PARIS--In a bold if somewhat surprising move, Chloe has tapped Stella McCartney as its new designer, succeeding Karl Lagerfeld, who presented his last collection for the house in March. McCartney, 25, has "a long-term contract," according to Chloe president Mounir Moufarrige, who declined to give its precise duration. He confirmed, however, that it is longer than the common two-year/four-season contract that has become standard in Paris. The deal calls for McCartney to work exclusively for Chloe and to drop her own fledgling line, which is in its second season. Her fall line will be delivered to stores such as Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and Fred Segal. Lagerfeld, who has had a long history at Chloe, in recent months has made no secret of his plan to separate from the company. Of McCartney's appointment, he told WWD Monday: "I think they should have taken a big name. They did--but in music, not fashion. Let's hope she is as gifted as her father. I think Paul McCartney is one of the geniuses of the music world of the last 40 years. I wish her luck." Moufarrige, meanwhile, contended that Chloe was in need of a full-time designer, as Lagerfeld designs Chanel, Fendi and his own Karl Lagerfeld lines. "We were looking for talent and someone who could work full time and on a long-term basis," said Moufarrige. "Chloe suffered from not having someone full time." McCartney, in her two seasons, was beginning to get noticed by some major retailers. "She has a very personal collection. It's young, edgy and appeals to a certain segment of the audience--that is, ladies with good bodies. Her designs are perfect for our L.A. and Bal Harbour customers," said Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director for Neiman Marcus, on Monday. Kaner said she was surprised by the news at Chloe. "It will be interesting to see what she does. She has a feminine touch, an important factor for Chloe. That, combined with her Savile Row tailoring, will be interesting for the house." Another store keeping its eye on McCartney is Bergdorf Goodman, which recently held a trunk show for the designer. Joseph Boitano, executive vice president, said, "Stella is an emerging talent that we recognized early on. It's a great opportunity for her and Chloe. She understands softness and femininity combined with more structured, tailored pieces. Karl obviously very much understood Chloe and brought newness and modernity to it. He brought it forward." In addition to giving up her own line, McCartney will move from her favorite city, London. She is starting an apartment hunt in Paris and is the first to admit that she hardly speaks a word of French. She is not a stranger to the city though, having spent some time several years ago working on Christian Lacroix's couture collection. McCartney, who graduated from London's Central St. Martin in 1995, said Chloe executives sought her out. "I wasn't looking for a new job, and it was totally out of the blue," she said from Chloe's offices on Monday, wearing one of her own sharply tailored caviar-tweed pantsuits. "But I grew up seeing Chloe in my mom's wardrobe," she noted, adding that she recently pulled an old Chloe jacket down from the attic. Her mother is Linda McCartney, the photographer and wife of Paul McCartney. McCartney said she isn't upset about abandoning her own label. "I am not on a power trip about my own name," she explained. "In talking to people about this deal, they said I needed to keep my own line. But the realistic thing is, why do two things that would stress me out?" In fact, she hopes that being part of a large structure will enable her to pursue her fashion interests on a bigger scale. "I'm a 'things-you-can't-get-anymore' freak," McCartney admitted, adding that she wants to bring her "love for glass buttons and antique fabrics and Savile Row tailoring experience" to Chloe. In her brief career, McCartney has generated interest among buyers, thanks in part to her use of antique fabrics. The consequence of such a focus, she said, was that much of her collection comprised highly individual items, and she wasn't always able to deliver the quantities that stores wanted. Working with Chloe might mean that the antique fabrics or trimmings for which she scours flea markets could be reproduced by Chloe's suppliers. McCartney said she doesn't feel threatened by Lagerfeld's long tenure--more than 20 years--at the house or knowing that other designers like Martine Sitbon have contributed to Chloe's history. "I feel that I can handle this, even though it's daunting to take on any new position," she said. McCartney is coming to Chloe at a time when the house's sales have been weak, according to industry observers. Chloe's parent, the Vendome luxury goods group, also owns the license for the Karl Lagerfeld line and does not break out figures for its women's fashion companies. The Chloe and Karl Lagerfeld lines are grouped under the "other" heading in its financial statements and for the first six months of the year ended Sept. 30, 1995, the group's "other" activities had sales of $76 million (112 million Swiss francs). Moufarrige was vague about the house's financial performance, but he said that under Karl Lagerfeld, who had rejoined Chloe in 1992, "We just didn't get the maximum effect--we weren't able to go all the way." "Karl is a great talent, and one of the very few designers who can think about more than one brand. But it comes down to an issue of time," Moufarrige said, adding that he hopes that Lagerfeld will use the time from Chloe for the Karl Lagerfeld line. Going forward, both McCartney and Moufarrige hope to bring a little youth to the house. McCartney said that women her age are not familiar with the brand, even if she had the benefit of borrowing from mom's closet. "There are new age groups coming into luxury products," Moufarrige noted, and Chloe wants to be in a position to supply them. To this end, the house is considering the launch of a young, casual ready-to-wear line targeting women aged 25 to 35 years old, Moufarrige said. A launch date has not been set, but the line, which would be marketed and priced at the "lower end of bridge," could be introduced next year. Moufarrige is betting that McCartney can carry Chloe through, despite her relative inexperience. "A designer is someone who interprets the merits of a brand," he said. "Stella is committed to actuality. She is someone who has a lot of talent and who can build up Chloe products in line with the brand's image of femininity and keep up with the times."
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