffed on American preppy style.

And then Ruffini hit the zeitgeist jackpot: In 2013, he bought a failing French sportswear brand that produced a functional staple—the puffy down winter jacket—just when people began spending their luxury bucks on casual clothing. The brand is Moncler, which became the first company to put puffy down jackets on the fashion runway and sell them for a fortune. In short order Moncler made Ruffini a billionaire.

A sculpture-filled dining area, all designed by the firm Gilles & Boissier.
A sculpture-filled dining area, all designed by the firm Gilles & Boissier. Photo: Salva López for WSJ. Magazine

Ruffini is now on the cusp of the next phase: Three years ago, he looked out into the future and determined that fashion just couldn’t keep going the way it had been. The mechanics of it, with the whole enterprise oriented around the seasons, had gotten creaky and would get progressively creakier. Shoppers with Instagram attention spans—in other words, everybody representing the future of fashion—were already bored stiff.

Ruffini, 57, is hardly the only executive to notice this. The fashion landscape today is littered with quickie collaborations, dead-of-night “drops” and jack-in-the-box pop-up stores. Anything to create cheap buzz without dismantling the seasonal engine of fashion. Ruffini has gone much further. He is betting on a different way of operating, in which designers and their ephemeral collections come and go in frantic rotation with scarcely a pause between to catch a breath. It makes the head spin.

A frescoed hallway.
A frescoed hallway. Photo: Salva López for WSJ. Magazine

“The client wants to see something new every day,” says Ruffini. “Every day they open Instagram and they want to see what’s up with Moncler, with Vuitton, with Gucci. They’re not going to wait six months to see what’s going on. That means I need a new story every month at least to give news to my customer. So I said, Why don’t we link the whole business to this attitude?”

Ruffini calls this new Moncler organization, somewhat confusingly, the Genius Building. The metaphor he used to describe it was the Guggenheim Museum, with its side rooms branching off from a central spiral ramp. In this case, Moncler is the building and the “genius” designers are the temporary tenants—there are currently eight, but the roster will change constantly.

The Genius Building kicked off in earnest in June. First up was a collaboration with a Japanese streetwear brand called Fragment Design and its avatar, Hiroshi Fujiwara, whom Moncler describes as “a cultural fomenter.” In August, English designer Craig Green served up spiky spacesuits that seemed unlikely to be worn by anyone but the most committed attention seekers, which is fine with Green—and Ruffini. (“Remo just wants you to do what you want to do,” says Green.) In all, Moncler scheduled 10 different product drops between June and the end of 2018, ranging from workaday puffers that account for the bulk of Moncler’s sales to quirkier collections created for their blinding viral moment. In September, Moncler showed five more collections due out next year, and this month, the brand is opening pop-up stores in New York City and Tokyo, where the Genius collections will be available for three months.

COMO OVER The pool overlooking Lake Como at Ruffini’s house.
COMO OVER The pool overlooking Lake Como at Ruffini’s house. Photo: Salva López for WSJ. Magazine

“When Remo first told me about his idea, I was fascinated. It’s a new way to look at fashion,” says Pierpaolo Piccioli, whose day job is creative director of Valentino. Piccioli drew on religious imagery from his boyhood—not normally the way you’d envision a down jacket, but Ruffini’s only instruction to his “geniuses” was to think of it like a blank canvas with feathers. “He left everything up to me. It was a brave act,” says Piccioli. “Moncler is not a fashion brand like Valentino. You can’t interpret it if you have nothing to say.”

There was no commercial pressure on Ruffini to take this step. When he conceived the idea, the sky above Moncler was as cloudless as the one in Como. “You have to have serious guts to rip the whole thing up when you’re on top,” says Etienne Russo, who has designed Moncler’s fashion shows for the past 10 years. “Business was so good, and then he comes in and says, ‘I want to change the whole supply chain’—that’s amazing!”

At first glance, Ruffini doesn’t strike you as a very disruptive sort of person. He has a friendly, bearded face that betrays little of what’s going on behind it. He dresses simply but impeccably; if he’s got a uniform, it’s what he’s wearing on this summer day: blue blazer, always double-breasted and always unbuttoned, gray slacks and black loafers. These are the months when Italian men trade their winter hose for ankle socks, and Ruffini does the same.

A 2016 show at New York’s Lincoln Center.
A 2016 show at New York’s Lincoln Center. Photo: Courtesy of Moncler

He earned his advanced degree around the family dinner table. “As I started growing up, every day I listened about clothing, about fabrics, about fashion,” recalls Ruffini. In the ’70s, business success took Ruffini’s father, Gianfranco, to the U.S., where his groovy Nik Nik brand was flourishing. “He never came back,” says Ruffini, whose mother, Enrica, had her own clothing business, in Italy.

Eventually, Ruffini followed his father to New York, but neither a stint with the company nor a stint in college did much for him. What launched him in life was a trip up the East Coast in a rented car. “I loved it,” says Ruffini. “When I understood the style, I said this is going to be big in Europe, because they like traditional things. I came back in August 1984, and in September I founded my company, which I called New England. It was a twist on the classic Brooks Brothers look—buttoned-down shirts, for instance, but with a flower print. I didn’t know anything about how to run a company, but I learned from my mistakes.”

A jacket from The Yellow collection, at the pop-up Genius stores this month.
A jacket from The Yellow collection, at the pop-up Genius stores this month. Photo: Courtesy of Moncler

In 1987, Ruffini sold part of his stake to a partner. That’s when he bought the Como house, or houses, really, because they came as a set of four former government buildings built in the 19th century (his sons, Pietro, 29, and Romeo, 26, each have one, and Ruffini and his wife, Francesca, use the others). It’s a spread that looks like a brick-and-mortar version of Ruffini himself: The houses are classic white buildings with dark trim, the pool has a simple slate border, and the paths leading down to the boathouse contain the perfect number of pebbles, as if they were allocated by an algorithm. Ruffini has an apartment in Milan for when he works late, but he much prefers to drive an hour back to the lake.

By the late ’90s, Ruffini and his partner were on the outs, so he sold his remaining interest and started looking for an existing brand to buy. “I said to myself that it could be interesting to work with something that had strong roots, and then try to be more innovative, to develop the idea but to remain consistent.”

This, in a nutshell, is what he has done with Moncler. The brand was created by two French mountaineers in 1952 and named for the tiny Alpine village of Monestier-de-Clermont, near Grenoble. They made Moncler for outdoorsmen like themselves. Ski god Jean-Claude Killy and the rest of the French team wore the brand at the 1968 Olympics. Ruffini even had a Moncler jacket himself as a teenager. “It was very good at 6:30 in the morning on the motorcycle to school in Como,” recalls Ruffini, “but it was very heavy—over one kilogram.”

An installation view of the new 2 Moncler 1952 collection.
An installation view of the new 2 Moncler 1952 collection. Photo: Courtesy of Moncler

When Ruffini bought the company years later, it had fallen out of style and was going out of business. He got it for a song. “The first and most important thing I did was go down to the archives. I remember going into a room with, like, 500 pieces—yellow, pink, blue,” says Ruffini. These were the days when cool meant black. “We presented 20 jackets—super colorful, super bright, super shiny, with the old logo from the ’50s. The idea was to develop something disruptive for the market—that was the key. They sold out in minutes.”

