Designer Patricia Garrett’s specialty: the one-of-a-kind jacket.
It’s the most common refrain of the specialty store owner —"I’m looking for something special, something that customers will fall in love with, something they can’t resist." Queen Bee Limited Edition Clothing — Queen Bee for short — was founded in an attempt to fill that bill. Patricia Garrett, the company’s designer and owner, saw the universal need for jackets to pair with black pants or jeans. She also wanted to go beyond basics with limited edition or one-of-a-kind pieces that broke the cookie-cutter, mass-production mold.
Patricia Garret left her 25-year-old career in interior design to create her first jacket in 1999. While she had sketched, sewed and designed as a hobby since childhood, the new career plunge was prompted by a series of traumatic events. Between 1996 and 1998, Garrett was diagnosed with breast cancer, lost her mother to the disease, and lost her father.
Her new venture combines the talents of both parents. Her mother, a designer and seamstress, once owned Atlanta needlepoint and children’s shops. Her father, Franklin M. Garrett, was the official historian of the city of Atlanta during the Eighties and Nineties.
Scouring her mother’s attic yielded a treasure trove of fabrics, trims, notions and buttons dating back decades. Garrett also shops London, Paris, New York and San Francisco for rare fabric finds.
Antique silk brocades or upholstery fabrics often have contrasting linings of gingham checks, animal prints or mattress ticking. Buttons range from retro glass beads to jewels and rhinestones, and are unique to each jacket.
Jackets have straight, clean silhouettes, in fingertip or shorter lengths. Many combine Asian and European motifs in whimsical effects.
"I always admired Moschino and Armani," she said. "I like simple lines and humorous touches that make women feel good and have fun."
Her early drawings, circa 1966, are hybrids of classic preppy looks and mod miniskirts that appear straight out of an Austin Powers movie. Still an obsessive sketcher, Garrett was inspired to name her shop after doodling a crown next to a bumblebee.Her bestselling jacket is made from a lightweight black chinoiserie-style upholstery fabricand lined in yellow and red silk checked cotton. A favorite piece is a lemon yellow silk brocade fabric she found at a London fabric store frequented by Queen Elizabeth’s dressmakers. She won’t reveal the shop’s name, but the fabric (there was only enough to make one jacket) has a regal look and feel, enhanced by glass and rhinestone buttons.
Fabrics and trims like these, along with painstaking design, don’t come cheap. Jackets retail between $500 and $1,500.
While her collection debuted at AmericasMart’s Premiere show last April, she has found trunk shows in carefully targeted upscale stores work best. High-end resort stores that cater to customers who won’t balk at price, as long as they love the item, are prime targets. Vacationing in Palm Beach, Fla. as a child, she became quite familiar with the lifestyles and preferences of wealthy resort customers. Her jackets are seasonless, for year-round temperate climates.
She has held trunk shows in around 10 stores nationwide, leaving items post-show to sell in the store. Sarah Peck, a Banner Elk, N.C.-based store with a second location in Newport Beach, Calif., held a trunk show this spring, which sold around $11,000 in a two-day period.
Garrett is creating a group especially for the Cloister Collection, a Sea Island, Ga. store with two coastal locations and one Atlanta store. A few styles will be sold over the Internet, through the Cloister Collection’s Web site.
Garrett hopes to double her approximately $50,000 in 2002 sales next year, depending on production capabilities. Currently the line is manufactured in facilities in Atlanta and San Francisco. She has toyed with the idea of a making a lower-priced line, but would prefer not to dilute the qualities that she feels make the line special.
She also offers vests, similar to the jackets for $295 to $325, and has made a few sundresses. Still, jackets are her true passion.
"I’ll leave the sundresses to Lilly Pulitzer," she said.
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