When fresh-faced designer Lyn Devon visited Chicago earlier this month, she sought not only to build her client base, but to solicit some firsthand advice from her newfound mentor, James Galanos.
Introduced through a family friend, Devon, who won Fashion Group International's 2007 Rising Star award, and Galanos, one of America's top designers who dressed Nancy Reagan, among others, had corresponded via mail, with the elder designer offering a critique of Devon's look books. The two met in Chicago, where Milwaukee entrepreneur Peter Mahler hosted a private dinner for Devon, Galanos, photographer Victor Skrebneski and others at the Pane Caldo restaurant just off Michigan Avenue.
"It's the only letter writing relationship I've had since camp," said the 28-year-old Devon, who's known for her streamlined artful looks, ranging in price from $895 to $1,895 for most dresses and $1,095 to $2,195 for jackets. "It felt very old school. I've kept all of them."
In addition to tapping Galanos' design experience, Devon, who has worked at Zac Posen and Ralph Lauren, wanted to learn more about his business practices.
"He had a similar business with private clients," said Devon, who sells to about 200 customers living mostly in New York, Boston, Greenwich, Conn., and Palm Beach, Fla., accounting for more than 50 percent of her business. "It's sort of unusual today. He knows how hard it is."
In turn, the pair discussed how to run a sample room and how to connect with buyers and clients. Galanos also singled out her best-selling pieces, complimenting those that could be worn by a woman age 22 or age 62, size 2 or 12, and scrutinized her construction, turning many items inside out. Devon said he told her, "'I love this as a jacket, but what about a dress?' He said more can be pulled out of the designs."
Chicagoans also appreciated Devon's aesthetic, with a handful of women visiting her trunk show on Nov. 2 at a Park Hyatt hotel suite. Overall, the designer gained 10 clients with must-haves including a navy double-faced wool jacket with cream insert for $1,195, and three styles of silk color-blocked dresses in shades of coral, cobalt blue and navy with a bit of mint green ranging in price from $895 to $2,195.Galanos also told Devon to be mindful that "every step I take should be about servicing my clients or it's not worth it," said Devon, who, despite receiving positive reviews from her fall and spring shows at New York Fashion Week this year, wondered whether she will continue the practice.
"A runway show for press is not a means to that end," Devon said. "I'm a small company and the people who buy my clothes come back regardless of whether there's a show or no show. If a sponsor comes along, I'll do a show; if not, I'll do a showroom."
Devon sold her spring and fall 2006 collections strictly to private clients and began reaching out to retailers with her spring 2007 collection, gaining an account with Louis Boston. Since then, she has worked to expand her client base, hoping to gain ground next year in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Dallas and Seattle.
Galanos, meanwhile, foresees further success for Devon. "I just met her today, but I can tell you she will become very well-known," the retired designer said.
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