The last time Swaim and Christina Hutson staged a runway show, in 2008, the theme was Father Yod and the commune living of the late Sixties. Back then, the husband-and-wife team was designing for the editorially beloved Obedient Sons & Daughters label. Everyone knows how that story ends. The economy flatlined, and at the beginning of 2009, the Hutsons surprised the industry by announcing they had pulled the plug on the line. Next Friday, the designers will have their much-anticipated comeback moment, and this time they’ll do so at the helm of a company having a hyped reboot of its own: Generra. The Hutsons’ new inspiration? A decidedly more upbeat “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”
“We were attracted to the colors, the movement and how sweet and fun everything was in the movie,” says Christina, nestled into her chair at the Generra headquarters on Seventh Avenue. “Going forward, everything is going to be bright and optimistic.” She gestures to the racks of clothes around her — a preview exclusive to WWD — and they’re a rainbow of cheerful jeans, ruffled frocks and T-shirts with a pop Eighties vibe. The collection is a marked shift from those of their predecessors; Tony Melillo, who helped relaunch the popular Eighties brand in 2004, went relaxed and leisurely, while his successor Pina Ferlisi took things for a tomboyish spin. “This is definitely another take on Generra’s DNA,” says Dan Shamdasani, chief executive officer and president of parent company Public Clothing. “It’s young, vibrant and fresh.”
Perhaps more so than Melillo and Ferlisi, the Hutsons mined the firm’s playful past in the Eighties. “I actually wore Generra when I was in high school,” says Swaim, who consulted on the last men’s presentation. “I loved the brand at the time — khaki pants with floral contrasting cuffs sold with floral shirts to match. It was prime Eighties.” Christina, meanwhile, remembers the hot gimmick Generra pioneered in the early Nineties: Hypercolor clothing, which changed color according to body temperature. The company still owns the Hypercolor rights. “There’s talk with Dan about [reviving] that,” Christina teases. “I’m excited for Hypercolor. It’s obviously a big part of the Generra history.”
But, first, the upcoming fall collection: “We want to make sure we establish the energy and overall feel of the brand identity,” says Christina. A key word both she and Swaim emphasize is “easy,” which explains the line’s casual vibe. Simple chiffon frocks, for example, are cinched with elastic waistbands, while jackets and blazers sport roomy raglan sleeves. And, aside from a handful of buttons strategically placed in the men’s offerings, there are just snaps for hardware. “So you can just throw on and take off,” says Swaim. “We’re not thinking superdressy.” Rounding out the lineup are varsity sweaters, outdoorsy parkas, chunky knits, kicky velvet skirts and suits the pair have termed “playsuits” because, says Christina, “you wear them more to play than to be serious.” In addition, the designers are launching a separate Generra Basics label featuring denim, T-shirts, colorblock cardigans and “suction” stretch rayon tops.
As for the Disney film inspiration, the Hutsons point to the splashy prints and palette. “We were thinking of the colors of the animals, the background and the dwarves,” Christina says. “The dwarves’ hats,” clarifies Swaim. Punching things up a sporty notch are fluorescent locker loops (a new Hutson addition) within each garment. The couple revamped the label beefing up both the size and font — “We wanted more scale to make it fun,” explains Christina — and are bringing their touch to Generra’s Meatpacking District store by expanding the merch to include a selection of books, CDs and candles.
The Hustons also added a new face to the brand: girl-about-town and DJ Harley Viera-Newton. “She has the energy of what we’re doing,” says Christina. “She just seemed like a natural [choice] for us.” Viera-Newton, a student at New York University, is being featured in a “teaser” video that will be launched on the Generra Web site this week. “Rather than a preview of the collection,” Christina adds, “the video is really about showing the new direction of the brand.”
While Shamdasani notes the collection will remain in the young contemporary market, distribution points will change. “The distribution is going to be tighter. We’re looking carefully at strategic retail partners,” he says, declining to give more details, including sales projections for the new line, which will wholesale from $100 to $500.
“This is still an extension of ourselves,” remarks Christina. “Generra is obviously a different brand so it’s a different collection, but hopefully you can still see a little bit of us and our sense of humor.” Though the couple also designs a separate Hutson collection, which they launched last year, both remain committed to this new chapter with Shamdasani and Public Clothing. “We’re focused on Generra and seeing where this can go,” says Swaim. He adds, half-joking, a brief research plea: “Can you ask everyone to send their Eighties Generra [to us], attention ‘499 Seventh Avenue?’”
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