Rue du Mail Label Suspended

The fashion house helmed by designer Martine Sitbon will take a sabbatical of at least one year.

View Slideshow

PARIS — Signaling challenging times for independent labels, the owner of Rue du Mail said the fashion house helmed by designer Martine Sitbon would take a sabbatical of at least one year.

This story first appeared in the September 5, 2013 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“We want to step back and rethink our strategy,” said Hong Kong-based investor Jimmy Chan, who in 2006 established the brand, named after the address of its Paris headquarters (as Sitbon’s prior partners still own her name).

The development leaves a gap in the calendar for the next Paris Fashion Week, scheduled from Sept. 25 to Oct. 2. The fall rdm by Rue du Mail collection, a commercial range with contemporary price points introduced two years ago, will be the last and will be shipped to about 35 specialty stores. The runway collection, shown last February, will not be produced.

About 30 employees will be affected, though Chan noted that many could be hired back. A separate company owns the sprawling Rue du Mail property.

The entrepreneur acknowledged that the 2008 financial crisis dealt a destabilizing blow to the fledgling label, which had reached profitability after its third season.

Moreover, he said the fashion market has changed radically since that downturn, with consumer expectations shifting over quality, pricing and design considerations — and some retail formats, notably specialty stores, demonstrating fragility.

Chan said the year of reflection and analysis is meant to answer the question “How do we keep our creative integrity in today’s business environment, yet still be more competitive?”

Sitbon told WWD she is in accordance with Chan’s plan to develop a strategy “more adapted to today,” and would be closely involved in the business rethink. In the meantime, she said, she would be free to pursue other creative projects.

At its peak, the Rue du Mail label — known for fashions exuding a romantic yet edgy Parisian cool — generated revenues of about 3 million euros, or $3.8 million at current exchange, and shipped to close to 90 doors.

Chan acknowledged the business has recently been loss-making, yet over its life span managed to erase around 80 percent of its debt. He also said the runway collection had “stabilized” in recent years and demonstrated slow but steady growth, climbing back to about 50 wholesale clients.

Chan’s umbrella company, Semeiotics, also invests in design technology, offers consulting services, operates Evisu stores in Hong Kong and produces educational materials.

Chan noted he’s winding up an 18-month involvement with Aganovich, a four-year-old label that he assisted in its relocation from London to Paris.

View Slideshow