It’s not just that Ruffini doesn’t seem to mind operating outside his comfort zone; he doesn’t even appear to have one. First he transformed Moncler from a wholesaler to a retailer, opening a network of Moncler stores (there are currently 209, plus 65 boutiques in multibrand stores). “It’s very tricky to change the whole culture. And it was not my culture. When I founded my first company, you make the product, you make the sale to the store, and your job is finished. Now you have to think about your windows, the people in your stores—it’s a second job.”

He hired fashion designers to put a creative stamp on what for decades had been a shapeless nylon sack. First came Junya Watanabe and Nicolas Ghesquière. Later, Moncler split men’s and women’s collections under Thom Brown and Giambattista Valli. With designers came fashion shows, but the routine stroll up and back on a catwalk clearly wasn’t going to cut it. Even a designer down jacket with silk fabric and a fur collar still looks like a down jacket. So Ruffini bet big on extravaganzas where the down jackets themselves were secondary.

A 2011 show in Grand Central Station.
A 2011 show in Grand Central Station. Photo: Courtesy of Moncler

In 2010, he positioned 100 young men and women on scaffolding at New York’s Chelsea Piers and had them stand in the cold for two hours while editors sipped hot chocolate. He convened a 363-person flash mob in Grand Central station. He sent 180 ice skaters around the Wollman Rink in Central Park. “He told me, ‘I don’t want a normal fashion show—I’m after another vision, a different way of showing. I’m not selling a collection, I’m selling an attitude,’ ” says Etienne Russo, who staged those shows. “You couldn’t really see the clothes, but this was for the longer term—for the gossip, for the word of mouth, for the Instagram feeds.”

Ruffini took Moncler public in 2013. He had gone through several private equity partners by then, and he says he was sick of looking for new ones every few years. The public offering instantly boosted his visibility and his bank account. The stock opened at a price that valued Moncler at around $3.5 billion, but such was the clamor for shares that the company ended the day worth just over $5 billion, a 47 percent jump in an afternoon. Ruffini’s 32 percent stake made him an “overnight billionaire” in the next day’s headlines.

It’s been pretty much straight up since then. Revenues grew from $800 million in 2013 to $1.43 billion in 2017. Profits did even better, rising from $104.6 million to $299 million. Ruffini’s stake is down to 26 percent today, but Moncler stock has more than doubled, making his smaller stake of the now-$11.5 billion company worth almost $2.7 billion.

A 1952 poster.
A 1952 poster. Photo: Courtesy of Moncler

That performance is all the more impressive considering that Moncler really sells only one thing, and it’s a thing most people need only one of, and then only in certain cold places at certain very cold times. Ruffini has successfully denied that reality, and he keeps denying it. Earlier this year, Moncler opened a store in sweltering Dubai. “The best market for luxury today is travelers. People don’t want to buy anymore where they live,” says Ruffini.

Observers keep waiting for reality to catch up to Moncler. A year ago, Luca Solca, the luxury goods analyst at Exane BNP Paribas, downgraded Moncler’s stock to underperform. “It would be naive to expect any brand to sustain growth above the market average forever,” Solca wrote in an analyst note in May 2017. In the first half of 2018, Moncler announced revenue of $575 million, 27 percent above the same period in 2017 at constant exchange rates. Net income was up 47 percent to $71.7 million. “We were wrong. We thought the stock would be quiet, but then it wasn’t,” says Solca, who subsequently raised the rating. “It’s still a one-trick pony, but Ruffini has built a great machine.”

An image from the Pierpaolo Piccioli collaboration.
An image from the Pierpaolo Piccioli collaboration. Photo: Suzanne Jongmans

I saw what that pony could do on a tour through Moncler’s wholesale showroom in Milan. The racks were lined with hundreds of down jackets, no two of them alike, and almost none of them bearing much resemblance to the bread-and-butter puffer Ruffini wore to school (they also weigh about a tenth as much). Some had nylon panels stitched in intricate geometric patterns. Some had leather or camouflage outer shells. One had the motto “From Down Jacket” printed on it, just so you don’t lose sight of where Moncler is coming from. A rose-colored creation with a matching faux-fur collar is apparently a big seller, but it’s obviously not meant for me (Moncler’s sales are split evenly between men and women).

It’s enough to make anyone nostalgic for the days when a fashion house had that quaint thing called a look. “In some ways, I kind of miss the days of a Christian Dior , ” says Craig Green. “But people just don’t want to keep seeing the same thing. It really shifts your head space to something you’re not used to.”

An image from the 1970 Moncler catalog.
An image from the 1970 Moncler catalog. Photo: Courtesy of Moncler

If this reminds you of the sneaker business with its bewildering merry-go-round of short-lived styles, well, Ruffini doesn’t exactly discourage the comparison. “The young generation may buy the $90 Adidas, but they dream of getting the Pharrell collaboration for $700. This is the game at the moment, and it works.”

Of course, when you’re surfing the zeitgeist, you’ve got to make sure you don’t miss the next wave. When Ruffini goes to Tokyo, perhaps three times a year, there’s a particular coffee shop in Shibuya where he likes to sit for several hours. “It’s very important to do nothing,” says Ruffini. “You see thousands of people walking across the street, and you notice the differences. Maybe the Genius Building is good for today, maybe it can last three years, maybe it can last 10 years. You must be ready to make something new.”

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In London, Collectors Get Fired Up for Ceramics

One of Picasso’s vases. Ceramics were in focus at several auctions in London, as well as the art fair Frieze.
One of Picasso’s vases. Ceramics were in focus at several auctions in London, as well as the art fair Frieze. Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd.

Asian collectors have long prized porcelain vases as much as paintings, but until recently, art lovers elsewhere largely treated ceramics like a second-class craft. Now, the global art market is trying to elevate clay art into the realm of the blue chip.

Christie’s and Phillips for the first time added stand-alone auctions of 20th-century and contemporary ceramics to their high-profile set of evening sales in London with examples by artists like Paul Gauguin, Lucio Fontana and Thomas Schütte. All but three of the 36 pieces in Christie’s $4 million “Un/Breakable” sale on Tuesday found buyers.

Across town at the art fair Frieze London, which overlapped with the week’s auctions, at least half a dozen galleries also offered ceramic works in their booths, including Robert Arneson’s 1983 bust of his wife Sandra Shannonhouse, “Woman in Gold,” at Venus Over Manhattan’s booth. It was priced at $650,000.

Paul Gauguin, ‘Vase porte-bouquet "Atahualpa"’
Paul Gauguin, ‘Vase porte-bouquet “Atahualpa”’ Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd.

Another highlight: Spanish-Egyptian artist Teresa Solar Abboud’s 2018 “Everything Is OK,” a salmon-colored column of lumpen ceramic bowls that evoke an intestinal tract, priced for around $5,800. As of Friday afternoon, Ms. Solar Abboud’s piece was still available, and Venus Over Manhattan declined to divulge the status of Mr. Arneson’s piece. The fair concludes Sunday.

Elsewhere this season, several tastemaker galleries and museums are also playing up pottery. Gagosian’s gallery in Geneva, Switzerland, has a “Fire and Clay” show running until Dec. 15 that includes potters Shio Kusaka, who is based in Los Angeles, and Ron Nagle, who is from San Francisco. In New York, the Museum of Arts and Design just opened an exhibit of apocalyptic ceramics by Los Angeles’s Sterling Ruby. It runs through March.

