By  on July 22, 2009

PARIS — French fashion house Cacharel, which in December said it was stopping formal fashion shows, is aiming to kick-start its comeback with a spring collection to be presented during Paris Fashion Week in September.

“Spring has historically been the strongest season for Cacharel, with its light, feminine clothes,” said Marc Ramanantsoa, the firm’s managing director.

Ramanantsoa joined Cacharel in October, tasked to relaunch the company on its 50th anniversary with new management, distribution and production structures.

There is also a new design team — but no star designers — aiming to recapture the sweetness, innocence and romanticism evoked by photographer Sarah Moon’s iconic campaigns for Cacharel in the Seventies.

After becoming prominent in the Sixties and Seventies for its youthful, romantic style, in recent years the brand has struggled to regain its former profile, despite taking on board well-known designers. After parting ways with the husband-and-wife duo of Suzanne Clements and Inacio Ribeiro in 2007, Cacharel hired another design pair, Mark Eley and Wakako Kishimoto, who left in November after just two seasons at the house.

“Eley Kishimoto was pop, but it wasn’t Cacharel,” Ramanantsoa said. “We want people to say, ‘That’s Cacharel,’ whether they like the clothes or not.”

A first step toward revamping the label was the re-edition of iconic Liberty-print pieces from the Seventies, using original retro patterns and prints on modern designs, to celebrate the fashion house’s anniversary.

As well as raising the profile of the brand, the launch of the limited collection in March proved a success, broadening Cacharel’s appeal to a new generation of customers. It also has helped cushion the effects of the economic downturn on the company, according to Ramanantsoa.

“Sales are flat, but it’s not bad, given that so many fashion companies are reporting losses,” he said.

Last year, Cacharel reported sales of 32 million euros, or $45.4 million at average exchange rates, while wholesale turnover, which includes licenses for perfumes such as Anaïs Anaïs and Noa as well as accessories, reached 200 million euros, or $283 million.

Despite the success of the Liberty reedition, vintage won’t be the way forward for Cacharel’s revival plans.

The design team has instead focused on new art-inspired prints designed in collaboration with Colombian painter Alberto Vejarano, a graduate of the prestigious Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Beaux-Arts. A new technology that allows printing hundreds of colors has been used to replicate the team’s bold creations on fabric.

“We need to remain faithful to our origins, but we need to be modern,” Ramanantsoa said.

A preview of the collection has been shown to selected retailers, and it’s been well received, he added.

With Ramanantsoa on board, the company is focusing on strengthening the creative side of the business, along with its licensing activities and communication, while administration and distribution sides are being outsourced to partners.

“It’s a progressive transition that started in February and will continue until the end of the year,” Ramanantsoa said.

In March, the company revealed the closure of its logistics site in Nimes, France, where Cacharel was founded in the early Sixties, and which served as a base for fabric deliveries and finished goods. This operation has now been outsourced to a partner at a lower cost to Cacharel.

Partnerships also will be key in opening more Cacharel stand-alone stores, which are planned in key cities such as Paris, New York, Tokyo, Milan and Dubai.

Apart from a stand-alone store in Avignon in southern France and a temporary store in Paris for the Liberty collection, Cacharel relies on 226 sales points, including department stores, multibrand stores and online boutiques, to distribute its products.

Discussions with potential investors to open further stand-alone stores are ongoing, according to Ramanantsoa.

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