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For Carmen Marc Valvo, building a $70 million company over the past 24 years has always come down to the human touch.
This story first appeared in the June 26, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
At the FNW/Trends luncheon at the National Arts Club in New York on June 18, the designer recapped his career and mapped out his expansion plans. With $15,000 in 1989, he called in favors from different factories and within eight days pulled together his first signature collection. He added couture in 1994.
A colon cancer survivor who has made charitable events a mainstay in his work, Valvo said, “Coming from different walks of life, it is really incredible to be part of someone else’s experience and their town. The United States is an amazing country, and each city is its own microcosm. It is really wonderful to be part of each one of those cities and add value as a designer and a person. You become an individual and a caring individual to those people who will hopefully become your customers and, well, your friends actually. What I like to do is cause more good and create more good.”
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The son of a doctor and a nurse (who met in an operating room), Valvo’s father’s urged him to study “Gray’s Anatomy,” which he said led to his understanding of the female form and fit. “My father wanted me to study it because he thought it was the wave of the future — I should have listened,” he said. “I love the fashion industry, but it is fast and furious and absolutely insane at times.”
Swimwear, his first license, has proved to be a winner. Victoria’s Secret has sold 20,000 units of one of his swimsuits, tallying $5 million worth of product, which matches the dollar value Neiman Marcus has seen for sales of the designer’s shutter-pleat cocktail dress, he said. Eyewear is another strong category, with optics driving 95 percent of the sales and sunglasses accounting for 5 percent. Through a new license with Berkshire Hathaway’s H.H. Brown, Valvo will launch shoes this month for fall and a diffusion footwear line is set for spring. Lingerie, handbags and sandals are others areas he plans to pursue. Also, Valvo’s HSN label is expected to grow into a lifestyle brand, according to the designer.
Asked about the prospect of selling his company, he said, “It will happen in its due course, but there are a few people who are interested.”
Valvo said he makes 10 personal appearances a year compared with 20 in years past. To help further sales, he has relaunched his Web site and has created an online marketing team. Two of the designer’s biggest retailers, Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus, have seen e-commerce sales increase by more than 26 percent, but their brick-and-mortar sales have declined by about 20 percent, he said.
“With stores having less and less funding for these secondary events, you need to be resourceful to help sell your own product. The imagery from your Web site or your fashion show is so paramount today,” he said. “Customers are not going to the stores as often as they did. They are all using computers, so if your site is friendly and informative it is only going to add to your business.”
Having his sales team host 30-plus trunk shows a year also helps the bottom line, especially when there is a philanthropic component. “If you can become part of a community and support that community in a charitable way, they will come back to shop,” Valvo said.