Pablo Picasso’s granddaughter Marina Picassogave the contemporary ceramics market a jolt three years ago when she enlisted Sotheby’s to sell off a portion of her inherited trove of the artist’s playful pottery. Collectors over the course of three sales bought every ceramic piece, in some cases paying six-figure sums that would have been unthinkable a decade ago. “Jurassic Park” actor Richard Attenborough’s estate sale of Picasso ceramics at Christie’s two years ago stoked a similar buy-it-all frenzy, with a Picasso vase selling for $909,407.

The canny push from auction houses also comes at a time when collector confidence remains highest in the middle of the market where pieces typically sell for between $500,000 to $5 million as opposed to the trophy top of the market where pieces can top $100 million, according to the auction-tracking firm ArtTactic’s Contemporary Art Market Confidence Report issued Tuesday.

Ai Weiwei’s ‘He Xie,’ incorporating porcelain sunflower seeds and river crabs, sold for $793,000 on Friday.
Ai Weiwei’s ‘He Xie,’ incorporating porcelain sunflower seeds and river crabs, sold for $793,000 on Friday. Photo: Phillips

Trophies are still selling at Sotheby’s, though: On Friday, its sale of part of New Jersey management consultant David Teiger’s estate included a $12.4 million Jenny Saville, “Propped,” that reset the record for a living female artist at auction.

The mood has nudged collectors to bolster ceramic pieces for dozens of artists like Peter Voulkos, whose 1958 stoneware abstract, “Rondena,” sold at Phillips last December for $915,000, over its $500,000 high estimate. The sale also established a new auction high bar for a 20th-century ceramic made by a U.S. artist.

That price still pales in comparison with the $38 million paid for a Chinese ceramic at auction—Sotheby’s sold a Northern Song-era vessel for washing paintbrushes—but the overall recalibration could expand the collector base. Watch for prices to rise for modern ceramists like George Ohr—the self-proclaimed “Mad Potter of Biloxi”—as well as postwar potters Lucie Rie and Hans Coper. Their works have long been funneled into decorative-art sales alongside lamps and sofas, rather than with paintings, sculptures and other fine art, but Christie’s expert Leonie Mir said such designations are blurring because younger contemporary collectors don’t sift or rank artworks strictly by medium anymore.

Neither do contemporary artists like Ai Weiwei, who incorporates all sorts of materials in his work. Among his recent installations: Room-size piles of hand-painted porcelain sunflower seeds and river crabs.

“There’s a lot of cross-pollination going on,” said Meaghan Roddy, a senior international specialist at Phillips, who sold the river crabs, or “He Xie,” for $793,000 on Friday.

Here’s a look at five other artists from Frieze Week who got creative with clay.

Picasso’s ‘Grand vase aux femmes voilées’ (A.R. 116)
Picasso’s ‘Grand vase aux femmes voilées’ (A.R. 116) Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd.
Pablo Picasso

Picasso started making earthenware plates and bowls in the 1940s as a breezy summer pastime, but he stuck with it for the rest of his life—eventually making more than 600 types of pieces, often shaped like animals or adorned with images of mythological characters. On Tuesday, Christie’s top lot was a 1950 terra-cotta “Large Vase With Veiled Women” that sold for $526,175, slightly over its $520,000 low estimate. But there are signs that collectors are starting to flip his pottery like they do his paintings: Christie’s also sold his 1950 “Tripod (A.R. 125)” vase depicting his mistress, Françoise Gilot, for $195,000—but the seller paid Sotheby’s $272,060 for it only two years ago.

Fausto Melotti, ‘I gessetti’ (1959)
Fausto Melotti, ‘I gessetti’ (1959) Photo: Christie’s Images Ltd.
Fausto Melotti

Fausto Melotti, an art-student pal of Lucio Fontana, initially gained fame in the 1930s for making wiry, geometric sculptures, but after his Milan studio was destroyed during World War II, he turned in grief to terra-cotta. He started making clay scenes with tiny figures often separated as if living on separate floors. He hinted at stories with this series of puppet-theater works, said Ms. Mir of Christie’s, adding, “There’s a domesticity to them, but the figures are isolated.” Today, Melotti’s quivering metal sculptures have sold for as much as $665,000, but Christie’s reset his clay record Tuesday by selling 1959’s “The Chalks,” for $416,975.

‘Overgrown’ by Kathy Butterly
‘Overgrown’ by Kathy Butterly Photo: Phillips
Kathy Butterly

New York artist Kathy Butterly has spent the past couple of decades crumbling clay into cheery, misfit forms that appear to topple, yet don’t. She has used nail polish as a glaze, sometimes firing her pieces dozens of times and risking destruction in the process, according to her dealer James Cohan, who has a solo show of her work, “Thought Presence,” up through Oct. 20 in New York. On Friday in London, Phillips’s $3.3 million sale included her 7-inch piece, “Overgrown,” that sold for $21,160. It was priced to sell for up to $20,000.

Betty Woodman’s ‘Balustrade Relief Vase 07-4’ (2007)
Betty Woodman’s ‘Balustrade Relief Vase 07-4’ (2007) Photo: Phillips
Betty Woodman

Betty Woodman, who died earlier this year, studied pottery in New York in the late 1940s, but after that she spent time in Tuscany, where she gained a reputation for creating vases that looked like they’d been deconstructed and pinned to the wall. “She’s creating three-dimensional works in a 2-D way,” Ms. Roddy of Phillips said. In 2006, Woodman was the first living ceramist to get a retrospective of her work at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and since then her market has started to tick upward. On Friday, Phillips sold her 2007 “Balustrade Relief Vase 07-4” for $61,850, tripling its high estimate.

Yeesookyung, ‘Translated Vase_2016 TVJ 2’ (2016)
Yeesookyung, ‘Translated Vase_2016 TVJ 2’ (2016) Photo: Gallery Hyundai
Yeesookyung

Since 2002, Seoul-based artist Yeesookyung has gathered potsherds of traditional Korean ceramics broken by manufacturers because they have flaws. She takes the pieces and builds them into new, bulbous shapes using an ancient technique where 24-karat gold leaf is used as a binding seam. Her “Translated Vases,” as she calls them, have since been collected by museums, displayed in last year’s Venice Biennale and sold at auction for as much as $33,231. During the VIP day for Frieze on Wednesday, Gallery Hyundai sold her 2016 “Translated Vase_2016 TVJ 2” for $26,000.

Write to Kelly Crow at kelly.crow@wsj.com

Meet the 9-Year-Old Telling You What to Wear

Giana, a 9-year-old artist and fashion fan, has accumulated 22,800 followers on Instagram.
Giana, a 9-year-old artist and fashion fan, has accumulated 22,800 followers on Instagram. Photo: Justin Clemons for The Wall Street Journal

Dallas

One of fashion’s “It” girls is actually a girl. Not a young woman. Not a teen. A girl.

Giana, known to her 22,800 Instagram followers as Dear Giana, is a photogenic 9-year-old artist and fashion enthusiast with an elfin frame and a marketing heft that brands want to harness.

