NEW YORK — The storied Perry Ellis franchise is ready to write its next chapter in women’s with designer Patrick Robinson, whose career has already made for some interesting reading.
Perry Ellis International has been working to revive the business recently through its licensee, Public Clothing Co., which relaunched women sportswear this spring after a two-year hiatus. The spring and fall offerings from the line were designed by Niovi Forbes, who has left the company.
This is just the latest incarnation of Perry Ellis women’s sportswear.
The late Perry Ellis started his namesake company in 1978. In 1992, Marc Jacobs, who had taken over designing the line, showed his infamous grunge collection. A year later, PEI decided to get out of manufacturing and shut the designer collection. Then, in April 1999, Supreme International acquired PEI. Proving resilient, the women’s sportswear then relaunched in 2000, under a license to Kellwood Co.’s Goodman Group, but the plug was pulled just a year later.
After designing for the Giorgio Armani Le Collezioni line for four years, then Anne Klein for two years and then striking out on his own in 1996, Robinson is launching his take on better sportswear under the Perry Ellis name as creative director of design for Perry Ellis women’s wear, a division of Public Clothing.
“Eclectic randomness” is the designer’s term for the planned nonchalance in his new line. “It looks like you just went to your wardrobe, you got dressed, you just put it together. I strive for that.”
The line bows this Friday on the runway at Bryant Park and will be sold mostly in department stores. At retail, a white ribbed viscose tank top from the line will go for $58, while a stone-bonded cotton jacket will sell for $188.
Instead of a collection, though, Robinson prefers to think of his 120-style creation as a series of fashion items that make up a wardrobe.
In all, the offering is targeting a woman who does not define herself in terms of age.
“She thinks of herself as in the clothes that she wants to wear and the pieces and items that work for her and in her lifestyle,” Robinson said. “That’s how a chic woman puts herself together and that’s what Perry Ellis is about and there’s a large demand for that right now.“Let’s face it, there’s a lot of sameness it the market. The soul of Perry Ellis has always been — and the essence of what I brought forward and then made relevant — that idea of chicness. The idea of charming, that it’s optimistic, but that it’s relevant for today.”
While optimism may be in somewhat shorter supply given the geopolitical and economic scene lately, an emphasis on design has come to the forefront. Stylish designs can now be found everywhere, from mammoth discount stores and hotel chains to budget airlines, where companies are learning to offer customers more than just service and product, but also aesthetic.
“We’ve come to make design relevant in all our life, and clothes have to reflect that at any price point,” said Robinson.
This focus on design, he added, will help the line become a commercial success. Next year, Perry Ellis women’s wear is planned to expand to 800 doors from 350 and drive sales up to $50 million.
“If you’re going to spend money today you’re going to spend money on something that captures a part of you, that attracts you, that moves you towards it,” he noted. “That’s the kind of product that you want around. That’s the kind of product you want in your life.”
Robinson feels this latest effort is his best work to date.
“We’re offering the customers incredible fashion product that is wearable, that fits in with their lifestyle, that makes them look chic and clicks in their head,” he said.
Sportswear isn’t the only thing on PEI’s plate for women’s. In June, the firm said it would join forces with private label manufacturer European Design Group to produce suits under the Perry Ellis and Perry Ellis Portfolio labels for spring 2004, with distribution aimed at about 500 major department and specialty stores.
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