NEW YORK — Who said long-distance relationships can’t work?
Andrew Rosen, chief executive officer of Theory, is the business partner behind the new contemporary sportswear collection, Kulson, designed by Lisa Kulson. There’s only one catch: Rosen is based in New York, while Kulson is headquartered in Florence, Italy.
The duo quietly launched their new venture last year. The first spring line is currently making its debut in stores such as Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Scoop and Fred Segal.
Kulson resigned her post as vice president and head designer of Theory in 2001 to travel and pursue other opportunities. After taking eight months off, she moved to Florence and began designing her own collection. Although she was approached by other people, she always knew that Rosen would be the ideal business partner.
“Andrew and I have the same aesthetic and same vision for what the company should be,” said Kulson, 35, during a visit here last week.
“Partnerships are not easy, even in the best of situations. I’ve always had the ability to work well with Lisa,” said Rosen, who owns the Kulson trademark along with Elie Tahari, Ricky Sasaki, who is also the Japanese licensee, and the designer herself. Kulson opened a Manhattan showroom last month at 80 West 40th Street.
Although she enjoyed her four years at Theory, Kulson said she was ready for new challenges.
“I wanted to make a change in my life,” she explained. “I was in the city a long time. I had travelled to Europe for my work and always felt very inspired. Andrew used to tell me, ‘You’re so prolific when you’re away.’’’
Born in Michigan, Kulson studied business at Southern Methodist University in Dallas and design at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles. She cut her teeth at Fenn, Wright & Manson, where she was design director for private label accounts such as Limited Stores and Express, before joining Theory.
Kulson said she was eager to make Italy her home since that’s where the best mills are.
“You can do so much more when you’re there. Most of the factories are in Tuscany; I’m really hands-on and it made more sense to be in Florence.” She set up a studio on the Arno River, and hired two people for her studio, and two people in production. She speaks to Rosen frequently by phone.
Mixing her business background with her love for modern clothes, Kulson set out to design a new collection that she herself would enjoy wearing and having in her own closet.
“Everything for me is about proportion, and it changes with the season. It’s a modern fit,” she said. The collection is manufactured in Italy and is exported to the U.S. and Japan. Her clothes are distinguished by their textures, patterns and subtle details.
Kulson and Rosen decided to go after a designer look, with more details than the Theory line.
“Lisa and I felt there was a void between where Theory is today and where designer companies are,” explained Rosen.
“It’s about taking great basic pieces and making them luxury,” added Kulson. For fall, she uses high-end fabrics such as silk-blended velvets, tweeds with paillettes, silk velvet, silk wool matelassé, and wool tulle. Among the looks are reversible gray fleece sweatshirts lined with rabbit; black fitted corduroy jackets with jacquard overstitched lining; pleated miniskirts in satin and velveteen, and black leather pants with zippers up the pants legs. Attention to detail can be seen in the handstitching on the pants pockets and the back yoke.
Jackets wholesale from $275 to $400; pants and skirts are $150 to $250, and shirts wholesale for $150. The line carries European sizes.
Rosen wants to keep distribution selective and will sell only about 15 to 20 European stores for fall. In the first year, Rosen projects the line will generate between $7 million and $7.5 million in wholesale volume in the U.S. and Europe. It should do an additional $6 million in Japan.
“The clothing business is very complex,” said Rosen. “For lots of companies, it’s about the marketing and the deals. Lisa and I love making clothes. Lisa designs the clothing, and I’m doing the marketing. Most people at these prices would want to be on the designer floor. We want to be in the contemporary departments. What we’d like is to expose these clothes to where the traffic is in the stores.”
Stefani Greenfield, owner of Scoop, a six-unit women’s and men’s specialty retailer, said the spring collection arrived in her stores Thursday. “Number one, she [Kulson] is a phenomenal talent. We were Theory’s first account. The best things about Kulson are the quality, and what I know will be the fit. There’s definitely a void for a grown-up Theory. Kulson has the finest fabrics with intricate details,” Greenfield said.
“It’s really a girly-girl line. It’s very feminine, pretty, ladylike and sophisticated,” she added. “There are textured minis, shrunken rose-print jackets with the most fabulous detailed linings.” said Greenfield. “These are items that make the store shine.”