Through her street-style flair and fashion drawings displayed on an Instagram account her mom runs, Giana has corralled fans, including art galleries, Vogue.com, streetwear fashion blog Highsnobiety and Nike . The sneaker and apparel giant collaborated with Dear Giana on three T-shirts to be released Oct. 11, the International Day of the Girl.

“It’s very cool, for sure,” said Giana during a recent interview, where she had on Nike Air Force 1 sneakers and Nike socks.

In images from her ‘Dear Giana’ Instagram, the young fashionista shows off streetwear looks.
In images from her ‘Dear Giana’ Instagram, the young fashionista shows off streetwear looks. Photo: g.von.g

Giana is among the stylish pre-teens made famous by social media and anointed mini-influencers or mini-creatives. Their ascent comes as marketers are striving to reach Generation Z, the roughly 67 million individuals born roughly between 1997 and a few years ago. They have about $44 billion in purchasing power, according to Mintel. Thanks to social media, members of Gen Z can see a staggering array of merchandise, and pinpoint precisely the clothes and shoes they want to wear, even if their parents are still paying for them. Gen Z also is the most racially diverse generation in American history: Almost half are a race other than non-Hispanic white.

“They already hold much influence, particularly due to their unprecedented digital access and resources, which is prompting them to try things while they are young that weren’t possible for past generations of kids,” said Meredith Hirt, senior insights writer at Cassandra, a research firm specializing in young consumers. “Children don’t have to wait until they grow up to be influential, …which is causing brands across all industries to take notice.”

For 33% of 7-to-12-year-olds in the U.S., clothing ranks second behind technology in categories they consider worthy of splurges, according to Cassandra, showing that pre-teens are focused on fashion and nearly as interested in it as millennials are. Clothing ranked second for 36% of 13-to 20-year-olds. “We’ve noticed a rise in car makers targeting parents through their kids,” Ms. Hirt added, “recognizing that kids and tweens are influential and have sway as to what their parents decide to buy.”

Nike’s director of communications for North America, Jenna Golden, wrote in an email, “We feel that Dear Giana is such an inspiration for young girls everywhere.” The company declined to disclose financial terms of its contract with her. Earlier this year, Nike worked with eight young “athlete influencers” and asked each to design children’s versions of one of the company’s shoes.

Trend forecaster WGSN, which has tracked Giana since she entered the scene two years ago, labeled her the “girl of the moment” and the “next leading mini-creative” in a recent report. Giana has a gap-toothed smile, dark bangs and loves sunglasses. She is of Filipino and Mexican ancestry and lives with her parents and two younger siblings in Dallas. Gena, her mother and manager, asked that the family’s last name be withheld for security reasons. “It’s just to keep her safe,” Gena said.

The fashion industry, perennially in search of the new, has a complicated history with youth. In 1980, Calvin Klein drew criticism for ads with a 15-year-old Brooke Shields. About a decade ago, 11-year-old Tavi Gevinson became famous for her fashion blog. In 2011, fashion line Miu Miu tapped actor Hailee Steinfeld, then 14, to star in its ads. Today, 14-year-old actor Millie Bobby Brown is a fashion muse. Spotlighting children raises concerns about exploitation and privacy. This year, Vogue pledged to stop using models under 18; some modeling agencies said they would cease using models younger than 16. Last year, two luxury conglomerates, LVMH , which owns Louis Vuitton, and Kering, which owns Balenciaga and Gucci, banned models under 16.

While fashion’s highest levels took steps to keep children out of the limelight, social media offered them an entirely new platform. The pre-teen market took off in 2010 with the launch of Instagram. Ms. Hirt, of Cassandra, said a few years ago J.Crew commissioned Sydney Keiser, a blogger from Milford, Ohio, to design a special collection for children. At the time, Ms. Keiser was 4. J.Crew came across her paper reconstructions of red-carpet dresses on her mother’s Instagram account.

Parents who post images of their children’s handiwork can find themselves being contacted by brands or talent scouts scouring Instagram for the next potential star. That’s how Giana was discovered. According to her mother, Giana started to show an artistic bent at age 3, when she would tackle coloring-book pages with watercolors or stage “art shows” with little rock formations in the backyard.

Artwork by Giana, who a few years ago began tearing out pages from her mother’s copies of Vogue and customizing them.
Artwork by Giana, who a few years ago began tearing out pages from her mother’s copies of Vogue and customizing them. Photo: Dear Giana

At 5 or 6, Giana was pulling pictures from her mother’s copies of Vogue and customizing them with crayons, pencils and markers. Gena started posting images and videos of her daughter’s efforts on Instagram. In 2016, when Giana was a 7-year-old second-grader, a children’s clothing brand called même. proposed hosting her first art exhibit in Seattle, Gena said. Giana displayed more than 40 works in the show and was on her way. Drawing pictures and styling streetwear looks that catch fire online comes naturally, Giana said. “I just did what I like…I just buy some clothes and wear it how I want to wear it.” Gena said Giana loves what she is doing. Giana said her mother “never forced me to do anything. She just let me do what I wanted to do.”

In the two years since Giana’s first art show, there have been three more, including one with Nike. Streetwear-style blogs like Hypebae and fashion and entertainment news sites like Complex have taken note of the pint-size cool girl who is a fan of Supreme, Louis Vuitton, and Virgil Abloh of Off-White. Brands are asking Giana to wear their clothes and accessories and post about them.

After discovering Giana on Instagram, Highsnobiety published an interview with her in December. “Even more than here’s this little girl that wears pretty cool clothes, it’s the fact that she wants to be an artist and has an outlet to reflect her creativity,” said Jian DeLeon, Highsnobiety’s editorial director. “The fact that she’s doing a Nike collaboration is truly mind-blowing.”

Vogue.com asked Giana to illustrate a few looks from New York Fashion Week in February and captured her at work in a video. Vogue saw that “Giana wasn’t playing dress-up, she actually had something to say and share with the world,” fashion news editor Monica Kim said. Giana’s passion for streetwear and her art encourages other children to be creative while inspiring adults too, said Erin Rechner, senior kidswear editor at WGSN. “They’re looking to her for new, fresh inspiration.”

To keep Giana from taking all the attention too seriously, her parents “limit how much stuff that we tell her,” Gena said. “We’re keeping her grounded.” Her father, Anthony, is a creative director. Gena, who studied set design and retail window display, says their daughter still has household chores, such as making her bed and cleaning her room.

Gena, above, with her daughter, says the family is keeping Giana grounded amidst her growing fame.
Gena, above, with her daughter, says the family is keeping Giana grounded amidst her growing fame. Photo: Justin Clemons for The Wall Street Journal

This year, the family hired an agent, Jeffrey Klein, director of the influencers division at Photogenics, a Los Angeles talent agency. In an email Mr. Klein wrote that he is wrapping up deals for Giana with “major brands for design collaborations to drop in 2019 and as far out as Spring 2020.”

Write to Ray A. Smith at Ray.Smith@wsj.com

Next Year’s Most Wearable Women’s Trends

“WHAT IS REAL is what lasts,” said Oprah Winfrey in her toast to Ralph Lauren at his recent anniversary event in Central Park. After 50 years as a pivotal fashion figure with an unwavering American aesthetic, Mr. Lauren has outlasted his contemporaries like Donna Karan and Calvin Klein, both of whom no longer design for their namesake companies. At the close of a season marked by change, Mr. Lauren’s consistency stands out in a mutable fashion landscape. While some brands are still defined by their core DNA, others have been reinvented by a revolving-door procession of creative directors.

