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NEW YORK — Patrick Robinson’s spring collection for Perry Ellis International has become the ultimate example of an exercise in fashion futility.
George Feldenkreis, chief executive officer of PEI, said Tuesday the company will not go ahead with deliveries of the designer-priced line to high-end retailers in the wake of Robinson’s resignation on Monday. While the so-called Perry Ellis Signature line is history, the fate of the separate better-priced Perry Ellis women’s sportswear line licensed to Public Clothing Co. is less certain, as Feldenkreis said PEI and Public remain in negotiations.
Robinson’s decision to quit came after a six-month saga of contract negotiations and questions of creative control that ultimately resulted in the designer changing his employment in September from the licensee, which delivered a more mainstream product to department stores, to join PEI, which said it would produce the tonier Signature collection on its own when a group of powerful stores said they were interested in carrying the line.
Feldenkreis said he was upset with Robinson’s sudden decision to leave, as PEI had sided with the designer when he complained that Public Clothing would not produce the trendier looks he was designing and had invested a considerable sum in setting up the second collection, the first time PEI was to produce its own women’s wear.
Retailers who had gotten behind Robinson’s campaign to refresh the Perry Ellis label reacted with what could be described as a collective shrug, having little to lose, in this case, as the merchandise had not yet arrived at the stores, and having grown inured to designer contract disputes following the recent examples of Tom Ford and Jil Sander.
“Patrick was doing his own line,” Feldenkreis said. “His resignation was not over a clash about stylistic direction. He informed us he was going to get another job and he was not going to make another line. As a consequence of that, we have called all the retailers to tell them we are not going to go forward with a Perry Ellis Signature line.”
PEI’s attempts at relaunching the Perry Ellis name in women’s wear have been troublesome, while its men’s wear continues to perform at the top of the contemporary market. Strength in its men’s wear brands, including Perry Ellis and the hot Original Penguin label, helped the firm more than quadruple its profits for the third quarter ended Oct. 31. Robinson’s work on the brand was the first time it had been heralded in women’s wear since its sportswear was discontinued in 1993, seven years after the death of designer Perry Ellis.
Robinson is reportedly joining Puig as a consultant to design for one of its Paris-based fashion houses, likely Paco Rabanne.
Feldenkreis said he would consider the possibility of trying again with another designer, but added that he felt there was not enough time to replace Robinson and continue with the spring collection, which would have arrived at stores, including Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Barneys New York and Bergdorf Goodman in January. He would not specify PEI’s start-up costs in the venture.
“I wish him the very best, I wish him to be very successful, but I felt this was an abrupt resignation with no motive,” Feldenkreis said. “As far as I’m concerned, there was no idea that this was going to happen. At no point was there a clash. Patrick was designing whatever he felt he was going to design.”
Pressed about the status of Perry Ellis’ other venture in women’s wear, the licensee where Robinson originally worked before moving to PEI, Feldenkreis said the companies remain in talks. There has been speculation that the better line might have been shuttered, following the dismissal of several employees two weeks ago and the move this week of division president Wendy Chivian to Sean John, where she became senior vice president of women’s apparel.
“Public is delivering holiday and spring, and we are negotiating with Public about the future,” Feldenkreis said.
Asked if the line would close, he said: “We have no official notification that this is the case.”
Dan Shamdasani, ceo of Public Clothing, did not return calls seeking comment.
Retail executives who had booked the designer line said they had placed an act of faith in Robinson’s talent, expecting he would stay with Perry Ellis after so much work had gone into the resolution of his earlier dispute with Public Clothing. That happened after a bizarre runway presentation in September, where those who expressed interest in buying the collection Robinson showed to strong reviews were told the next day it was not for sale. But their demands to carry the collection put enough pressure on PEI and Public to concede to Robinson’s creative vision, setting him up with his own line at PEI.
“We’re very disappointed,” said Robert Burke, senior vice president of fashion and p.r. at Bergdorf Goodman, which was planning to host a launch party for the line during the February fashion week. “We were excited about the collection and thought it had an original point of view. It’s a shame when there are so many American houses and we see one is not being revitalized to its furthest extent.”
Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director of Neiman Marcus, said the store had invested in Robinson’s talent, despite the price point of the collection, which was lower than most of the designer brands carried by the store.
Kaner had mixed emotions over Robinson’s decision to leave, but said, “If they weren’t going to do what he wanted them to do, which was upgrade the collection, I think he was right to leave.”