Building New Bridges

New labels Fusun, Avenue Montaigne and Gina Mantelli were crafted by private label firms and have European origins and inspirations.

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NEW YORK — New labels Fusun, Avenue Montaigne and Gina Mantelli share a few things in common. The three collections were crafted by manufacturers who had so far focused on private label goods, and each finds its origins and inspirations in Europe. Here, a look at the newcomers.

Fusun Dalbasar trained as a chemical engineer, but her interest in fashion prompted her to leave the chemist’s world behind and start a clothing business. She and her husband, Akin, have run the Istanbul-based design and production firm Veritas Inc., for 15 years manufacturing private label knitwear and ready-to-wear for European labels such as Marina Rinaldi and Giorgio Rossi. Now she’s launching a knitwear collection of her own, called Fusun.

“It started just as a hobby but then it grew,” Dalbasar, who once worked for German pharmaceutical giant Hoechst, recalled, sitting in her West 39th Street showroom, which opened in February. “I eventually started using hand-knitting machines, then we bought automatic machines, then once we grew bigger, we bought electronic ones.”

For the Fusun label, Dalbasar draws from Turkish textiles and Ottoman Empire ceramics for inspiration. Many pieces are created without side seams, and some pieces are knitted so that they resemble woven tweeds. Key looks include a hand-beaded pleated spaghetti strap viscose and nylon evening dress, priced at $375 wholesale, with a matching shawl, at $125, and a pleated merino knit skirt, at $190. Wholesale prices range from $75 to $410.

“I like to mix different yarns so you get a special texture and a different look,” Dalbasar said.

Dalbasar also has a capsule collection of semiprecious jewelry, featuring bold, rough stones such as turquoise and coral mixed with small beads and buttons. “Most of the pieces are inspired by jewelry women wear in Anatolia when they get married,” she said. Wholesale price points for jewelry range from $45 to $345.

The line targets upscale specialty stores. First-year wholesale sales projections are at least $1 million, according to Carol Caruana, president, adding that by 2008, she anticipates $3 million in wholesale sales.

New York-based Daniele Chemla, Avenue Montaigne’s president and chief executive officer, considers herself French by culture and American by adoption, and she wants her new fashion collection Avenue Montaigne to exude that sensibility. Launched quietly for spring, Avenue Montaigne is full of dressy tweed jackets with exaggerated collars, stretch pants with whimsical details, such as crystal-adorned cuff motifs, and reversible coats.

This story first appeared in the April 26, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Chemla grew up in Paris surrounded by garments. Her father was in the textile business, and her family manufactured fine silks and crepe de chine in Paris. She initially worked with her father before joining a Paris buying office. In 1989, she moved to New York to work for luxury goods holding company Orcofi, then opened her own showroom on Fifth Avenue with a focus on launching European accessories labels in the U.S. At one point, she even operated a boutique on Madison Avenue for French handbag firm Soco.

Chemla eventually started making private label stretch pants on Seventh Avenue. “From this time I had the desire to create my own line,” she said.

Chemla added she considers herself her own best customer. “When I look in the mirror wearing one of my designs, I look at it with the eye of a retailer. It shouldn’t just look good on the hangar but also on the body.”

Avenue Montaigne wholesales from $240 to $400 for coats, $160 to $350 for jackets, $90 to $140 for pants, and $90 to $150 for skirts. Avenue Montaigne targets upscale specialty stores and in the first year, Chemla said she projects wholesale volume of $15 million.

Gloria Gelfand, an industry veteran and owner of Gelfand Marketing Solutions, is brimming with confidence about her newest project, the U.S. launch of Gina Mantelli.

“We believe in fabrics which have a dressy feeling to them,” said Gelfand, who serves as a consulting director to the entry-level bridge line. “We’re expecting 2.6 million weddings this year, and one o’clock receptions breed a new atmosphere, which gives us an opportunity in sportswear.”

Gina Mantelli is the brainchild of Gina Mantelli Rizzi, whose family owns Otreerre, a Brescia, Italy-based private label manufacturer that has made knitwear and ready-to-wear for retail chains such as H & M and El Corte Inglès. According to Gelfand, El Corte Inglès advised the manufacturer to enter the U.S. market with a branded collection, and so Gina Mantelli was born.

The collection includes worsted wool stretch tailored or doeskin jackets, tailored mohair or twill coats, brocade skirts with tweed accents and voluminous taffeta skirts. Wholesale prices range from $159 to $219 for jackets, $79 to $119 for skirts, $89 to $129 for pants and $49 to $69 for T-shirts.

There are plans to introduce the collection in Europe next spring. In the U.S., it targets specialty and department stores, and Gelfand said first-year wholesale sales projections are $2 million.

When asked for the collection’s target client, Gelfand referred to a WWD article in 2003 titled Regeneration X.

“Being a demographics freak, I ripped it out and kept it,” she recalled. “The Baby Boomer is a huge statistic, but nobody was thinking about her daughter, who is now about 27. Her taste level is influenced by blue jeans and young contemporary looks. I want this collection to appeal to the 27-year-old, but also her mother at 50.”

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