Add another pre-fall appointment to your calendar — Rochas has returned. The collection, which is being shown to buyers today in New York, is the first for the French house since Gibò Co. SpA took over the license in 2008 and tapped Marco Zanini as creative director. Procter & Gamble, the firm’s owner, shuttered the fashion house in 2006, when Olivier Theyskens was creative director.
The move to add pre-seasons (resort will be next) is another strategic step toward rebuilding the Rochas label that garnered much acclaim in its previous incarnation under Theyskens, but failed to become commercially viable. “When we started here four seasons ago, we decided to take a very slow path to do things properly and take our time to develop the brand and its new identity,” Zanini said in a telephone conversation from Milan, where he spends the bulk of his time these days. “We felt that now it was time for us to introduce a pre-collection. The demand was there from the buyers.”
For his first pre-fall effort, the Italian-Swedish designer mixed a spare Nordic sensibility with a more romantic French elegance. The result is a sophisticated lineup of feminine charmeuse dresses (right) as well as quirky oversize wool velour coats and masculine baggy pants. Or, as he puts it, clothes for a nonconformist woman who likes to combine pieces that don’t necessarily go together. “For me, Rochas is all about playing with this kind of femininity, rather than obvious sensuality and mainstream glamour. I think French women are so self-confident that they can dare to propose themselves in a less obvious way.”
His message also is mirrored in how he styles the pieces. A skirt with ruffled, scalloped pleating is teamed with a manly merino knit sweater and loafers and topped with an offbeat astrakhan hat. “I took the chance to experiment with several shapes that I will propose and develop for the [fall] runway collection,” Zanini added.
The designer — who worked closely with Donatella Versace on the women’s and men’s Versace collections before moving to New York for a short-lived stint at Halston — sees Rochas’ pre-fall lineup as another stop on the house’s continuing journey. “It’s like an ongoing sentence for me,” he said. “One season you start it and you complete it with the upcoming collection. With pre-fall, I developed a look that is a consequence of my spring-summer collection. The look may have been different, but the quirky, modest attitude is also present in pre-fall.”
Gibò Co. SpA president Franco Penè agrees, saying that pre-seasons are simply the next natural next step for Rochas. At the time of the relaunch four seasons ago, he noted, the economic environment wasn’t exactly ideal for a brand that, while venerable, was considered something of a start-up. “We had to give the project the possibility to grow step by step,” Penè said. “At this stage, we see the project is working. We have had a really good reaction to it, and felt it was the right moment to make the next move.”
Rochas is currently distributed in about 80 stores worldwide, including Barneys New York and a slew of specialty stores. Pre-collections, which for many designers account for up to 70 percent of the season’s sales, are expected to help boost Rochas’ bottom line significantly. To that end, the house’s pre-fall and resort collections will be sold through Gibò’s New York and Milan showrooms, while the two main runway seasons will be offered in Paris. Such moves, Penè said, “are all the right tools for growing.”
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