At the label Mr. Klein launched in 1968, originally known for its beige-y minimalism, Belgian designer Raf Simons proposed inventive, postmodern clothing for spring with references from prom to “Jaws.” It was heart-poundingly fun, and relevant, but bore little resemblance to Mr. Klein’s blueprint. At Celine, which former creative head Phoebe Philo turned into a brand beloved by women for its professional yet comforting shapes, Hedi Slimane divisively pulled the accent off the first “e” and sent sharp, very-Slimane tailoring and abbreviated dresses down the runway. The renegade designer Demna Gvasalia continued his sleight of hand at Balenciaga, combining elements from the brand’s past (like architectural waistlines) with technical fabrics. More faithfully, Pierpaolo Piccioli drew gasps for his gowns at Valentino, many in the brand’s signature scarlet color. And as one of the few designers who rivals Ralph Lauren’s longevity, Miuccia Prada unveiled delightfully (and characteristically) eccentric efforts at both Prada and Miu Miu. A variation on Ms. Winfrey’s sentiment seems likely to be chewed over in seasons to come: Do women want consistency or evolution?

Next Year’s Most Wearable Women’s Trends
Seeing Spots

That Betty Boop-ish vintage standby, polka dots, was given new life. From left: a sweet minidress at Carolina Herrera (care of a new designer, Wes Gordon); a sheer frock (slip required) at Prada; volume play at Celine; va-va-voom mega-dots at Dolce & Gabbana; a baby-doll at Burberry (newly designed by Riccardo Tisci).

Next Year’s Most Wearable Women’s Trends
To Dye For

This season proved that tie-dye, against all odds, can be refined. From left: An acid-washed interpretation on the cool girls at Proenza Schouler; a ladylike, deconstructed, shibori-style skirt at Prada; hints of a Bali summer gone absolutely right by Paco Rabanne; a silken slip dress at Christian Dior; a showstopping, full-tie-dye jumpsuit (on Kaia Gerber, Cindy Crawford’s daughter) at Stella McCartney.

Next Year’s Most Wearable Women’s Trends
Shore Things

Retro beach vibes harked back to more glamorous summer travel. From left: patterned splendor at Etro; that Goa lifestyle at Chloé, a fringed ensemble at Valentino for SPF-50 types; the ultimate embroidered caftan at Tory Burch; a yé-yé-girl shift at Chanel, where the models walked barefoot on a ‘beach.’

Next Year’s Most Wearable Women’s Trends
Noir Hour

Inky, gathered, voluminous dresses were a novel idea for evening. From left: Thick navy knots show Rei Kawakubo’s mastery at Comme des Garçons; an off-the-shoulder gown at Valentino; The Row’s sheer layers of chicness; Simone Rocha’s silk taffeta garment, topped off with a lacy veil.

Next Year’s Most Wearable Women’s Trends
Practical Magic

Refined utility looks will make phone storage a cinch in spring. From left: Sheer pocket play at Fendi; Givenchy’s luxe cargo pants are wish list-worthy; Hermès nailed the pocket-y jumpsuit; at Loewe the pockets were almost as big as the garment; Louis Vuitton’s futuristic woman uses old-school utility tricks.

Next Year’s Most Wearable Women’s Trends
Entrenched

From left: Croc coat at Burberry; a pearly gradient at Gabriela Hearst; ruffled sleeves at Max Mara; stripped-down stripes at Tod’s.

More in Style & Fashion

Appeared in the October 6, 2018, print edition as ‘SPRING THEORIES ROLL Things We (Mostly) Loved.’

Entrepreneur Tyler Haney on her Best Beauty Hacks

SPORTY SPICE Tyler Haney photographed at the Outdoor Voices HQ in Austin, Texas.
SPORTY SPICE Tyler Haney photographed at the Outdoor Voices HQ in Austin, Texas.

OUTDOOR VOICES’S founder Tyler Haney calls Barton Springs, a natural pool in Austin, a “fountain of youth.” When she first visited the Texas capital, she went for a dip and had a presentiment that the hippie-haven city would be the ideal home for her budding fitness-apparel company. Two years later, Ms. Haney, 30, has moved all operations to Austin. “Time moves slower here,” she said. “It drives creativity.” Given the city’s outdoorsy nature, it’s also an ideal place for this sporty entrepreneur to test new gear. (Ms. Haney runs 3 miles every day at a “recreational pace.”)

Her brand of fitness is inclusive. “Not everyone is trying to be Serena Williams,” said Ms. Haney. “We are breaking down the barrier to entry to an active lifestyle.” So rather than overly intense black and neon active wear, the company offers casual pieces in color-blocked combinations like dark blue and green. Just like the clothes, the brand’s motto “doing things” (which can be spotted on its trendy totes and hats from Venice Beach to Vero Beach) spurs its acolytes to get out and enjoy even low-key activities like walking the dog. That accessible approach to fitness carries over to Ms. Haney’s beauty routine.

Clockwise from left: Glossier Boy Brow; Thayers Witch Hazel; Miso soup; Dr. Hauschka Bronzing Tint; Davines shampoo; Davids Toothpaste; ’El Cosmico’ by D.S. & Durga; Four Sigmatic 10 Mushroom Blend
Clockwise from left: Glossier Boy Brow; Thayers Witch Hazel; Miso soup; Dr. Hauschka Bronzing Tint; Davines shampoo; Davids Toothpaste; ’El Cosmico’ by D.S. & Durga; Four Sigmatic 10 Mushroom Blend

The first thing I do when I wake up is: take 30 grateful breaths; it sets the tone for the day.

Post-workout I take: a 3-minute cold shower. It’s a challenge, but you’ll feel more alert.

My morning beauty-potion ingredients include: bentonite clay. And I started taking Four Sigmatic’s 10-mushroom blend four months ago for clarity.

My mom says: to consciously smile. It helps lift everything up.

My low-maintenance beauty hack is: Dr. Hauschka’s bronzing tint. I mix it with Embryolisse moisturizer. It adds color in a natural way and just brings me to life in one step.

I’m secretly high-maintenance about: exfoliation. I exfoliate in the shower and then use Nuxe hair, face and body oil which I get in Paris.

My ultimate essential product is: Vintner’s Daughter [face oil]. It smells fantastic and it absorbs into the skin nicely.

I combat oily skin with: witch hazel. Just the regular stuff from the drugstore.

My theory on brows is: the more natural the better. Mine are a bit ‘Where the Wild Things Are.’ I use Glossier Boy Brow in clear to keep them in place.

My favorite supposedly beautifying food is: miso soup. I went to Esalen, a spiritual retreat in Big Sur, Calif., and they served it for breakfast which seemed weird at first, but now I love it.

I always carry: D.S. & Durga ‘El Cosmico’ perfume. And CBD oil.

On the plane, I must: brush my teeth with Davids natural toothpaste and put on eye patches by Equal Beauty as soon as I’m allowed to recline the seat.

I wash my hair: every other day with Davines shampoo. But the most important thing you can do for your hair is take Biotin [capsules], something I learned from riding horses growing up. I take BioSil. At Outdoor Voices, when we are casting models we talk about “Biotin girls” meaning girls with vibrant and abundant hair.

