Retailers Surprised by Mouret’s Departure

From a commercial perspective, Roland Mouret couldn't have picked a worse time to quit his company.

LONDON — From a commercial perspective, Roland Mouret couldn’t have picked a worse time to quit his company.

Retailers here said his fall collection, and especially his figure-hugging Galaxy dress, has been selling incredibly well. And after five years in business, the company expects to see its first profit in the 2005/2006 fiscal year, ending in April.

“The collection is selling before it even hits the floor, and you can bet it’s going to be an even bigger seller now,” said Jason Broderick, buyer for international designer wear at Harrods. He added that Mouret’s limited-edition Galaxy dress at Harrods — in light brown wool angora — was an instant sell-out.

Tuesday, Mouret and his backers — Sharai Meyers, the firm’s creative director, and Andre Meyers, the chairman — said they would part ways after the fall 2006 collection. The split, they said in a statement, was due to differences in strategic vision. The Roland Mouret trademark remains the property of the company.

Retailers were shocked, especially since sell-throughs have been growing exponentially. “The collection is selling phenomenally, and he’s actually number one or two in our designer area,” said Anna Garner, fashion director at Selfridges.

“The Galaxy dress has been our single most-requested piece of clothing for fall. It has shot Roland into a whole other dimension, and generated so much awareness and press attention. It has opened him up to a whole new public.”

“We had 100 percent sell-throughs at regular price at both stores. There’s not a piece left. We placed a significantly larger order for spring,” said Jeffrey Kalinsky, president and chief executive officer of Jeffrey, the two-unit specialty store in New York and Atlanta.

Kalinsky said he’s not upset yet because he doesn’t know if Mouret will go to another firm. “I’ll be upset if I can’t buy clothes designed by Roland Mouret anymore. He’s got a signature look that no one [else] does,” describing it as “sexy screen siren.”

Robert Burke, senior vice president of fashion and public relations at Bergdorf Goodman, said, “We’ve had good success the last three seasons with Roland. It’s very sad to hear the news. We felt he was really making a name for himself and creating a distinctive and special style. Our New York customers are very attracted to it. It’s a very sophisticated urban look. It’s also merchandised very well from a price standpoint.”

This story first appeared in the October 27, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Burke said Mouret “was just starting to get his recognition and a devoted following.” He said the store will have to “wait and see” what happens to the line without him.

“Something as delicate as a young brand losing its designer puts it in grave jeopardy,” Burke added.

Joan Kaner, vice president and fashion director of Neiman Marcus, also said the Mouret line has been selling very well for fall. “It’s sexy, it has a French touch, it’s very feminine and it’s the direction clothes are moving toward.” She said whether Neiman’s goes forward with the line “depends on who comes in to take his place.”

“It’s a wait-and-see situation,” she added. “He’s built a following in Europe and was beginning to build one here. People are interested to see what his next move will be.”

Sara Albrecht, owner and ceo of Ultimo, the Chicago-based women’s specialty store, said, “The line is doing fabulously. We’ve had 99 percent sell-throughs and only have one piece left.” She said the Galaxy dress (which sells for about $2,000), the skirts and pants have all sold really well.

Albrecht questioned how Mouret’s firm can exist without him. “He is so talented in the way he creates,” she said. She said that as long as the line going forward is “consistent with what we’ve come to expect, it might work,” but Mouret’s archives aren’t that extensive yet.

Albrecht said “it would be smart for another company” to sign him up, but noted that Mouret’s firm told her this week that he wasn’t planning to take another design job.

Retailers, however, were divided in their feelings about the future of the firm.

“They were a magical combination,” said Natalie Massanet, founder and chairman of Net-a-Porter, of Sharai and Mouret. “I was completely surprised by the news.”

But Massanet, who has been carrying the line for four years, said she has faith they’ll both find new success.

“There’s a very strong design team and commercial, manufacturing and financing infrastructure in place. It would be ideal for that team to move forward. Roland, for his part, has amazing sensibility, charisma and drive.”

Others were not so upbeat. Garner said the company is all about Mouret. “Everybody loves Roland, and the company is inextricably linked to him and his personality. He has to be a part of the equation,” she said.