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Meister’s Big Move Reflects Growth

NEW YORK — David Meister has come full circle.<BR><BR>The designer last week moved to an 11,000-square-foot office and showroom space at 550 Seventh Avenue. It is an environment he knows well. Fifteen years ago, Meister, whose business is owned...

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NEW YORK — David Meister has come full circle.

The designer last week moved to an 11,000-square-foot office and showroom space at 550 Seventh Avenue. It is an environment he knows well. Fifteen years ago, Meister, whose business is owned by Kellwood, worked in the same building, designing evening dresses for He-Ro Group’s Oleg Cassini Silk division.

The building “was always something of an icon for me with Geoffrey, Bill and Oscar based there,” said Meister, 43. “Now, I have an entire floor. It’s wild.”

The showroom, four times the size of his previous digs at 214 West 39th Street and previously occupied by Cynthia Rowley, offers a suitable backdrop to his growing business, which, since launching evening dresses in 1997, has expanded into day dresses, sportswear and custom-made red-carpet-skewing gowns.

Designed by Meister and architectural firm Harris Smith Design, the showroom is clean and Zen-like with concrete floors, soft white walls, brushed chrome and glass tables and plasma TV screens. The entry area features a sleek Christian Liaigre bench, and the offices are furnished with Liaigre and Knoll pieces.

“I wanted the space to be very modern, sleek and sexy, but still very simple,” Meister said. “It’s all about the mixtures of simple textures.”

The showroom will devote equal space to Meister’s signature dress business and his fast-growing sportswear division, which launched at retail 18 months ago.

“We were totally outgrowing our other space,” said Penny Aschkenasy, president of ENC, the Kellwood division that includes the Meister, Sangria and Studio Ease brands. “We are growing rapidly and increasing staff.”

Aschkenasy said the sportswear division has been well received, and it is driving the growth of the overall business.

“There is a huge opportunity and we see it working,’’ said Aschkenasy, who declined to disclose sales or projections. “The sportswear started with 20 doors, now we are in 100 doors.”

The dress division accounts for 60 percent of sales and is sold in 380 stores. Aschkenasy said she anticipates the ratio to sportswear to level in 2006. By 2007, she hopes for sportswear to exceed dress sales.

Market sources estimated Meister’s sportswear to have raked in $10 million to $15 million in wholesale volume last year.

“When we started with sportswear, there was a bridge world and a contemporary world, and there was a customer who couldn’t wear contemporary because of the tiny fit,” Meister said of his decision to enter the sportswear arena. “That same woman is not ready to wear the traditional bridge look, so I am trying to dress her with a more contemporary styling. I wanted this to be a designer collection, but at bridge price points.”

The sportswear is sold in specialty and department stores such as Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s, Lord & Taylor and Selfridge’s in London. Meister is known for his use of vibrant prints for dresses, and he takes the same approach in his sportswear. Key looks include a wool pinstripe suit with a wide leg, a cashmere sweater coat, a print chiffon blouse, a printed draped chiffon skirt, plaid pants and a bouclé skirt cut on the bias. Wholesale price points for the sportswear range from $98 to $350. His dresses, meanwhile, wholesale from $119 to $350.

“I think bridge is overcome with these traditional brands that are not as appealing to the targeted consumer anymore,” Aschkenasy said. “There aren’t enough suppliers offering a modern look in this price category. I think there will be more people adhering to this.”

Now that his sportswear division is up and running, Meister is setting his eyes on developing licenses, and he is thinking about a runway show during New York Fashion Week within a year.

“We are looking to recruit someone to oversee the licenses,” he said. “Initially, it would be shoes and handbags. We also want to explore the international business, in Europe and then in the Far East.”

Asked for his business ambitions, Meister didn’t have to think too long. “I hope we put a staircase in and have a duplex,” he quipped. He better tell that to Vivienne Tam, who’s based on the floor above.

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