LOS ANGELES — To succeed in the competitive contemporary market, first-time designer Rory Edelman resorted to a simple formula that has benefited icons such as Diane von Furstenberg: Take a signature style and update it each season in a variety of prints, fabrics and lengths.
While von Furstenberg enveloped women in the wrap dress, Edelman has reinterpreted a caftan with a plunging V-neck, sleeves stopping at the elbow and an in-between length allowing the item to be worn either as a tunic or a minidress. In her inaugural collection unveiled in January 2006, she gave preppy flair to an off-white silk printed with tiny flowers imposed on burnout stripes by bordering the edges with pink grosgrain ribbon. This fall, she offered a more lady-like silhouette by nipping the sleeves so that they perch like delicate caps on slight shoulders and floating rose-patterned lace over the silk slip. For next spring, she ruffled a hem that puffs up slightly in a bubble.
Within two years of launching Rory Beca, Edelman grew wholesale sales from less than $20,000 in the first season to $5 million a year through some 400 retail accounts, including Barneys New York, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Lisa Kline and Intermix.
"The pieces I create are simple," said Edelman, 25. "They're flattering to the body. They fit any woman."
As such, the caftan's ease makes it "the modern-day T-shirt in crepe de chine," said Natasha Silver, co-owner of Community Service, the Los Angeles showroom that represents Rory Beca. Not only does the low V-neck reveal a sliver of sexiness, but the longer sleeves also provide extra coverage for arms, she said.
Silver, who is engaged to Edelman's brother and serves as the line's merchandiser, added that, by reinterpreting the caftan each season as a top, minidress, knee-length frock and puffed-sleeve version, Rory Beca can add almost $1 million in sales.
"The formula is taking something that is feminine and special and making it for all body types so it's comfortable," Silver said.
In October, two months after launching the line in its Savvy department specializing in contemporary labels, Seattle-based Nordstrom highlighted Rory Beca and seven other emerging brands, including Karta and Chulo Pony, at a party in Hollywood during Los Angeles Fashion Week.
"At Nordstrom, our customer is always looking for newness," said Anita Ortiz, national merchandise manager for Savvy. "The appeal with a hot emerging designer like Rory Beca is that she offers silhouettes that are sexy yet sophisticated, in great fabrics with embellishments and print."
Edelman, who studied design at London's Central Saint Martins College of Art & Design and Boston's Fashion Institute, is passionate about prints. Inspired by a dress dating from the 19th century, Edelman created her own print of heart-shaped satin flocked on silk chiffon because she said the proprietary print makes her outfit, not to mention the wearer, stand out.
Yet, Rory Beca also is grounded in economic realities. Silver said the line's median wholesale price is set at $105 to retail for under $250. After introducing wide-leg pants with an 11-inch rise and sweaters with exaggerated dolman sleeves in this resort season, the spring collection will include leather belts with eight styles for added value, she said. It also will increase the number of deliveries to seven next year, from five this year, she said.
Edelman also moved her base of operations from the kitchen in her mother's house to a studio in downtown Los Angeles with seven employees. She hopes to eventually open her own shop stocked with her lines of shoes, lingerie, men's wear, children's clothes, bags and jackets. Still, such growth won't distract her from her main goal, which is to make a woman feel great in her clothes. "If I stay with that, I'll always be good," Edelman said.
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