By  on June 30, 1994

PARIS -- Michel Klein has developed a new luxury ready-to-wear collection for Guy Laroche.

Klein, who took over the role as Laroche's couturier last September, has launched a small line of couture-inspired suits and separates called "Guy Laroche Couture." The line is made up of the simpler pieces from the Laroche haute couture collection, including Klein's self-termed "classic Mao suit."

"Women familiar with haute couture won't be lost wearing this," Klein said, "and a ready-to-wear woman will really feel the luxury....I am thinking about the woman who buys from Chanel, Jil Sander or Hermes."

The new line is made up of about a dozen pieces -- dresses, skirts, jackets and pantsuits -- all manufactured in Groupe Guy Laroche's factories. Starting this September, it will be updated and shipped at least four times a year to Laroche's thirty-odd wholly owned boutiques throughout Europe and the Laroche store in New York.

The line will bow in mid-September at Barneys uptown store in New York, and in Los Angeles. Rollout into other Barneys locations is on hold for the time being. "We want to walk with this collection before we run with it," said Bonnie Pressman, Barneys's divisional senior vice president for women's.

Pressman said Barneys has a year-long exclusive on the collection, but that could change if both Laroche and Barneys agree. Pressman said that, to her knowledge, Barneys has never sold Laroche women's rtw, but may have sold some of its men's wear years ago. Barneys has carried Klein's signature collection, and the sportier Klein d'Oeil, for about seven years.

"When we saw the haute couture, the Mao suit, it inspired us, it was so simple and modern," Pressman said. "We had talked about bringing 'couture' to Barneys, with its high-fashion styling and quality, but at rtw prices, and Klein went for it." She added that Klein may do a trunk show to celebrate the line's American launch.

In developing the line, Groupe Guy Laroche took some of the designs from the haute couture and produced them industrially, while keeping some couture touches. The garments are manufactured in-house, helping to keep prices "reasonable," while Klein has kept couture details like handmade passementerie buttons or silk linings for jackets.Klein also cited economic reasons for introducing the line. "We can no longer justify spending all this money on creating haute couture without having some kind of commercialization (of some of the pieces)," Klein explained.

While Laroche has three rtw lines -- Montaigne, Boutique and Jeans designed by Jean-Pierre Marty -- the house did not have a true luxury rtw collection for daytime, explained Jean-Jacques Schmoll, a director of Groupe Guy Laroche. Guy Laroche Couture has price points similar to the existing Montaigne evening and cocktail collection, but is roughly 15 to 20 percent more expensive than the two other lines, which are targeted "to a wider distribution," Schmoll said.

A simple hourglass-shaped dress in wool crepe or velvet for the first collection will retail for about $724 (3,980 francs) in France; a classic redingote in wool crepe or wool boucle is priced at $871 (4,790 francs); a knee-length skirt in wool boucle or crepe will sell for $300 (1,650 francs), and in cashmere flannel for $336 (1,850 francs). Pressman said the average retail price for the collection is about $1,200.

Both Klein and Schmoll said they hope the collection will open the door for Laroche's overall business in the U.S., which up until now has been limited to its East 57th Street shop.

"Barneys deserves to have exclusivity at first," Schmoll said, "but we would love to get into specialty stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, I. Magnin and Neiman Marcus." He expects retail volume for September and October to be roughly $1.8 million (10 million francs), but was unable to give more long-term estimates.

"We already did a test this season by putting a crepe suit and a cape in the (Laroche) stores, which all sold out before the summer sales began," Klein added. "While we attracted existing Laroche clients, we also got new customers because we put the suit in the window."

Does this new line represent a move for Klein into Laroche's rtw? Both Klein and Schmoll said no. "I am not capable of designing Laroche's rtw," Klein stated flatly, "and I don't really feel like making floral crepe de chine dresses.""There is no question -- Klein will not design Laroche rtw," Schmoll stated. "We are very happy with Jean-Pierre Marty." Schmoll also said he felt that Marty's collections and the new line are complementary, even if very different in spirit. "It's only natural that we should want to attract new clients."

Depending on the line's success, more models could be added to each delivery. But Schmoll said that it "would never be near 100 pieces" in order to keep the line exclusive. And while Guy Laroche Couture will contribute to Groupe Guy Laroche's sales base, "the contribution will be small, because the line is relatively high-priced, and clearly, fewer pieces will be sold than of the other rtw lines."

The Guy Laroche Couture collection will be accessorized by a new line of shoes to be made by Paris-based Delage, whose factories are in Brittany. Delage has its own signature line and makes shoes for several other couture houses.

Fashion jewelry is also in the works, and Laroche will work with various manufacturers, depending upon the types of pieces and materials that will be used.

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