Veteran designer Holly Sharp and her daughter are getting into the swim with young contemporary brand Lucy Love.

It’s a new era for Lucy Love. The three-year-old, $9 million young-contemporary sportswear brand, created by veteran designer Holly Sharp, will make its first appearance at WWDMAGIC this week. The featured attraction: a new swimwear line that Sharp hopes will hit the $3 million to $5 million mark in its first year.

Retail plays an important role in Sharp’s personal and family history. Years of watching her brother, Shawn Stussy, grow Stussy from a core beach brand (launched in 1978) to an international mega-company worth an estimated $30 million gave Sharp a leg up on running her own companies. But Sharp has more than made a name for herself: The 42-year-old Orange County native, who started designing in her teens, has helmed a signature dress collection for 20 years, owned a trendsetting boutique bearing her name for 10 and launched the junior line Girl Star with her husband, Michael Sharp. He now serves as president of Holly Sharp Co., incorporating the Holly Sharp Collection, his wife’s dress line and Lucy Love. Two years ago, their 22-year-old daughter Amber, the inspiration for Lucy Love, began working alongside Sharp on the design and sales of that line.

On a typically sunny day in the upscale beach town of Corona del Mar, 60 miles south of Los Angeles, Holly and Amber talked business in the Holly Sharp boutique, located just two blocks from the ocean.

"I always wanted to do a young-contemporary, internationally distributed line," said Sharp, who started Lucy Love in 1999 after a year-and-a-half "retirement" following the expiration of the Sharps’ contract with Girl Star. "How many things can the young casual customer get from J. Crew and the Gap? She has a little more style than that, but she’s also not about spending her whole income on an item. She wants to have a car and buy a house."

Of course, having her daughter on board helps Sharp tap into the young contemporary zeitgeist.

"I’m right in between junior and young designer," said Amber. I’ll pay the extra money to have good quality and a great piece, but I’m not going to wear A&F and those mass-distributed lines."I always knew I wanted to be in the business," she added, smiling at her mother. "After I graduated from college, I went to Manhattan for a summer, and by the end I was like, ‘Get me back to the beach!’ Mom has the best lifestyle, and watching her I thought, ‘How could you not want to do that?’ So I just kind of dug in."

The 150-piece sportswear line is based on the concept of taking the free-spirited, fictional Lucy Love character through a series of adventures and travels that tie into Lucy Love collections. Those include everything from low-slung pants and tiny cotton T-shirts to feminine dresses, lingerie and hats. Prices range from $15 to $50 wholesale. This year’s main stories involve Lucy taking Bali and Cuba by storm, incorporating bohemian and ethnic themes.

"We really are thinking in terms of the consumer and who she is and what she wants," said Sharp. "We think, ‘What does Lucy need?’ And, ‘How much would Lucy spend for that?’"

The process of designing a new season always starts with deciding on key items, many of which are suggested by Amber. "I’ll say, ‘Do you have a shirt like this yet?’ And she’ll say, "I can’t find it anywhere.’ So then we’ll start building on that shirt," said Sharp. "We just make sure they can put on an item and afford it. We try to give them our version of what’s happening and what’s hot."

From the get-go, Lucy Love had an international customer, due in part to Girl Star’s success overseas.

"We targeted the Japanese market because it was so good with Girl Star," said Sharp. "I love it because it’s a whole culture of independence and individuality. We also spend a lot of time in Hawaii and have access to that customer." Currently, Lucy Love is in 550 doors overseas accounting for one-third of its volume, with distribution in Canada, Australia and Japan. The line will launch in Europe this season.

Although Sharp worked in New York for the first five years of her design career, she’s made it a point to steer clear of the Seventh Avenue scene with Lucy Love. "It’s just not what I’m about. I’m a mom raising three children and living at the beach and making good, casual-elegant clothes. Fortunately, that market is really hot now, so we’ve gotten a lot of interest."She plans to keep Lucy Love’s distribution on the specialty store level — for now, shops like the Becker chain in Southern California, South Moon Under on the Eastern Seaboard and Diane’s, the Los Angeles-based swimwear chain.

