The latest strategy midpriced fashion firms here are employing to shore up their image is collaborating with young designers on seasonal projects intended to lend them more creative credence.
Companies from outerwear specialist Ramosport to lingerie company Dim have called on designers to loan their talent to their brands. In effect, they have institutionalized the revolving-door policy that has plagued many high-fashion houses.
But, executives and designers say that, whereas changing fashion designers has damaged many luxury ready-to-wear houses, that same tactic has brought sparkle to brands that traditionally don’t trade on opulent credentials.
For example, the moderately priced Dim has brought in the likes of Bali Barret, Eric Bergère, Vannina Vesperini, E2 and Isabelle Marant to each design for a season its two-year-old Beautiful People guest-designer project.
At Ramosport, Michele and Olivier Chatenet, known together as E2, have been asked to design limited-edition trenchcoats for the contemporary Paris-based firm, bowing this fall.
Eric Bergère has been commissioned to do a capsule collection this fall for French hunting and outdoor apparel firm Aigle. The house also has asked cutting-edge accessories designers here, from Yazbukey to Jerome Gruet, to reinterpret its classic rubber boots.
Meanwhile, Laeatitia Ivanez, who designs the Les Prairies de Paris contemporary line, and couturier Franck Sorbier have whipped up collections for cheap-chic footwear retailer Andre.
Mail-order catalogs here, from La Redoute to Trois Suisses, have long called on designers to do inexpensive capsule collections for their books. This season, for example, Trois Suisses features Loulou de la Falaise and Martine Sitbon, while La Redoute has mini collections by Viktor & Rolf, Bali Barret, and shoe designer Michel Vivien, among others. Prices for such apparel usually vary between $35 for a blouse and $150 for a jacket — significantly less expensive than the designers’ own brands.
Fabienne Mallat, marketing director at Dim, said the Beautiful People project has given the firm’s inexpensive innerwear an image boost among its customers.
“With the likes of H&M and Zara making waves, fashion is no longer for just the VIPs,” she said. “We wanted to democratize fashion and create innovative products with designers that would sell at reasonable prices.”Mallat added that Beautiful People, which retails for about $60 for a bra and panty set, has been an unexpected success. “The first season we sold 100,000 pieces, far above our expectations of 45,000 pieces.”
At Aigle, managing director Yves Mouries said he called on Bergère to reinterpret the firm’s hallmark hunting and outdoor apparel to celebrate its 150th anniversary.
“We wanted to bring more excitement to the brand,” he said. “Our image has been very classic. This type of thing lends the brand credibility of a different sort with a different sort of customer. It also shows our existing customers that we are committed to innovation.”
Muriel Mesguich, president of Ramosport, said pairing an innovative designer with a product-oriented brand often yields strong results. In the past, she has worked with designers from Hussein Chalayan to Christophe Lemaire.
“Bringing in a strong designer is a way to set the company apart from the competition,” she said. “Products out there have become very banal. People want something different, something with a soul, something that talks to them.”
For Ramosport’s project with E2, Mesguich will take the notion of a guest designer to a different level. Only 21 trenchcoats by the designers will be produced. They will be sold exclusively in Paris’ uberhip Colette for about $1,500.
Meanwhile, designers said collaborating on well-defined and punctual projects with big industrial firms often helps disseminate their name to a larger audience.
“It brings you another notoriety among another public,” explained Bergère. “Getting your name out there when you’re a small designer is very hard. But when you’ve got a real company selling your products, it shows people that you can be creative — but that you also create real clothes.”
“When you get into a catalog like La Redoute, the impact is even greater,” said Michele Chatenet of E2. “All of the sudden your fashion is in a book that is distributed to 10 million households.
But it’s not only notoriety that motivates designers to accept working with these firms. They said the fruit of such collaborations also brings greater industrial savoir faire.“You’re forced to work with a real client in mind,” said Bergère. “The clothes are to be sold — not just photographed on the catwalk and then marked down for press sales. It’s something you don’t understand as clearly until you’ve worked in collaboration with a big firm.”
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“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
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