LOS ANGELES — Among fashion’s Murphy-like laws: Gray times call for colorful clothes.
During an otherwise lackluster spring selling season, designer Gregory Parkinson’s willful clash of the color spectrum and graphic weaves boosted sales of his nine-year-old line, Parkinson, by 30 percent, a climb that has continued steadily for fall bookings.
While sales remain relatively small — “hovering around $1 million” — distribution through Linda Dresner, Barneys New York, Neiman Marcus, Harvey Nichols in London and Colette in Paris (usually presented near Dries Van Noten, Marni or Matthew Williamson) has generated an almost cult following for the vivid separates with a one-of-a-kind sensibility to them.
Dresner, who has carried the collection for six seasons and stocks it in both her stores, in Birmingham, Mich., and New York, said, “The clothes are happy. They cheer [customers] up, it’s an uplifting, spirited collection. And customers aren’t as shy about color as they used to be.”
Asked to name a bestseller, she said the collection consistently sells out, andjackets, tops and bottoms all sell well.
She added she moves the collection around the store whenever a corner needs “a jolt of color.”
Parkinson believes: “People can cope with different combinations of fabrics and as much color as they can, but what they also respond to is the traditional silhouettes. They can look different without looking weird.”
Wholesale prices range from $450 to $1,500 for coats; $450 to $800 for dresses, and skirts are $100 to $300. With shapes that consider a range of bodies and ages and remain largely unchanged from season to season, they are secondary to the overall sensibility.
“Comfort is foremost. That’s what makes me an American designer. What speaks to my British heritage is the textiles. It’s always the starting point.”
That playful mix of fabrics is reflected in the deconstructed elements he’s never abandoned: Hems are unfinished; if there is lining, it’s a longer layer of celadon tulle or lace that serves as another skirt.
The British native concentrated on textiles as a fashion student at Newcastle University before relocating to Los Angeles in 1989, thanks to a David Hockney essay praising the sensuality of the city.Here, Parkinson began collaborating on his own line with entertainment industry stylists, and by 1994 opened a boutique on Beverly Boulevard.
He waited three years to go ahead with his first wholesale order, to Barneys, prompting him in 1999 to shutter his retail business and relocate to New York.
But the grind of doing business there, from high rents to getting around, didn’t suit the terminally tan expat and in mid-2001 he decided to go west again. “What I do is very much a California way of dressing,” he conceded. “Even my fall collections are inspired by California weather. All the heaviness is taken out of the tweeds by layering pieces.”
While Parkinson’s almost haphazard aesthetic of head-to-toe dressing might have its limited audience, his consistency has kept them returning.
“Magazines are full of clothing that is sensational to print. But whether they find their way to stores or into people’s closets is another matter altogether,” Parkinson noted. “I still have to think that my clothing has to hang next to brands with tremendous marketing resources. Shopping truly is a democratic process. And I think people are actually thrilled to find something with high impact that is still fun to wear.”
With “a healthy profit margin,” the company remains self-financed and manageable, something the mild-mannered Parkinson is at ease with as he paces his growth. “I prefer having more control. I’m interested in building carefully, because I do want this to be a long-term business.”
Next up is knitwear. In April, Parkinson returned from Peru, where he lined up a manufacturer to realize his rainbow rhapsodies in yarn. First looks will preview by next spring.
“I have quite a consistent customer and I have to think of what she doesn’t have in her closet,” Parkinson observed. “My clothes have a life of more than one season, and that’s a way a lot of women want to dress. They can add a knit dress or sweater. But the knitwear will also sell to a customer who might not at all be interested in the wovens.”
In the meantime, resort was usurped for a smaller holiday collection. Angora ruffles crocheted in Peru trim a jacket. Embroidered sheers give the appearance of substance, while an embellished full skirt has a bohemian Russian flavor.“The growth has been promising, but I don’t think people will be getting away as much this year,” he maintained. “I do think, though, people are determined to find some joy in their lives. They still want a little excitement.”
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