PARIS — Many designers strive to occupy a market niche. But what happens when that niche grows into a $10 million business?
That is the situation in which Andrew Gn — known for his opulent, couture-quality confections — finds himself these days as he angles for new avenues of growth for his 10-year-old, Paris-based house.
"There are a lot of opportunities for us to continue to build the business," said Gn, 40.
In January, Gn will present his first pre-fall collection to retailers, having launched cruise two seasons ago. He just signed on for a second collaboration with Leiber on handbags. And his burgeoning shoe collection is selling well and is stocked in some 80 stores. Meanwhile, Gn said he is exploring the possibility of opening his own stores.
"I'd like to do two simultaneously, in London and in Paris," he said.
In an industry dominated by fashion conglomerates, Gn has succeeded on several fronts. By sticking to an aesthetic centered on luxurious embroideries and lush fabrics, he has carved out a place on the crowded selling floor and is carried in 135 stores around the world, including Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and Nordstrom. Socialites such as Tamara Mellon, Becca Cason Thrash and Lily Safra count Gn as their go-to guy. He attributes his success to an unwavering focus on high quality and an individual approach that doesn't pander to the trends. Rather, he said he focuses on satisfying customers' wardrobe needs.
"What I'm doing isn't trendy," he said of his clothes, which are priced from around $1,500 for a blouse up to $40,000 for an evening gown. "I'm like an ostrich. I do what I like and I follow my own way of doing things. That means that my product is very individualistic. A woman won't go to a party and see five other women wearing their dress. It's very exclusive."
Gn, for example, develops all of his embroideries and fabrics in-house. He even creates his own buttons. "We try to produce collections that can't be copied in 48 hours," he said. "There's so much finishing and handiwork that goes into the clothes. My guiding principle is to be unique."Indeed, outside of fashion, Gn may be the only designer of his generation to nourish a passion for collecting rare porcelain and fine French furniture from the 18th century. Design references in his clothes also are far from faddish, including Fortuny, Josef Hoffmann or 18th-century French naturalist Buffon, who inspired the prints in his spring-summer 2008 collection.
"I'm known for luxurious embroideries," said Gn. "I still do a lot of them, but I'm taking a more minimal approach. For spring, there were a lot of tone-on-tone embroideries and simpler shapes. I wanted to use couture techniques and make it for today."
Gn loves interacting with women. He receives select private clients in his studio in the Marais district here and he has become a pro at dishing out style advice during his various personal appearances. Recently, for example, he was scheduled to host a trunk show at Capitol, in Charlotte, N.C. A trip to Moscow to meet clients was scheduled after that.
Gn said 20 percent of his business is generated at trunk shows and during personal appearances. "I like to see women desire my clothes," he said. "I'm not the type of designer who makes things that need to be explained in order to sell. I make clothes that when a woman comes into the store and sees them she says to herself, 'I've got to have it.'"
Though his designs and tastes are rich, Gn is hardly stuffy or pretentious. He's partial to jeans and T-shirts for himself. And it's not uncommon to see the affable designer scouring an auction house on the weekend looking for a treasured find.
"For me, the auctions are like a ritual," he said. "I get the weekly listings on Friday and study them over the weekend. On Monday I have all the catalogues sent in and then I do bidding. It's my drug."
After all, Gn said if he hadn't become a fashion designer, he would have liked to be an art curator, a fact that helps to explain his love of intricately detailed clothes.
"I remember when I was young my mother had this Chloé by Karl Lagerfeld dress with three-dimensional guitars on it," he recalled. "It was like a piece of art. When I understood how that garment was made, I loved it even more."I love fashion," he laughed. "It's so fickle and exciting. You're either in or out. I think that's great."
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