While most women own umpteen pairs — few could describe how the humble jean is actually made.
Maurice Ohayon, owner and designer of Notify, is out to change that. In fall 2009, the prestige French denim label will open state-of-the-art ateliers in Milan and Paris where consumers can oversee the entire process — from fabric to finish. They will be able to choose the material, cut, color and wash and have their jeans made in the ateliers.
“The aim is to say, ‘Here are all the materials, here are all the technologies, here’s all the science. What would you like?’” said Ohayon, likening his concept to “going into the kitchen and choosing your ingredients.” The basic idea is that “you are your best tailor,” he continued, noting that when the supermodel Shalom Harlow tries on a pair of jeans, she comes up with at least four new ways of wearing them.
While between six and seven people out of 10 wear jeans, few know how they’re manufactured, Ohayon continued. “Denim has never been taught in fashion schools, yet there isn’t one fashion student who doesn’t wear jeans,” he said.
The ateliers themselves will be works of art, with the Paris flagship designed by British-Iraqi architect-of-the-moment Zaha Hadid and the Milan location by London-based, Tel-Aviv-born industrial designer Ron Arad. The Paris space, which finally received the go-ahead from city authorities last month, will span some 7,000-square-feet near the Marché Saint-Honoré. The ground fl oor will boast an exhibition space, and a spiral staircase will form the centerpiece leading down to the basement atelier. Hadid has completed a host of fashion projects lately including a mobile art pavilion for Chanel and shoes for the eco-friendly Brazilian shoe brand Melissa.
In Milan, the atelier is housed in a former mansion and sprawls over 10,000 square feet. It will be home to Arad’s largest work to date, a 28-ton steel sculpture, which stretches from the ground to the roof. “It’s like having an Airbus in the middle of the building,” Ohayon said of the piece, which resembles a whale on its side and reflects the roof in its tail. Other key features include a 200-square-foot movable platform, which can function as a meeting room on one floor, then a fitting room on another, while stainless steel flooring in the outside courtyard reflects the sky and the building’s facade.
In such surroundings, Ohayon wanted to offer the public a similar VIP service to that enjoyed by celebrity clients including Mick Jagger and Nicole Kidman, who can pop in to Notify’s Rue Etienne Marcel headquarters to have a pair made-to-measure.
Rather than a sales team, between five and six technicians will be on hand, manning washing machines, sewing machines and embroidery and trimmings areas. “When you come in, the technician will wipe their hands and then talk to you,” said Ohayon. “It won’t be some sales boy straight from the gym.” The workshops will each be able to manufacture two or three pairs of jeans a day.
Notify’s customer, he noted, is the ideal candidate for such a service. Rather than a hip youngster who follows any trend even if it doesn’t suit her, she is a woman who knows what cut suits her, what length of jeans she needs to go with which heel, he said.
It isn’t the first time Notify has pioneered in the tailoring realm. The brand introduced a novel sizing approach, dubbed sculpt sizing, where a choice of curve size was added to the traditional waist size so customers can choose their bottom cup size, so to speak, in the same way as they choose their lingerie.
While bespoke jeans aren’t new — the U.K. company Bodymetrics has pioneered a made-to-measure scanning service and Earnest Sewn offers bespoke jeans in 60 minutes in its in New York store — Notify’s concept differs in that it will offer industrial washes, as noisy and smelly as that may be, Ohayon acknowledged. Another difference is that while tailor-made products in any sector usually sell at a premium, Notify’s will carry the same price tags as jeans off the rack, which range from 200 to 300 euros, or $250 to $375. Notify’s collections will not be sold at the ateliers.
Not everybody is convinced by the concept’s appeal, however. “It’s going to take a long time to make a pair,” said Catherine Leung, owner of Parisian denim store Royalcheese. “Customers want things immediately and enjoy finding that perfect jean.”
While it may not be for everyone, made-to-measure concepts have proved successful for building consumer loyalty. Bodymetrics, which bowed at Selfridges in 2005, enjoys a high rate of reorders, according to founder Suran Goonatilake. “There are people who have ordered up to 20 pairs of jeans. Once people get a good fitting pair of jeans, there’s a lock-in.” The reason for such loyalty, according to Goonatilake, is that jeans are the hardest garment to fit. “Women try between nine and 11 pairs on average in store before they get a jean that fits them,” she said.
If Notify’s customer isn’t happy with the end result, meanwhile, they can have the pair redone multiple times, Ohayon promised.
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