Byline: Janet Ozzard / Elaine Pofeldt / Anne D'Innocenzio

Getting Practical
NEW YORK--Gustavo Arango is a retailer's dream.
The 31-year-old bridge designer claims he'd rather see the stores make money before he does, because "that way, they're happy with my product and they'll keep coming back."
Arango, who has been designing apparel since he was 17, opened up the Gustavo label two seasons ago with no illusions about becoming Seventh Avenue's next big trend. Instead, he said, he took a long look at the state of retail, and then planned his business around that.
"The stores are buying very close to season, so I came up with the idea to have no collection, but a lot of product," he said. "If you work very close, the stores don't have to invest a lot of money every season."
His first client was Bloomingdale's catalog, and he's since added Saks Fifth Avenue and specialty stores around the country to his accounts. This year, he said he might do some Dallas-area trunk shows.
Arango, who has a silent partner for backing, projects he will do about $3 million in wholesale sales the first year.
All of the Gustavo goods are made in the U.S. from Italian fabrics, with the exception of the related knitwear that's manufactured in Italy. The domestic manufacturing allows stores to place orders as close as two or three months before shipping.
Arango said he tries to price competitively with other bridge lines such as Anne Klein II and Tahari, but feels his design sensibility gives him an edge.
"I believe my look is more European," he said. "I want to have a designer look at a bridge price."
Current spring looks include tailored suits as well as some looser silhouettes, said the designer. Arango uses a base cloth in each season, which could be a wool crepe or tricotine. Around that, he adds items such as leather vests, charmeuse blouses and novelty fabrics "with a lot of texture," as well as related knitwear that is manufactured in Italy.
Wholesale prices are $118 to $149 for a jacket, $59 to $82 for pants, $49 to $79 for skirts and $72 to $92 for blouses.
"The reality of the business at this moment is that the designers have started battling with the customer," said Arango in his seven-month-old showroom at 212 West 39th St. "Everyone on Seventh Avenue wants to be the next trend, but who is going to wear this merchandise? For example, everyone was raving about knee-length looks, but it didn't sell because people don't understand it. We test our merchandise before it goes on the line and make sure it fits.Keeping Tradition
NEW YORK--When designer Geri Gerard was growing up, her grandmother would sew clothes for her, cutting the patterns from newspaper and stitching them up on a sewing machine in the basement of the family's house in Forest Hills. If her grandmother, Pauline Leoni, wasn't sewing, she was crocheting fine Italian yarn into bed coverings that looked like lace.
"I really loved to sit there and watch her do it," Gerard recalls. "I think that's how I really grew to love clothing and fashion and really have an appreciation of fine details on things. I knew how much work went into it."
Gerard, 32, has taken family tradition a step further with the nearly two-year-old clothing line that bears her name. She favors pieces that deliver style without being constricting.
"Women don't want to be so controlled and restricted," Gerard said.
For early spring, her 15-piece line includes looks ranging from a navy wool gauze tunic and pants with an Eastern influence to a funky white cotton faille suit inspired by a chef's uniform.
"Food I feel is such a sensual thing. That's sort of my homage to great chefs," she said.
Gerard borrowed money from family and friends to launch her clothing line after stints as an assistant designer at John Anthony and head designer at Christian Dior in Manhattan in the 1980s. She has a showroom at 499 Seventh Ave., on the 12th floor.
So far, her business has been growing steadily. Her clothes sell in Jacobson's, Saks, Nordstrom and Stanley Korshak. In her first year, her sales volume reached $1.2 million, and she projects it will reach $2 million this year. Under a licensing agreement with Wamsutta, she's branched out into "Geri Gerard Designs," designing bed linens that sell in Macy's, Bloomingdale's and Stern's.
Gerard is now setting her sights on launching a sportswear collection in the next two years and opening her own boutique further down the line. Eventually, she hopes to try her hand at furniture design. She says she prefers a mix of antique and contemporary styles.
"There's a whole new wave of furniture that I feel could lend itself to the needs of baby boomers," she said.Minding Her Own Business
NEW YORK--During her almost 10 years in the fashion industry, Karen Darby Scott, 33, witnessed the fast rise and decline of a slew of young designers. So when she branched out on her own in April 1994 with a collection of ready-to-wear designs, she turned to a few of her Harvard B-school friends for a stack of case studies.
"In this business, it's not enough just to be creative, you have to be very good in business, understanding every facet of the operation, from sourcing to pricing of the garments," said Scott, who has held jobs ranging from merchandiser to in-house designer and taken business classes here to bone up on such financial topics as venture capital."There are so many designers who can sketch beautifully, but without strong business skills, you have no foundation."
To get her business off the ground, she borrowed seed money from relatives. Now, her hard work is paying off, and she is fast cultivating a loyal following for her elegant, asymmetrical designs.
In January, Scott moved into her first showroom at 260 West 39th St., with plans to expand the space over the next several months. Since June, Saks Fifth Avenue has been selling her designs, which wholesale from $425 to $900, at 18 stores. Branches include Chicago, New York and Chevy Chase, Md.
Scott is also working with Bergdorf Goodman to create a pricier line of eveningwear that will be tested at the store for spring selling. The wholesale price will top at $1,500.
The Darby Scott label, which targets women from their 20s to mid 50s, can also be found at 20 specialty stores around the country, including Rizik Brothers in Washington, D.C., Suzanne's in Boston and Celebrity on Paces, in Atlanta.
"The quality is exceptional, the look is traditional," said Nicole Fiscelis, fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue, which recently did well with a black tiered cocktail dress in four-ply silk, priced at $885. "We sold out in many of her items."
Despite a strong reaction from retailers, Scott emphasized that she wants to grow her business slowly. She estimated sales will hit $200,000 this year, with projections of $325,000 the following year.
"I want to be around for a long time. I want to sustain a level of quality in my garments," said Scott, who still pitches her own line to retail buyers in order to develop a personal relationship with them.
A Smith College graduate, Scott has had stints at Perry Ellis Menswear and at several major private label firms, working in merchandising and design positions. She worked as the women's designer for the North American division at Aquascutum of London from 1992 to 1994, just before she launched her collection.
For resort/early spring, Scott, who up until now has used primarily four-ply silk, is now focusing on high-twist heavy georgette.
"It has amazing drapability," she said." You can also squeeze it in your hand, and it won't wrinkle."
Her color palette for resort/ early spring features icy pales, aquamarines, washed-out pinks and varying shades of ivory.
The resort/early spring line includes A-line dresses with her signature asymmetrical edge, hitting above the knee in front but falling lower in the back; allover lace dresses; gowns with fully boned strapless bustiers, and halter gowns in silk georgette with a low back and a long silk cascade stemming from the low back. One of Scott's repeat items is her signature bolero jacket in triple georgette or four-ply silk cut at an angle, with either bell or scalloped sleeves.

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