PARIS — At a rocky time for many young, independent fashion designers, Paris-based Andrew Gn is bucking the trend and briskly expanding his four-year-old, self-financed ready-to-wear business.
Sales of his fall collection soared 50 percent over last year. Gn (pronounced “gen”) expects sales to exceed $4 million this year. In America, he boosted the number of stores that stock his collection from eight to 22; his newest clients include Neiman Marcus, Henri Bendel and Nordstrom.
Meanwhile, Singapore-born Gn, 35, is big in Japan, too, where he has a distribution partnership with Sans Freres. He’s also completing deals that will see such products as leather goods, footwear, eyewear and home accessories produced there under license.
It has not always been smooth sailing for Gn, known for his sophisticated, luxurious style. In 1998, he was fired after only one season doing ready-to-wear for Balmain. Since then, the designer has gained confidence and focus, honing his signature style.
“I was just a kid when I was hired at Balmain,” Gn reminisced over lunch recently. “At 30, you think you can do everything. You don’t think about things as long as you should.” A graduate of Central Saint Martins in London, Gn’s parents dispatched him to boarding school in England when he was just 11. Educated at Stratford-on-Avon, William Shakespeare’s hometown, Gn’s fondness for design blossomed. “It caused quite a stir in my family when I announced I was doing fashion,” Gn said. “I was expected to be a lawyer or something.”
England was a recent source of inspiration for the designer. For fall, he referenced William Morris, Fortuny and the Bloomsbury Group in a collection praised by retailers for its rich detail.
“Andrew represents refined maximalism,” said Anna Garner, fashion director at Henri Bendel. “He loves to indulge his customers in the exotic.”
Garner said Gn’s collections have a “wide appeal in terms of age. It has a strong personality — it is the sense of self-assuredness in his work and design that attracted me.”
Robert Burke, vice president and senior fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, said Gn mixes uptown refinement with a downtown sensibility. “Andrew is talented for making classic pieces and updating them with a retro touch that appeals to young socials,” Burke said. “He has a retro-Seventies-jet-set touch that is very Park Avenue.”
After graduating, Gn worked for eight months as an assistant at Emanuel Ungaro, where he gained an appreciation for couture techniques. Then came his first solo effort, a small collection of knitwear. It brought him two clients: Barneys New York and Maria Luisa in Paris.
Today, Gn counts 95 clients around the world and attributes his rapid growth to focusing on an exclusive clientele. “I like opulent clothing,” he said. “It’s the kind of clothing that is not `intellectual,’ it’s just beautiful.” If Gn has an edge, it’s his refusal to tinker with conceptual fashion, ground he leaves to other “young” designers.
Recently, for example, he traveled to Texas for a trunk show hosted by Houston retailer Tootsies. Socialites Lynn Wyatt and Becca Thrash attended and placed orders.
“I love for women who are used to Valentino or Yves Saint Laurent couture to buy my clothes,” boasted Gn. “It’s the ultimate compliment. I love classical beauty. I think modernity is reflected in detail.”
He continued: “I don’t think a woman wants to spend thousands of dollars on a garment and have to stand in front of the mirror and ask herself, `This is really groovy, but how in the world am I going to wear it?”‘