NEW YORK — With hopes of adding some down-under flair to stores across America, New York’s Peter showroom will offer a range of apparel from four Auckland, New Zealand-based designers, as well as one from Australia, for fall retailing.
This story first appeared in the April 22, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
It’s the first time any of the lines will be distributed in the U.S., according to Peter Berta, who owns the showroom.
Gwendolynne, based in Melbourne, Australia, is expected to bring in the most volume, with first-year projections reaching $1 million in wholesale sales. The line is best known for its sexy tops but also features pants, dresses and jackets, such as a stretch silk chiffon dress with lace insets and a jacket made of brocade tapestry trimmed in leather. Wholesale prices run from $100 to $800. Gwendolynne will be available at Language in New York this fall.
Trelise Cooper mixes a variety of fabrics from Europe and India — many featuring raw edges — to come up with styles that have a folkloric whimsy but are ultimately functional.
In the Eighties, Cooper sold her designs in her own stores in Auckland and Wellington, but ultimately left the industry in 1989 to raise a son. She began wholesaling her collection again in 1997 and reopened a store in Auckland soon after. A jacket from Trelise Cooper runs about $405 wholesale, and pants, about $290. The line represents approximately $8 million in sales in New Zealand and Australia and is expected to bring in between $500,000 and $750,000 in its first year here.
Sabatini, a knit house started by the Sabatini family 20 years ago, runs from $80 to $180 wholesale. The line offers a variety of knit styles including tops, skirts and dresses, many with a graphic Sixties motif. It will be available at Henri Bendel this fall.
RJC is designed by South African-born Claire Kingan-Jones and also wholesales between $80 and $180. It is a collection of contemporary sportswear with inspiration from vintage fabrics, wallpaper prints and sometimes old wrapping paper. The line was started in 1993, entered the Australian market three years later and is currently sold in 75 stores between the two countries.
Doris de Pont has been a designer for more than 20 years and focuses on creating sportswear that has a one-of-a-kind feel in novelty fabrics. Started in 1994, the line is sold under the DNA label in Australia, New Zealand and London, but will be known by the designer’s name in the U.S. Each season, de Pont commissions an artist to handpaint fabrics that will be used to make the clothes.
The collections will be brought to the U.S. by Access USA LLC, an importing company set up by Berta and his business partner, Daniel Lonergan. Lonergan, who hails from Auckland, is the main liaison between the designers and the driving force in bringing them here.
Once the collections are edited for the U.S. market, samples will be brought to Peter. Access USA will then compile the orders into one large order and buy the merchandise outright from the overseas designers.
“We will put our orders through domestic factors, so from the retailer’s point of view, they’re doing business with a domestic company,” said Berta. “They won’t have to open letters of credit and they can see the collections in the U.S.”
Logistics, as in the 16-hour time difference ahead of New York and opposite seasons, are the main reasons Berta said New Zealand designers have not previously entered the U.S. market. Consequently, store budgets don’t generally accommodate buying trips to New Zealand and Australia, Berta contended, especially since flights to that part of the world tend to be more expensive than flights to European fashion capitals.
“I’m passionate about my homeland,” said Lonergan. “I’ve seen the enormous talent there, but they’ve had trouble getting to this market. All it required was a pipeline to give them access to the market.”
On the West Coast, Gwendolynne and Trelise Cooper are represented by The House, a Los Angeles-based showroom owned by Cathy Christianson.