Kelly Cole can add another occupation to his long résumé: partner.
Cole, a bicoastal presence with extensive experience as an actor, disc jockey, club owner and sportswear and even interior designer, in July opened a store under his own name on La Brea Avenue in Los Angeles, and his playful approach to jeans and both solid and graphic T-shirts quickly attracted the likes of Maroon 5’s Adam Levine and singer Christina Aguilera.
It also drew the attention of numerous retailers, including Maxfield, American Rag and Fred Segal Santa Monica, which became the business’ first wholesale accounts. Cole, sensing an opportunity and needing assistance to capitalize on it, turned to Sean Hornbeak, who’d been responsible for putting both J Brand and Current/Elliott into the men’s business, and the pieces immediately fit.
Cole and Hornbeak are now 50-50 partners in Kelly Cole and are working together to build a meaningful wholesale business and take it beyond the emphasis on unisex knits and jeans that has distinguished the company’s efforts to date.
“I’d been helping Kelly with a few accounts and ideas after leaving Current/Elliott but began to think it was time to move on to my next collection,” Hornbeak said. “But it began to dawn on both of us that our aesthetics and personalities meshed really well, and it hit me that Kelly was already in some of the best stores on the West Coast. Why not build on that and grow? It all seemed to make sense. It’s fine with me if the label says ‘Kelly Cole.’”
The partners’ paths had crossed numerous times before, including during Cole’s operation of his Lo-Fi fashion/art boutique while Hornbeak pursued his love of vintage denim through Denim Doctors.
“It was clear to both of us that our aesthetics complemented each other and we had fun working together,” said Cole. “And Sean had the experience working with some of the larger companies we’d need to build on what was pretty much an improvised start.”
Hornbeak noted, “I knew design and the creative aspect of things, but working with the brands I have opened me up to sales and p.r. And working at J Brand taught me the importance of making a core basic program the foundation you need to build on.”
That philosophy of expanding on a solid core is apparent in the collection the two have assembled for fall. “We’re taking what’s working with our core clientele in L.A. — our blank and graphic Ts and our jeans — and adding more cut-and-sewn pieces as we grow. We want to keep it as simple, narrow and deep as we can.”
For fall, that means a line that, while gargantuan perhaps by Kelly Cole’s earlier standards, is tight and sharply focused, numbering just 55 stockkeeping units that, with few exceptions, wholesale at under $100.
There are two jeans fits for men and two for women, with a new boyfriend fit executed in raw denim. The Ts remain unisex but have been supplemented with crewneck and V-neck knits, a crewneck sweatshirt and a fleece motorcycle jacket. Accessories offerings currently are limited to five leather belts and two messenger bags.
The two are particularly enthused about a group of printed chino bottoms that are a modification of a project Hornbeak started at Current/Elliott. “The feedback on these has been terrific,” he noted. “Our retail accounts are telling us these are bottoms that their customers ‘live in.’”
Everything is produced in L.A. “As long as we can control that, that’s how we want it,” Cole said. “We come from working-class American families, and we know that, at least at a certain price level, there’s a capacity to manufacture in the U.S. and make it cost effective.”
Hornbeak noted, “Consumers are starting to finally make that an issue, something they’re paying attention to.”
Although they expect their business to continue to revolve around specialty stores, the partners are looking to build relationships with a handful of department stores. To support the growth they believe is ahead, they’re exploring additional sources of financing as well.
Trained as an actor and well known for his work as a DJ, Cole long had a sense that fashion, so often tied to music, was somehow calling him, whether through his friendship with the late designer Stephen Sprouse or what he described as an “unbelievably inspirational” gig he had as a DJ at a party thrown by Barry Schwartz, Calvin Klein’s business partner.
He said he wants to produce “a graphic [T-shirt] story that’s thought provoking every season, something that sparks a dialogue between people either because the person seeing the shirt is curious or, like with rock ’n’ roll T-shirts, sees that he’s got something in common with the person wearing it.”
“Our story will not only be aesthetically pleasing and cool and incorporate responsible washes and printing process, but something timely and relevant that can spark that dialogue,” he said.
EXCLUSIVE: @tomford is opening its first-ever beauty store. The boutique, which opens November 20 in London’s Covent Gardens, was designed with the over the top glam Ford is known for. Read the full story on WWD.com, link in bio. #wwdbeauty #wwdnews (📷: Simon Wagner) #TomFordBeauty
New York-based DJ @harleyvnewton threw a party to celebrate the holiday collection of her dress and pajama line @hvn at the Ladurée Beverly Hills. It Girls @katebosworth, @rashidajones and more joined in on the fun, which included cocktails, croque monsieur sandwiches and a photo booth. #wwdfashion (📷: Owen Kolasinski/BFA.com)
For the holidays, @Burberry partnered with 20-year-old artist @blondeymccoy on a series of three outdoor murals in downtown Manhattan. The murals are McCoy’s interpretation of a Christmas eve party, the idea of charity and the spirit of family. His third mural, pictured here, is the most personal. The image depicts McCoy’s grandparents and father in London’s Trafalgar Square in the Seventies. “My work often features lots of sentimental objects.” #wwdeye
For spring 2018, designers applied bold colors and cartoonish motifs on everything from sneakers and belts to key chains. See all the top men’s accessories trends on WWD.com. #wwdtrends (📷: George Chinsee; Prop Styling by @rnasti; Market Editor: @luiscampuzano)
The @dior-sponsored @guggenheim international gala pre-party has a history of drawing cool-girl musical acts to serenade the crowd –– and last night was no exception. @haimtheband performed songs both new and old, and lured a star-studded audience with the likes of Rebecca Hall, Kate Mara, Mamoudou Athie and more. #wwdeye (📷: @lexieblacklock)
In a partnership between the @metopera and the @englishnationalopera, “Marnie” was born. The opera, with costumes sponsored by @mrporterlive, is an adaptation of the 1961 thriller by Winston Graham. Arianne Phillips, who created the costumes, is no rookie: She’s styled Madonna for her tours and created costumes for a myriad of films in the past. Read WWD’s interview with Phillips, where she talks about her inspiration for the opera’s costumes on WWD.com #wwdfashion
@barneysnyc took a different approach to their holiday windows this year. Instead of Christmas decor, Barneys tapped @thehaasbrothers to tell a story of positivity, gratitude and inclusivity via heartwarming silliness and humor. “It’s about kids and it’s about coming together and being family and loving each other,” said Simon Haas. #wwdfashion (📷: @joshuascottphoto)
Beauty influencer @kandeejohnson makes her foray into hair care with a collaboration with @ogx_beauty — making it the first time that OGX has teamed up for a product creation. The collab includes shampoos and conditioners in three scents. At 39 and a mom, Johnson is a different profile than the emerging social media stars, but is considered one of the pioneers of the digital beauty influencer world. Read WWD’s interview with her on wwd.com, including the strangest beauty product she’s ever tried #wwdbeauty