By  on February 12, 2009

LOS ANGELES — Erik Hart might be a fan of artist Robert Longo’s striking images of men in suits, but he’s clearly got a street-smart, budget-conscious shopper in mind for his new men’s diffusion line, MG Black Label.

In a loft overlooking this city’s gritty Toy District, the designer behind Morphine Generation and an eponymous contemporary brand flipped through the 50 pieces constituting the fall debut collection for MG Black Label.

Looks include a striped cotton poplin button-down with a matching skinny tie, a nylon bomber with multiple seams traversing the front and a four-pocket wool and polyester military jacket that secures at the neck with a tab closure. Hart also has knitted a cotton-viscose-acrylic yarn into a double-breasted cardigan in a graphite color evoking pencil scratches. The collection’s palette features subdued hues such as olive, charcoal gray and black with an occasional splash of turquoise plaid and inky blue. Wholesale prices run from $14 to $100, with jacket prices hovering under $50. The line will be shown at Project in Las Vegas next week.

“It’s taking classic men’s wear pieces and putting street utilitarian [details] in them,” said Hart, who produces his lines with partners Bob and Ramin Roofian through parent company M Collective Inc. “They’re everyday pieces you can transition from day to night. You want pieces to invest in that last and don’t break the bank.”

Given the economic slowdown, Hart has incorporated his emphasis on pragmatism and wearability into other recent business decisions. He lowered Morphine Generation’s wholesale prices by 20 percent to between $22 and $60 in an effort to boost sales, and stopped making men’s apparel under his namesake contemporary brand last holiday — partly to focus on the higher-end women’s market.

Unlike Morphine Generation, MG Black Label provides only tops and jackets, primarily of woven fabrics. Morphine Generation, on the other hand, is made up of mostly knits, such as art-centric screen prints on T-shirts.

“[MG Black Label is] also the greatest hits composed of my past collections worked into lower prices,” Hart said.

For instance, the fit of MG Black Label’s button-down shirts was derived from past proven sellers in Morphine Generation — updated in new colors and different patterns.

Hart projected MG Black Label will generate wholesale sales of about $2 million this year through department stores and specialty shops, while M Collective as a company should do about $8 million. With plans to offer a women’s component for MG Black Label next year, Hart expected MG Black Label could even eclipse Morphine Generation in size.

“If you can survive this [economic] time, you’ll end up with great market share,” Hart said. “All these things will help me with my market share.”

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