"We’re really branding the line now, and we really have no intention of opening into other areas for the next year," said Sharp. "By the time we find our way into Bloomingdale’s in a few years, we want to have girls lined up ready to buy. The last three years have been about taking care of our retailers and doing our own displays. We’re putting everything we can into those important issues so that when this line does go into the $20 million to $30 million dollar market, it’s really rooted and has a long life."

The debut of the 60-piece swimwear line, licensed to the Torrance, Calif.-based manufacturer Sunsets Separates for the next five years, was another carefully thought-out move.

"From our first season, we’d been contacted by all the swimwear companies down here," said Sharp. (Lunada Bay, one of the leading manufacturers in Southern California, still produces Girl Star swimwear). "We wanted Sunsets Separates because of their fit and quality. They had all those things that designers look for: shipability, credibility. [With Sunset], it was instantly, ‘OK, we love you guys. You make it and we’ll design it.’"

Greg Stager, president of Sunsets Separates, said, "For our first license, we were looking for the right vibe and direction, and Lucy Love has all the pieces it takes to make a great swimline." Stager pointed out the collaboration with the Sharps’ design direction and Sunsets’ manufacturing experience. "Holly, Amber and our designer Kathy Tanaka all worked equally on this line, instead of the way most licensees produce a line," he said.

"We started our research on the beach," said Sharp. "I saw a lot of red, turquoise and black and tiny bottoms and triangle tops, so I knew the girls wanted those things. We started with the basics and added new details. I’m a vintage freak, so I have suits from the Sixties and Seventies that we started digging through and copying. But you can’t go too far from what the girls really want."The Sharps took basic halters, tri-tops and tie-side and boy-cut bottoms and put their own spin on them.

"I think not being a swimwear designer, I just kind of went for it. Then Kathy [Tanaka, Sunsets’ designer] would say, ‘Oh, nobody buys that kind of stuff,’ or, ‘You can’t bind that suit in white.’ I couldn’t go wrong because I had a gal who had 20 years of experience to guide me through."

Amber added, "There are tons of fun prints, really cool paisleys that tie in with that whole bohemian-Bali story. We stayed away from those big hibiscus flowers that everyone does. And we used new colors, like corals and yellow and brown. It’s a whole Cuba vibe that goes with the sportswear."

"We’re just now opening our in-store swimwear displays in Diane’s, where we already sell our sportswear," said Sharp. "They were one of the big pushes to get us into swim. A lot of our retailers were pushing it, saying, ‘We need something older than Roxy and better priced than D&G.’"

Carol Nielsen, a women’s buyer for the five-door Becker Surf and Sport chain in Southern California is one of Holly’s biggest supporters — and oldest friends. "Holly and I have known each other since we were 18 and she had a dress line called Go-Go’s. It’s so exciting to see her flourish because she’s so talented," said Nielsen.

"Lucy has doubled in sales for me in the last year. It picked up a lot of slack from some other lines that weren’t as fashionable. Holly’s got it all right in the fabric and the price, and in trying to hit the midzone masses."

With the brand taking a firm hold on the domestic and international retail scene, Sharp felt the time was right to go to WWDMAGIC. "When we started, we thought we wouldn’t hit MAGIC until year four or five. Now we are getting ready to open Europe, and we already have Canada, Australia and Japan. It felt like great timing."

It will be hard to miss the Lucy Love booth, fashioned as a funky red boudoir/beach house. "A lot of our contemporaries in the surf market are men’s companies who, by the way, decided to make a junior line," said Sharp. "But Lucy is not a sidekick of a men’s line."So what’s next? "We’re enjoying where we’re at right now. I don’t think any of us are in a hurry to push on to the next stage," said Sharp, though she said that in a year’s time, Lucy Love will likely have a couple of more licensing deals inked, including eyewear.

"It’s a really nice place to be after putting 20 years in when you felt like, ‘This is never going to add up,’ and, ‘How are we going to buy dinner tonight?’" she said.

"It’s been a slow path being outside of New York and L.A., but now we are reaping the rewards andconsumers down here — moms like me who have the means and want to dress themselves and their kids. We are not fashion queens at all. We’re just good old beach people."

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