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NEW YORK — Catherine Malandrino is taking her collection in a more formal direction, on the runway and off.
Among the changes taking place at the house are the creation of a new president’s position, adding showrooms in Milan and Los Angeles and the introduction of home products and handbags. They’re all intended as the first steps toward establishing a more orderly structure behind the company, which she and her partner, Bernard Aidan, have quietly built over seven years with a more personal and fluid approach.
There’s also a certain sense of growing up in her design, as Malandrino said a key focus of her spring collection (showing Thursday at 1 p.m.) is, for the first time, a jacket. Still, it’s one that is designed with no shoulder padding and is softly constructed to feel more like a fitted shirt.
“I’m not into drastic change,” Malandrino said. “I’m more of a builder. Reaching this point, where the starting piece is a jacket or a trench, took me more time to develop. But today, I feel I want to take more of an individual and secure position — that’s why the jacket is back.”
According to Malandrino and Aidan, the company is approaching $35 million in retail sales this year — nearly double that of its 2001 sales and largely boosted by the introduction at retail this season of a Limited Edition collection, a higher-end group of styles produced in batches typically no more than 50 pieces, many of them handmade and numbered. But that fast growth required a new sense of formality at the company as well, Aidan said, so he could concentrate more on financial aspects. To that end, the company has made several personnel changes, including:
l Naming Gary Nelson as president. Nelson, a Donna Karan alumnus who was most recently executive vice president of Miguel Adrover during its ownership by The Leiber Group, joined the company in February to spearhead the Limited Edition launch. Aidan has since assumed the titles of chairman and chief executive officer.
l Making other recent appointments. Andrea Werner, who most recently worked in public relations at DKNY, was named director of public relations for Malandrino, replacing Benjamine Parent, who left the firm. Linda Gaunt, the long-time executive vice president of communications at Giorgio Armani Corp., has also been retained for strategic communications planning through the consulting firm she launched in January.
l Naming sales representatives in Milan and Los Angeles. The collection will be sold to Europe and Japan through the Daniele Ghiselli showroom in Milan, which also represents Viktor & Rolf, Luella Bartley and Michael Kors. In Los Angeles, Malandrino hired Bita Azabazarin, another former Donna Karan employee, as regional director for the West Coast, to service its accounts in that region.
Some of the changes at Malandrino, including its new product offering, will be unveiled during an October promotion at Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche, one of the roughly 25 doors that carry the Limited Edition line. For the event, scheduled Oct. 2-19, Malandrino will show selections from her previous collections inspired by American motifs like the Wild West and Harlem, as well as an exhibition of art called “New York Canyon.” Along with a line of tableware designed with Paris industrial designer Christophe Pillet, currently carried at the designer’s stores here and in Los Angeles, and pillows featuring photographs by Wendelien Dann, a 5,000-square-foot space will feature the designer’s first fragrance collection — a scented assortment of home and bath products.
“I never felt I left,” Malandrino said of her anticipated return to Paris, her home town. “I felt I am really part of this group of international women living today, women who are poetic and feel strong about themselves. To me, New York versus London versus Paris doesn’t mean a lot anymore. I’ve been approaching New York with a lot of freedom, because when you come from the outside, it is very open, fresh and inspiring.”
Malandrino’s scented home collection consists of a 3.4-oz. room spray ($25); a single bath soap ($18); a box of three bath soaps ($35); a large votive candle ($42), and a gift box of six smaller votive candles ($40). Dragoco supplied the fragrance for the collection while Lafco manufactures the candles, soaps and room spray. That line will also bow in the U.S. on Nov. 7 at Henri Bendel and will remain exclusive to Le Bon Marché in Europe and Bendel’s in the U.S. through the end of the year, during which it could do $250,000 in retail sales, according to sources.
“It’s very much about lifestyle,” Nelson remarked, “and Catherine always speaks in terms of total environment. It was natural to venture into [fragrance] that revolves around the home.”
Meanwhile, distribution for handbags, some of which will be unveiled at Thursday’s show and are expected to retail from $450 to $850, has not yet been determined, but Malandrino expects it will be rolled out in a similar vein to the Limited Edition line. That collection retails from about $550 to $1,600 and has had strong initial results at stores like Bergdorf Goodman, Linda Dresner and Saks Fifth Avenue. “We’re doing a phenomenal business with her,” said Robert Burke, vice president and senior fashion director at Bergdorf’s, where the line has been positioned next to Marni, Comme des Garçons and Yves Saint Laurent.
Aidan estimated the line has achieved sales of $3,000 a square foot in that 250-square-foot space, while Malandrino’s in-store shops at Saks and Bendel’s each have sales of about $2,000 a square foot.