Karen Stewart and Howard Brown, the husband-and-wife team who founded the label in 2002, recognized they were missing a sizable market and an opportunity to expand and diversify their line without denim in its product offering.
“We felt like we needed to offer denim to round out the collection and offer more woven bottoms,” said Stewart, who noted the line’s assortment has traditionally been focused on cut-and-sew knits and tops.
They also believed there was an opportunity in the market for a higher-end take on denim with a socially conscious message.
“We took styling cues from [traditional] denim, but it has a more refined and sophisticated appearance,” said Stewart. Details such as heavy contrast stitching, zippers and brass have been lifted from the traditional denim world and incorporated into more refined designs. “We wanted to take it a little more dressed up rather than the casual perspective on denim,” she said.
One of the keys to achieving that upscale look has been the choice of a lightweight fabric they are referring to as a “platinum twill.” The 7-ounce Japanese fabric is made from 100 percent organic cotton the designers had been working with over the years for other items. The fabric’s manufacturing process allows the fiber used to pick up all the dye, which results in clean water after the dyeing process.
The line’s denim offerings will consist of trousers, shorts, skirts, dresses and jackets. Wholesale prices will range from $82 to $138.
Stewart + Brown targets high-end women’s specialty boutiques, and has felt the pangs of the recession as their customers struggled to survive. Many didn’t. Stewart said that prior to the global financial crisis, the line shipped to 350 stores in the U.S. as well as to stores in Europe and Asia. Today, the line is down to 200 doors in the U.S. However, an online store launched two years ago is growing and customers did not flee entirely from the premium prices generally associated with green products.
“You can’t un-ring the bell,” said Stewart, who was introduced to environmental and sustainable issues during a five-and-a-half-year design stint with Patagonia. “Those people that are focused on sustainability and LOHAS [Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability] are not going to change. I don’t think they went back to conventional buying, they were just watching their money for a little while.”
Stewart sees confidence among retailers and customers on the rise, and the increased attention to sustainable practices from mainstream brands and retailers like Nike, Timberland and Walmart has moved the needle on consumer education.
“Our new challenge is there’s a tremendous amount of ‘greenwashing’ going on,” said Stewart, referring to the number of brands claiming to be environmentally friendly but not really being so. “We need to make sure people know we’re a legitimate and authentic company.”
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa's “I-did-it-my-way” ethos stood out starkly at a time when brands are experimenting with consumer-facing fashion shows, coed formats and trans-seasonal collections – anything to perk up lackluster sales of ready-to-wear in an age of Insta-everything. “It’s not creation anymore. This becomes a purely industrial approach,” the late designer told WWD in an interview last year. “But anyway, the rhythm of collections is so stupid. It’s unsustainable. There are too many collections.” Read more about the iconic designer’s life and work on wwd.com, link in bio. #wwdfashion #azzedinealaia (📷: @WWD Archive, 1986) #alaia
Sneaker reselling app @goat’s latest exhibit, "The Greatest: New York," tells the story of New York's sneaker culture. To celebrate the exhibit, an intimate crowd gathered on Thursday night at the pop-up gallery space, located at Platform in Culver City, to hear guest speaker and illustrator @esymai talk about her own rise in streetwear and women in the business. "For me I'm just someone who is creative. I like to create things," said Chang. #wwdfashion
Azzedine Alaïa, one of the most iconic couturiers of the modern era whose body-con designs defined Eighties fashion, has died in Paris. The diminutive Tunisian-born designer, known for his structured knitted dresses with fitted waists and impeccably cut, figure-hugging second skin silhouettes was deeply admired by his peers, and counted supermodel Naomi Campbell - his adoptive daughter - among his inner circle, one of a gang of glamazons including Farida Khelfa, Carla Bruni and Stephanie Seymour who became ambassadors of his style. (📷: Alexandre Guirkinger) #wwdblast