LOS ANGELES — Is all well at the house of Richard Tyler?
Pointing to scarce red-carpet appearances of late for his signature Couture looks, and the recent revelations that his secondary line, Tyler, is now without co-designer/muse Erica Davies and an outside backer, a chorus of retailers, stylists and other observers have increasingly questioned the future of not only the line, but the house behind it.
“We’ve stopped carrying it completely,” said Sara Albrecht, owner of Ultimo in Chicago, who hasn’t carried Tyler’s Couture collection in about four years — although she personally continues to wear old pieces, and as recently as this weekend attended to a client who brought in an eight-year-old suit for a re-fitting. “We used to do so well with the line and had amazing trunk shows. But it just stopped working. Maybe Richard got distracted doing other things, like trying to do the secondary line.”
And the absence of Davies, who co-created the secondary line with Tyler and whom he publicly considered its muse, has others pondering its next step.
“It is a little bit of a concern,” said a buyer at Language in New York’s NoLIta, which has sold the secondary line “well,” particularly its dresses, since it launched three seasons ago. “Is there going to be continuity? Will it be in the same vein, the same price points? All we can do is wait and see.”
Tyler and Lisa Trafficante, his wife and business partner, have heard it all before, and they are working to smooth out some of the stumbling blocks.
And with new categories in the offing in the coming months, including a new evening division and footwear for both the ready-to-wear and the secondary lines, they remain unfazed, noting they are not the exception. Overall company sales might be down to $10 million in 2003 from the $15 million regularly reported here in recent years. But businesses are being challenged all over, the pair pointed out.
“I remember when we moved from downtown to our [current] building and instead of being forwarded, the phones were disconnected for a day,” said Trafficante. “You wouldn’t believe the reaction. We were getting calls from New York [reporters] wondering if we were out of business.”As for the red carpet, although Tyler is a pioneer of the modern race to dress celebs, a legion of other designers, mostly European and with endless marketing arsenals, have elbowed in on the action in the last five years.
Then there is the fact that Red Tiger never backed any Tyler collection, according to both sides. Not long after the formal announcement in February that the secondary line would be realized as a limited liability company with a financial infusion from Red Tiger, a capital investment company comprising Gene Montesano and Barry Perlman, founders of Lucky Brand Dungarees, and former Earl Jeans president Joe Krafka, the deal was off. Both sides kept the outcome under wraps until it emerged at last month’s fall market .
“Out of respect to them, we have no comment, really. It was mutual,” said Krafka. “We’re pursuing other directions.” Red Tiger lost no time in finding new ventures: At market, it launched Capitol Tailors, a denim-based contemporary line emphasizing tailoring techniques, and Ever, a men’s wear line.
Tyler and Trafficante said they are now financing their expansion themselves.
Trafficante said the Tyler line did have them “feeling like such foreigners in that price point, and to the production after doing pricier rtw. Richard felt he had to stand back. But he loves addressing that customer with that point of view.”
Three seasons in, the secondary Tyler line has met mixed reviews, said several retailers nationwide.
L’Armoire in New Canaan, Conn., a longtime Richard Tyler supporter, carried the secondary line, but decided to invest future dollars in ready-to-wear. “We liked it, but it didn’t generate enough for me,” said owner Diane Roth. “There’s a really loyal Richard Tyler fan out there. The classic, good tailoring is his strength. My sense is they’re regrouping and going back to their roots.”
Other retailers that no longer carry the secondary line point to fit and shipping issues. “It didn’t sell. One reason was fit,” said a Los Angeles retailer with four doors, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “But new lines often have issues like that.”Ed Burstell, vice president at Henri Bendel, concurred. “What new line doesn’t have fit issues? We will continue carrying the line because it’s performed very well for us and they’ve been very accommodating in rectifying the fit problems with us.” As for Davies’ departure, Burstell, too, will “wait and see. We’re going on history, and so far, so good.”
Bendel’s will be the first to showcase the label’s newest line of cocktail dresses, Richard Tyler Eve. With a two-season exclusive in New York, Bendel’s plans an in-store boutique, slated for 150 to 200 square feet, Burstell said, as well as windows and an appearance by Tyler in August.
Burstell emphasized Bendel’s commitment to the house by noting Eve was born after a conversation between the retailer’s eveningwear buyer and the designer about an untapped market for hip cocktail dresses retailing for $600 to $1,000.
The dozen looks for resort, in black, pink, bordeaux and iridescent brown, bowed quietly last week in New York at Tyler’s Washington Place studio residence. All but one of the designs arecocktail length. Tyler says they’re not “earth-shattering,” but they seem to satisfy a wardrobing and budget need.
“It’s that downtown girl dressed up,” he said Monday morning. “It’s not too sexy, but it’s not too lady. Think of those young, chic aristocratic girls in London.”
Trafficante believes the line, which will be limited to 12 to 15 looks each season, can conservatively earn $1 million in the first year. Too much assortment can raise costs, they said, and the concept is based on a focused vision.
“Richard can do what he’s known for without having to make it so elaborate in the details or construction,” she said. “There’s a customer out there who wants Richard Tyler but maybe can’t fork out $2,000 for a special occasion dress, and still another who can but is looking for something that isn’t such a great investment.”
Dallas-based Tootsies is among those retailers writing Eve. “I think the hard- core Richard Tyler Couture customer will be happy to see something at this price. Right now, consumers are looking at prices,” observed Penne Weidig, the boutique’s buyer for American and European collections. “[Eve] might even broaden the customer base.”Burstell believes this is only the beginning of a well-priced cocktail-evening category. While Tyler is kicking it off at the Manhattan retailer, other designers are being courted, though he won’t hint as to whom. “We think there will be several more. Hopefully, we can move our evening-cocktail business into this separate direction,” he added, noting the label’s in-store shop will also carry wraps, shawls and evening bags.
Neiman Marcus confirmed Monday it has ordered Eve for several doors.
Rounding out the brand is Richard Tyler Couture footwear. After the expiration of the contract with Rossi Moda last year, Tyler has partnered with Beverly Hills-based The Fashion House (which last fall acquired the Nicole Miller license) to introduce for fall a 47-style collection, retail priced between $350 and $550. With international distribution slated by spring, the footwear maker projects sales to hit $3 million in three years.
Fall will also see an edgier shoe collection to go with the secondary Tyler line. With around 100 styles retailing from $90 to $140, footwear sales are expected to surpass $40 million in the next three years. Both lines are being produced in Italy.
The secondary footwear line, noted Tyler and Trafficante, is evidence the apparel line — projected to do just about $2 million in 2003 — isn’t disappearing. It can continue without Davies, Tyler noted, since several members of his team include women typical of the line’s customers.
While its cool urban sensibility will remain, it will be edited considerably, he said. “What I’ve learned from Eve is that you don’t have to be this huge line. It’s good to pull back and get focused. A lot of companies have pulled back and reevaluated where they are and what’s going on, and it’s a much clearer picture now.”
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