By  on November 30, 2007

NEW YORK — Justin Timberlake and Johan Lindeberg are ready to duet. 

The pop star has signed up the Swedish designer, best known as the founder and creative director of fashion label J. Lindeberg, to a three-year contract to design a full-scale contemporary collection under the William Rast label. To be launched at Coterie and Project Las Vegas this winter for fall ’08 retailing, the new men’s and women’s lines will move William Rast beyond its core five-pocket denim business.

Lindeberg will design the men’s sportswear collection, while his wife, Marcella, will design the women’s wear component. The husband-and-wife team moved to New York this past summer and set up an independent design firm, Paris68 (named after the student revolts in that city in May 1968), while Lindeberg continues to oversee creative direction of his namesake label. William Rast is Paris68’s first client. 

“I have always admired the modern designs and sophisticated aesthetics of Johan and Marcella Lindeberg,” said Timberlake in a statement last week from Australia, where he was performing his FutureSex/LoveSounds concert tour. “I am really excited that we have the chance to develop these strong collections together and that my vision for a complete William Rast lifestyle brand is in the hands of two of my most favorite designers.” 

While William Rast has offered sportswear in the past, currently about 95 percent of sales come from denim. “We’ve dabbled in other pieces as one-offs, but myself and Justin know that we need to make a real statement and do it right,” said Trace Ayala, who co-founded William Rast with longtime friend Timberlake in 2005. 

Fifty percent of William Rast is owned by L.A.-based People’s Liberation, Inc., which produces and markets the brand, and 50 percent by Timberlake and Ayala. The agreement with the Lindebergs comes as People’s Liberation struggles to turn around its financial picture. The company lost $865,000 in 2005, $570,000 in 2006, and $821,000 for the first nine months of this year. However, in the same period this year, net sales increased 27.1 percent to $14.7 million. The majority of those sales come from the William Rast label, and a minority from the People’s Liberation contemporary brand. 

The weak financial performance of the company led to the exit earlier this year of former CEO, co-chairman and creative director Danny Guez. He was replaced in the CEO role by Colin Dyne, a former CEO and president of trim maker Tag-It Pacific and the original financial backer of People’s Liberation.

“The launch of the William Rast collection is a major endeavor for us, and represents a big financial commitment,” said Dyne of the Lindeberg agreement. “We would like sportswear to become 50 percent of the business.”&nbsp

The company is planning two fall and one holiday delivery for 2008, each encompassing about 30 styles in multiple color ways. Offerings will include blazers, casual jackets, sweaters, wovens, pants, leather and outerwear. Prices will fall in the middle of the contemporary market, “below Theory but above Diesel,” according to Dyne. 

William Rast is currently sold in about 400 U.S. doors, including Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s. Additionally, the brand is distributed in about 200 international doors.

Apart from design talent, Lindeberg and his Paris69 team also bring expertise in sample production and marketing to the William Rast project. 

“We don’t want to make another J. Lindeberg,” explained Lindeberg. “This is an American brand, and it has to be relevant to Justin and Trace. We’ve done a lot of research about their roots in Tennessee, and are giving the collection a sense of the American South, with elements of modern Hollywood and a utilitarian edge. I like the way Justin dresses—the blazer, the jeans, the Adidas shoes. It’s of his generation and it has an urban influence but is sharp and chic. So we have to make things he loves and will always want to wear, on stage and off.”

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