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How to Disconnect From ‘Always On’ Work Culture

THE CHALLENGE OF OPTING OUT Sixty percent of Americans admit to feeling stressed when their phones are off or unavailable, according to a 2017 study by Asurion, a tech insurance company.
THE CHALLENGE OF OPTING OUT Sixty percent of Americans admit to feeling stressed when their phones are off or unavailable, according to a 2017 study by Asurion, a tech insurance company. Illustration: Steve Scott

I HAVE A MASOCHISTIC need to please bosses, so I’m never more than a few feet from my iPhone (notifications humming at all hours) and I never leave home without a MacBook in tow. Just in case. My manager, who once mentioned pointedly that he has a “perverse respect for workaholics,” recently emailed me a question at 11:11 p.m. When I responded seven minutes later, he shot back: “You = Always On.”

Whether it was a joke or a compliment, I’ll take it. Different generations might debate which technological advance launched the “always on” work culture that keeps us chained to our devices, and who’s most guilty of perpetuating it. As a millennial, I’d argue that it sprang up in the mid-1980s, when doctors first clipped on pagers and Michael Douglas introduced the world to car phones in “Wall Street,” that cautionary tale about work/life balance (which famously declared that “lunch is for wimps”).

Today always-on is the default work setting for most of us. Ubiquitous smartphones, slim computers and innovative apps make every response a snap—quicker, easier, seemingly less painful. It just takes a second, right? But those rapidly accumulating seconds are just technology’s version of death by 1,000 cuts, expanding the workday’s boundaries until it seamlessly blurs with the rest of civilian life.

According to a 2016 study by the Academy of Management, employees tally an average of 8 hours a week answering work-related emails after leaving the office. Echoing that, a 2015 Harris Poll for the American Psychological Association found that 30% of men and 23% of women regularly bring work home. Similar percentages admitted to working on vacation and to bringing “work materials” along on social outings (we hope they don’t mean accordion folders). All of this, many experts in psychology agree, causes stress, ruins sleep habits and cripples our ability to stay active and engaged during actual office hours.

In 2017, France instituted a new labor law that supports a new frontier in human rights, the “Right to Disconnect.” Backed by unions advocating that employees disengage from electronic work communications once free of the office, the law stems from a 2004 French Supreme Court ruling affirming that an employee who is unreachable by cell outside of work can’t be dinged for misconduct.

SORRY, WE’RE CLOSED Actively disengaging from work can help you rest up so you’re more productive during office hours.
SORRY, WE’RE CLOSED Actively disengaging from work can help you rest up so you’re more productive during office hours. Illustration: Steve Scott

Similar rights have been extended in Italy and the Philippines, are being explored in Germany and Luxembourg and were proposed in New York City. And in July, the South Korean legislation began limiting weekly work hours to just 52, down from a max of 68. Surprise: America has no legal maximum.

“Always-on culture is weird. It’s not how humans thrive. It’s not how productive people break through to the next level,” said Greg McKeown, author of “Essentialism,” which details his philosophy of confidently saying no to things that don’t benefit you—a “disciplined pursuit of doing less,” but doing it better. “Modern culture now acts upon us so constantly that we start reacting to it rather than acting for ourselves.”

Mr. McKeown argues that being selective about how we spend our time turns it into a valuable commodity to be traded, ultimately earning you respect and making you more productive when you’re “on.” For instance, saying no to aimless meetings frees up your office time to finish tasks, eliminating extra work at home. But many of us still are burdened by FOMO—the fear of missing out, or in this case the fear of missing opportunity, of being seen as less hardworking and less reliable than co-workers and thus expendable. According to a 2016 Harvard Business Review study, 43% of those surveyed “sacrifice or significantly suppress other meaningful aspects of who they are” and give in to always-on.

Always-on is weird. It’s not how humans thrive. It’s not how productive people break through. We have to dismantle it before it dismantles us.

So rather than using technology to augment our work, speeding us out the door in 6 hours instead of 10, or cutting down to an ideal four-day workweek, we’ve misused technology to bolster antiquated workaholic habits. Then again, what’s two minutes to draft a quick email so the folks upstairs know they can always count on you?

“We have to dismantle always-on before it dismantles us,” Mr. McKeown warned. How to actually achieve that dismantling is complicated. Much like that electronic cummerbund that promises to zap your stomach into a six-pack but only burns you in the end—financially and in my case literally—there’s no quick fix. While Big Tech brands have put in two decades of yeoman’s work to constantly and persistently connect people across all platforms, at all hours, they’re just now creating systems to help place healthy restrictions on communications.

Google Calendar’s new “Working Hours” function lets you automatically reject colleagues who send invites for meetings or calls outside set time windows, and conspires with your inbox to streamline the crafting of painless “out of office” replies.

Apple’s new iOS 12 features enhanced Do Not Disturb settings, letting you quiet notifications for a set time or even at a set location so incoming communications are withheld until you physically leave your home or favorite dinner spot, depending on your self-imposed parameters. It also lets you toggle on auto-reply texts, which you can customize to keep people at bay. For me, “Sorry, I’m busy but I’ll you shoot you a note when I’m back” gets the message across.

If you have an iPhone, you also have a VIP inbox you’re probably not using, which lets you tweak notifications so your screen only flashes when you receive emails from those you deem worthy—a husband or manager but not Rick in accounting. Just tap the circled “i” next to “VIP” in your mail app to add preferred addresses, and then you can set custom alerts and notifications. That said, it’s often best to turn off most notifications as soon as you download a new app, letting you control when you check your phone and respond to messages rather than reacting immediately to a chiming or rumbling phone.

Harking back to the good old days of AOL when “You’ve Got Mail!” was a thrilling welcome, not an existential crisis, some platforms are adopting AOL Instant Messenger’s red light/green light system that lets people know you’re online. Slack, a powerful and popular workplace communication tool, lets you customize a status so people know when you’re unavailable and what you might be doing. Slack also automatically sets you to “snooze” at 10 p.m., blocking notifications until 8 a.m. (the times can be customized to suit your needs and schedule).

By far the boldest method I’ve heard for shutting out work, however, is refusing to install work email on your phone. If you dare.

While wondering how I might employ these tactics to steal some of my life back, a serendipitously stupid thing happened: An overnight iOS update disabled my iPhone entirely. What started as panic morphed quickly into a feeling of freedom. I couldn’t check emails in the lunch line or be distracted by texts, DMs or gchats. I was utterly unreachable at times and it didn’t seem to matter. And I was more rested and more productive.

I got a new phone later that week, but in that short window I realized the ultimate key to work-life balance was—actually wait. Can you hold on a second? I gotta take this.

I’M ALWAYS ON IT! / A History of Tech’s Invasion of Private Life
How to Disconnect From ‘Always On’ Work Culture
Photo: Alamy

1984

Motorola DynaTAC

Costing a cool $3,995 upon its release, the first commercial cellphone—dubbed the “Brick”—weighed 2.5 pounds, lasted 30 minutes on a 10-hour charge and couldn’t order Seamless. But it made us accessible on the road, transforming work interactions.

How to Disconnect From ‘Always On’ Work Culture
Photo: Motorola

1986

Motorola BRAVO Pager

Beepers had existed more than 60 years by the mid-80s, but most were short range for emergency services. Motorola’s Bravo popularized long-distance paging among eager professionals and by 1994 more than 61 million devices chimed insistently world-wide.

