LEGER SETS UP SHOP

Byline: Katherine Weisman

PARIS--Herve Leger has come full circle.
The designer has launched a new business and on Tuesday opened a small shop at 32 Rue du Bac here, a year after he lost control of his fashion moniker.
At the suggestion of Karl Lagerfeld, Leger's new label will be Herve L. Leroux. Lagerfeld actually anointed Leger with his first trademarked name in 1985. Leger's real surname is Peugnet. But BCBG Max Azria acquired the Herve Leger house and trademark in 1998 and a year later ousted the designer.
"It was a nightmare trying to find an untrademarked name, or a name my lawyer would agree to," said Leger, speaking from his tiny three-level space, which houses a boutique, studio and atelier. "Since Karl found the first name, Leger, so easily, we turned to him for help. He said: 'When you were young, you were a bit of a redhead. Why not Le Roux?' which in French means redhead."
Even though litigation between Leger and Azria left the name with Azria, the designer had the right to start a new business and to create clothes in his trademark style, including the banded viscose knit dresses for which he became so well-known.
In his new shop, Leger has moved on from banding in the 50-piece collection launched for spring 2000. He's serving up dresses, for day and evening, along with separates in materials including jersey, guipure knit and leather.
"I am actually into weaving," he said, showing off a made-to-measure floor-length dress in mauve silk jersey with a bodice made from woven strips of jersey. This number, with a built-in foundation complete with whalebones, costs about $11,800.
The cozy boutique, once part of the emporium of legendary Parisian antique dealer Madeleine Castaing, offers made-to-measure dresses, ready-to-wear for day and evening and swimwear. Retail prices start at about $133 for a swimsuit and go as high as $2,800 for a matte jersey evening dress. A knit dress costs about $735, and a two-piece ensemble in knit guipure is about $880.
For the first season, Leger is selling his apparel only in his own shop. He said he hoped to negotiate a license or subcontracting agreement with an Italian manufacturer to start wholesaling for spring 2001.
"But only if I can reach an agreement with a manufacturer," Leger said. "If I start financing production for the scale of wholesaling, that's too much risk. I want to go international quickly, but I can't do it alone."
Leger acknowledged he was quite shaken emotionally after being fired from the house that bears his name. At the time, he and Azria publicly traded barbs, Leger complaining of "brutal" treatment and Azria proclaiming,"Nobody can work with this person."
"This should happen to no one, and I don't even wish it on those who did it to me. It was an extremely violent event," Leger recalled, admitting he even thought of abandoning fashion altogether.
With his love for gardening, Leger fleetingly considered opening a nursery in the country. But he realized he had to get back to dressing women, the business he loves best.
"It's a bit like in horseback riding: When you fall, you need to get right back on the horse," he said.
Last October, Leger and his sister, Jocelyne Caudroy, using their savings, quietly started the new company, called Herlyne, a merging of their first names.
"I called everything into question. I needed to redefine and improve my style and go back to my roots," Leger said. "At first, I thought about opening a bigger office, but eventually decided to start off small. These days, a designer can function in a small space, and we're offering made to measure, like I always did. Of course, with your own shop, the anxiety is about seeing if your clothes actually sell. But the great thing is, when I do a dress and finish it, I can put it right downstairs in the shop."
Besides overcoming the emotional turmoil created by his firing, Leger had to surmount the legislative and fiscal obstacles involved in creating a company in France.
"Everything is very complicated and takes an incredibly long time, yet the bills come quite fast," Leger said, expressing a sentiment shared by most entrepreneurs here. Even so, Leger is happy to be starting his new adventure without an outside financier.
"We're free," he said. "No one can bother us, and we are very, very happy."

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