"I am so excited to be doing my own thing again," the designer said of his newest venture, the Francis by Christian Francis Roth collection. "It's been a long road. I have been doing corporate design jobs since 2000. It's been eight years of rolling up my sleeves and learning the fundamentals of how to produce a great product at a great price."
After eight years of designing and consulting mostly under the radar for other Seventh Avenue brands, the 39-year-old is reentering the fashion scene with Francis for the spring 2009 season. The collection, to be unveiled at a presentation during New York Fashion Week this September, will be positioned between the upper-end contemporary and entry-level designer tiers.
"The reason I took some years off is so that when I had the opportunity to return, I could be in a situation to be creatively successful as well as profitable," Roth said.
He's the latest in a slew of designers from his generation to stage a comeback in recent months. Victor Alfaro is launching the Victor by Victor Alfaro line exclusively at The Bon-Ton Stores Inc.; Isaac Mizrahi is now creative director of the Liz Claiborne brand, and Todd Oldham is creative director of Old Navy.
Like them, Roth was a promising young talent who quickly became an industry darling. His tale is all-too familiar in fashion circles, where young talent often finds itself challenged to maintain and grow their names. Roth launched his collection in the late Eighties, and before putting his designs on the runway, was picked up by Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys New York and Bloomingdale's. He started showing on the runway for the fall 1990 season, and made a name for himself with childhood references such as colorful crayon motifs or dresses with graphic prints of money. He received the Perry Ellis Award for new design talent, but despite all the buzz, was hard-pressed to maintain his growth.
"It came very quickly, as it tends to with young talents," recalled Roth, sitting in his Mulberry Street studio. "I was [excited] and petrified at the same time...[happy] to be able to share my designs but scared because I had no business background."He closed his signature business in 1995, launched the bridge CFR line and eventually designed an exclusive collection for QVC. He then had a revelation. "I stopped and said, 'I have to learn how to make money,'" he recalled.
In 2000, Roth packed up and moved to Seattle to become a senior designer for Nordstrom's private label division, which gave him an insight into better-priced merchandise, followed by a brief stint at Anne Klein and a job designing for the better-priced sportswear label Bernardo Collection. "I took jobs that could give me overseas sourcing and production experience," he said.
With enough experience under his belt, he approached one of the Chinese factories he knew about producing his own collection. "They asked me if I had an investor, and I said I didn't, so they asked to see my business plan," he recalled.
The Chinese company, whose name he wouldn't disclose, is now financing his comeback.
Roth assembled a team of freelancers to get his venture off the ground, including pattern-makers, knitwear designers and even a handbag designer for a couple of styles. He is also looking for a full-time assistant.
Francis is expected to sit with such lines as 3.1 Phillip Lim, with suggested retail price points ranging from $375 to $500 for dresses, $450 to $650 for jackets and $225 to $275 for pants.
"I wanted to be priced as sharply as possible but still include all the details," he said. "This collection maintains all the fun detailing and conversational concepts of the collections I used to do."
Wholesale sales projections for Francis' first season are between $300,000 and $500,000.
Roth's move to call it Francis was deliberate. He is already thinking two years down the line.
"I didn't call it Christian Francis Roth because I wanted to resurrect the name when we are relaunching in the designer market in a couple of years," he said. "Without a doubt, it will be the next thing I do."
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