How to Disconnect From ‘Always On’ Work Culture
Photo: Alamy

1991

Apple PowerBook 100

The first modern laptop had an innovative trackball mouse and slid the keyboard up to the screen, giving traveling businesspeople a place to rest their wrists while punching out spreadsheets. The PowerBook series earned over $8 billion in revenue through 1992.

How to Disconnect From ‘Always On’ Work Culture
Photo: Getty Images

1997

AOL Instant Messenger

AIM helped millennials learn to type and effectively created the way we all “chat” today, popularizing emojis and modern shorthand (lol!). Users created profiles, curated buddy lists and set away messages. It was social media and text in one.

How to Disconnect From ‘Always On’ Work Culture
Photo: Alamy

2002

BlackBerry Phones

After innovating pagers, RIM released its first smartphone, nicknamed “Crackberry” due to its addictive nature. Sure, you could make calls or text on its qwerty keyboard but most important was the arrival of push email. Family dinners were never the same.

How to Disconnect From ‘Always On’ Work Culture
Photo: Alamy

2009

Smartphone Notifications

Email, text, chat, news, voice mail, Twitter , Facebook and Instagram, Fantasy-Football trash talk, all blinking your phone awake. It’s hard to remember what boardroom meetings were like before Apple first pushed out iPhone notifications.

OVERLY BUSY SIGNAL Anne Hathaway in ’The Devil Wears Prada.’
OVERLY BUSY SIGNAL Anne Hathaway in ’The Devil Wears Prada.’ Photo: Alamy
THE DEVIL IS IN THE EMAILS / Films That Reflect Always-On Culture

MOVIE CHARACTERS aren’t immune to the grind. In satires, dramas and comedies, always-on culture has enabled their work-related downward spirals.

The Player (1992) Studio executive Griffin Mill (Tim Robbins) sometimes greenlights, but more often rejects, movie pitches he’s subjected to at glamorously dull Hollywood parties. But real-life drama swamps him when a disgruntled screenwriter sends him threats, including one via mobile fax machine, which drive Mill to murder. When studio security asks if something is wrong, Mill replies no. “Business as usual.”

The Devil Wears Prada (2006) Plucky journalism grad Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) languishes as an assistant to cold fashion editrix Miranda Priestly, who commands Sachs’s every waking moment via her cell. When her co-assistant (Emily Blunt) is hit by a car while prattling on her phone, Sachs is poised to climb the ladder—a job she’s told that “a million girls would kill for”—until she regains her senses and throws herT-Mobile Sidekick in a Paris fountain, exchanging her chic career for a shot at happiness.

Up in the Air (2009) HR consultant Ryan Bingham (George Clooney) spends so many days traveling for work he doesn’t have time to adorn his drab apartment, much less commit to someone. Things look dire, until he meets another hopeless workaholic in an airport and the two turn their always-on condition into a positive, flirting long distance over the (once-revolutionary) BlackBerry Messenger.

Set It Up (2018) Overworked, ambitious assistants Harper and Charlie (Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell) reach a breaking point as long hours and weekend work threaten their personal lives. The two conspire to hook up their bosses, drafting romantic chats in hopes that an upper-management liaison might distract the bosses from torturing the dutiful assistants.

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London Restaurant Cora Pearl Is a Welcoming Hideaway

“WE HAD A little sniff that the space could turn into something really lovely,” says Oliver Milburn of the Covent Garden address that was once a chain restaurant and is now Cora Pearl, one of the hottest new tables in London. Milburn and his pals of 20 years, Tim Steel and Tom Mullion, would seem to know what makes a good room: Their previous restaurant, Kitty Fisher’s, opened in 2014 and, with its cozy interior and wood-fired cooking, quickly started drawing in a steady stream of celebrities, politicians and other notables.

One…

Multimillion-Dollar Homes on Campus Where Rent is Free

The President’s Mansion at the University of Alabama, one of the few campus buildings to survive the Civil War.
The President’s Mansion at the University of Alabama, one of the few campus buildings to survive the Civil War. Photo: Art Meripol for The Wall Street Journal

In August, Katherine A. Rowe and her husband Bruce Jacobson moved into a 5,763-square-foot Colonial Georgian built in 1732 that has witnessed the famous, and infamous, for centuries. It housed British General Charles Cornwallis near the end of the Revolutionary War, and has hosted George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and every president from Woodrow Wilson to Dwight Eisenhower.

It is also a great deal. As president of the 325-year-old College of William & Mary, Ms. Rowe gets to live free in what the school attests is the country’s oldest official college presidential residence. “Being in this house brings us back to that early moment of thinking about the beginning of higher education in this country,” she says.

One of the most lucrative perks of becoming a college or university leader is the housing. The average tenure of a college chief was 6.5 years in 2016, according to a study by the American Council on Education. During their time in charge, many presidents get to live in some of the grandest and most historic properties in the U.S.


The Historic Homes of College Presidents

A look at the stately residences of some college or university chiefs, from the 18th Century Colonial Georgian at the College of William & Mary to Garner President’s House at Cornell College

College of William & Mary President Katherine A. Rowe and her husband, Bruce Jacobson, stand in the gardens in front of the President’s House, a three-story Colonial Georgian mansion built in 1732.
Tyler Darden for The Wall Street Journal

For many campus leaders, the value of their free accommodations is not taxed as income. According to Donald Budnick, a New York-based accountant, housing isn’t considered part of taxable compensation so long as the president is required to occupy the home as a condition of employment and the home is located on campus. This is the case for about 70% of public college and university presidential contracts, according to research from James Finkelstein, professor emeritus, and Judith Wilde, professor, both in public policy at George Mason University. (No data was available for private college presidents.)

Built in 1732, the President’s House is the country’s oldest official college presidential residence, according to the College of William & Mary.
Built in 1732, the President’s House is the country’s oldest official college presidential residence, according to the College of William & Mary. Photo: Tyler Darden for The Wall Street Journal

For these presidents and chancellors, the campus homes are also more than residences. They serve as the cog in a university’s social life, hosting events for students, faculty, alumni and prospects throughout the year.

The President’s Mansion at the University of Alabama, in Tuscaloosa, is a bustling social center for the campus. President Stuart R. Bell and his wife Susan say they host dozens of events annually at the antebellum, 11,781-square-foot Greek Revival mansion, which features dramatic, twin curving staircases from the ground to the formal second-floor balcony entrance.

Stuart R. Bell and his wife Susan live in the President’s Mansion at the University of Alabama.
Stuart R. Bell and his wife Susan live in the President’s Mansion at the University of Alabama. Photo: Art Meripol for The Wall Street Journal

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Between alumni and student tours, formal dinners, student barbecues, tailgate parties for up to 800 and Easter egg hunts for local children (featuring 9,000 eggs this year), the place clearly belongs to the campus community. “It did take a little bit of an adjustment to hear people coming and going through our house all the time,” says Mrs. Bell. “Within a couple of months, it was astounding when there were not people going through.”

