By  on February 22, 1994

NEW YORK -- "Sometimes fashion should be offensive," says Wolfgang Joop. "The bizarre is more fascinating to me than a woman in a well-cut pantsuit."

The German designer, who is based in Hamburg, was interviewed last week at his Manhattan penthouse -- once owned by Bill Blass. He was here to promote his women's wear collection, set for an American launch in April at the Bryant Park tent shows, and to begin sketching his men's spring line in a city where he considers himself "an accepted stranger."

"I am not a typical European or American designer," he said. "I want to be myself, carrying my own experience of life." Joop spent the early part of his career as a painter, sculptor, the fashion editor of a German pattern magazine and a fur designer for Revillon before starting his own label -- Joop -- in 1981.

He has transformed his name into a globally recognized brand and built a wholesale and retail empire including men's and women's apparel, fragrance, accessories, jeans, shoes, eyewear, leathergoods, fur and underwear. A children's wear line is set for next year.

While Joop himself insists he stays away from the company's business, Robert Schienberg, president of Joop America, says the company's annual worldwide volume has more than doubled in the past four years. While Schienberg declined to give any figures or projections, trade estimates put Joop's total European volume for 1993 at between $250 million and $300 million.

Joop merchandise is sold in 500 doors in Europe, including six franchised boutiques across the Continent -- with nine more planned for Asia this year.

Although Joop apparel is established in Europe, the designer made his first splash in America with Joop fragrances, licensed by the Lancaster Group USA, two years ago. The scent was reported to have sold $1 million at retail during its first month and is now sold in 2,200 stores.

Joop followed the fragrance launch with a denim division, licensed by Mustang GmbH, and last month he unveiled his men's collection here.

Joop, who says he is 48, said his women's collection of 150 pieces is greatly influenced by his post-World War II childhood in Germany. "It was a time of self-made chic," he said. "Things didn't match so well -- like a flower-print dress and a man's jacket -- and the fabrics looked like they had seen better days." As an example of his touch of humor, he cited an evening dress of gray flannel studded with rhinestones included in his fall collection.

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