Some presidential homes, due to location, size or tradition, are less a social center and more like an inn. The President’s House at Salve Regina University in Newport, R.I., occupied by President Sister Jane Gerety for the past 10 years, is a 6,000-square-foot, seven-bedroom renovated carriage house and stable that was part of a grand estate built for successful banker William Watts Sherman in 1876, according to historical records. It is one of the seven contiguous historic estates owned by Salve Regina in the Ochre Points/Bellevue Avenue neighborhood in Newport, known for Gilded Age mansions like the Marble House, built in 1892 for William Vanderbilt, and the Breakers, built in 1895 for his brother Cornelius.

The President’s House is divided into two apartments, one for the president, one for visitors. Sister Gerety says her bedroom was where Mr. Sherman’s staff used to wash the estate’s horse-drawn coaches. “I’m living in a place where servants lived,” she says. “I like the symbolism of that.”

Aside from their history and pedigree, another recurring theme among these campus treasures is the maintenance, repairs and renovations they require, which because of their age and intensity of usage can be a constant, expensive process.

President Jonathan Brand, wife Rachelle LaBarge and Didi at Garner President’s House at Cornell College.
President Jonathan Brand, wife Rachelle LaBarge and Didi at Garner President’s House at Cornell College. Photo: Rau+Barber for The Wall Street Journal

Garner President’s House at Cornell College in Mount Vernon, Iowa, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Gifted to the college in 1908 by William Fletcher King, one of Cornell’s earliest presidents, it is hailed by architects as an exceptional example of Gothic/Victorian architecture, the college says.

It was also falling apart. When President Jonathan Brand and his wife Rachelle LaBarge arrived in 2011, they had to move to temporary housing as the school was just launching an 18-month, $1.9 million renovation.

Garner President’s House, along with the entire campus, is on the National Register of Historic Places.
Garner President’s House, along with the entire campus, is on the National Register of Historic Places. Photo: Rau+Barber for The Wall Street Journal

Prior to their arrival, Mr. Brand said the board debated whether to undertake renovations at all, given the poor condition of the 168-year-old home. His predecessor, Les Garner and his wife Katrina, lived in the house for 16 years, and Mr. Brand says the house was named after them to honor how they made the home a focal point of the community, and also due to their fortitude in living with its challenges, including constantly freezing pipes and a leaky roof. “They had a very tight relationship with the facilities staff,” says Mr. Brand. “I mean I can visualize them blowing with hair dryers on pipes literally an hour before an event.”

Despite the renovation, Mr. Brand says that rumors persist that the spirit of Mr. King, the early president who donated the home to Cornell on the condition he be allowed to continue living there, still occupies the place. “People say he stayed for 13 years after he retired,” says Mr. Brand. “But I think it might be more like 100 years.”

Ghosts are another of the perks that come with a presidential residence. William & Mary’s President’s House, which is on several campus ghost walks, reportedly has apparitions, says Ms. Rowe. They like to knock on the front door, and open the kitchen cabinets at night, she says. There are tales of a ghost of a French soldier who died in the house in the 1700s. “I speak French, and I figure when he’s ready to have a conversation, he’ll let me know,” she says.


Presidential Mansions Across the Country

These historic homes that serve as residences for college and university presidents can be worth many millions of dollars

The University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Built: 1841
Square footage: 11,781 square feet including outbuildings, garage and storage and porches
On 3 acres, the President’s Mansion is an antebellum, Greek Revival mansion with twin curving staircases.
Estimate: $3 million range, according to Donna Petty, Hamner Real Estate, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Art Meripol for The Wall Street Journal

More from Mansion

The University of Alabama home may have one as well, says Mr. Bell. “We’d been here a week and a half and heard noises,” he says. “We looked all through the house and couldn’t find anything, and Susan and I turned to each other and said, ‘this is a big house, let’s go to sleep.’”

Despite the challenges of living in so public a space—with visitors both corporeal and incorporeal—the presidents and their spouses say they wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. The Bells are enamored with their home’s majestic front porch, where Mr. Bell says he spends many Sunday mornings with hot tea and the newspaper. Ms. Rowe and Mr. Jacobson say they cherish their cozy upstairs den. Sister Gerety likes to meditate in her home’s sunroom, which looks out over a rose garden. Mr. Brand and Ms. LaBarge love their bright kitchen.

Mr. Brand says that he’s taking a cue from former President King who, as was his wish, lived in the house until he died in 1921. “I’ve already penned a letter to my successor,” Mr. Brand says. “‘Get ready. We’re not leaving.’”

Appeared in the October 5, 2018, print edition as ‘Big Mansions On Campus.’

Modern Romance: State-of-the-Art Spindle Beds

SPARE SPIRES Designer Kerry Joyce’s bed adds soul to a Manhattan apartment featured in his coming book, ‘The Intangible,’ (Pointed Leaf Press).
SPARE SPIRES Designer Kerry Joyce’s bed adds soul to a Manhattan apartment featured in his coming book, ‘The Intangible,’ (Pointed Leaf Press). Photo: Joshua McHugh

IN A MODERN Manhattan apartment, Los Angeles designer Kerry Joyce was faced with a blank-slate bedroom sadly lacking in architectural charisma. He had introduced vintage pieces in other rooms, so Mr. Joyce decided to design a bed that recalls the past without bowing to it. His cast-bronze, finely articulated four-poster bed rekindles the charm of wooden spindles and, said Mr. Joyce, “anchors the room with a little bit of heart.”

After a decade or so of minimalist beds that forgo any draping but delineate volume with the barest of posts and rails, decorators are returning to the romance of the canopy bed without resorting to the festooning you’d encounter at a doily-dotted bed-and-breakfast. The reimagined four-posters replace overwrought Victorian spindles with unconventional, totem-like columns.

As the unnerving theory goes, canopied beds appeared in 13th-century Europe to keep rats from dropping upon the slumbering well-to-do, said Wolf Burchard, furniture research curator for London’s National Trust. Americans in the sweltering South dispensed with the insulating canopies and draperies in the early 20th century, said Alexis Barr, instructor of design history at the New York School of Interior Design, to minimize germiness. The canning of canopies also reflects the general “stripping down of the American interior.”

Yet today’s designers wistfully admire the four-posters’ suggestion of cocooning. Under a client’s soaring exposed-beam ceilings, Jessica Helgerson, who works in Portland, Ore., recently installed a bed by Los Angeles’s Noir furniture, with stanchions like upended polygraph-test lines. “It creates the feeling of a room within a room without closing things in,” said Ms. Helgerson, who avoids canopied beds as too fussy and “decorator-y.” Los Angeles-based Jeff Andrews, who stationed a similar bed in reality-TV star Kylie Jenner’s former bedroom, finds approachable whimsy in these newfangled posts. Without a shrouding canopy, he said, they work with most décor styles and don’t look “over-the-top or too commanding.”

New woodcarving technology, namely computer numerical control (CNC) routers, make possible fanciful beds like London designer Geoff Hawkes’s for Restoration Hardware, a svelte take on Baroque hardwood spindles. “It’s trying to catch people’s imagination,” Mr. Hawkes said. “People walk in and go, ‘That’s interesting.’”

From left: QS Ferret Bed by Noir, $3,540 for queen, Mecox Gardens, 212-249-5301; 18th C. Spindle Turned Bed, from $3,395, RH.com
From left: QS Ferret Bed by Noir, $3,540 for queen, Mecox Gardens, 212-249-5301; 18th C. Spindle Turned Bed, from $3,395, RH.com

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