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Ronen Armony balances his surfing hobby with his day job as owner/designer of the trendy clothing line Lili Rose.
This story first appeared in the August 25, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
His 40,000-square-foot windowless factory in downtown Los Angeles is miles from the waves, and that’s fine for onetime competitive surfer Ronen Armony, whose clothing line, Lili Rose, is about fun and edge rather than longboard shorts and hibiscus prints.
Blond, tan and fit, Israeli-born Armony wants to keep his hobby and his vocation separate. But his experiences on and off the beach have helped shape his line of clothing to give the 21st-century woman — whose chronological age looks nothing like her biological makeup — a fresh look.
“It has to be sexy,” he said, advising a model during a photography session to “bring the zipper just above the bra.” Armony noted, “Moms and daughters can wear the same thing. So we want to be fashion-forward with the right quality and price.”
Outerwear is where Armony focuses his design skills, and for the rest of the line, he’s the product developer, overseeing and approving sketches from his pattern makers and pool of three freelance designers. His company’s niche is following trends quickly, not setting them. Los Angeles is the production source for 70 percent of his line, and he can turn fashions in three to four weeks.
Examples of Lili Rose’s novelty factor include triple-buckle sleeves on his leather jackets in shades of cream, olive and black; patchwork coats with a motley of corduroy, denim and fur, featuring embroidery, and wide-ribbed waistbands on athletic sets.
A stickler for fabric, he doesn’t have problems delaying production on a new design until he has scouted out the right textiles. His patchwork coats use corduroy and faux fur from Italy and denim from France, and his lace Tactel for tops comes from Brazil.
The clothes have been sold in 1,200 boutiques including Stash in Las Vegas, Precision in New York and U Melrose in Los Angeles. Wholesale prices range from $15 for tops to $22 for pants, and $88 to $198 for leather goods.
“I can put one piece of Lili Rose on an outfit and give it a funky, rocker feel — it’s a very cute line,” said Carlos Amaro, buyer and in-house stylist for U Melrose.
Much of Armony’s success stems from private label development for retailers, accounting for 40 percent of sales. Armony said he manages to keep both specialty stores and his boutiques satisfied with his product. “The beauty of what we offer is exclusivity to specialty stores, and we protect our boutiques by charging the same price to both,” he said, adding the sector provides a stamp of credibility. “If top-level retailers are willing to accept your product development, it means that you’re good at your craft.”
Entering the leather buckle trade while in Canada was a way to pay for architecture school, but Armony got sidetracked along the way. Business was good enough that he sold private label clothing to Canadian businesses and ditched plans to create blueprints of office towers. He eventually came to Los Angeles for the balmy climes six years ago, and one year later began Lili Rose, a name chosen for its sweet sound.
Last year, with partner Jessie Veillette, he launched a second line called Jessie USA, whose price points and highly embellished styles create a solid counterpart to the business. Those pieces, including cropped and studded T-shirts, fraying denim with patches and low-rise sweatpants, retail from $80 to $300.
So far, sales have risen 22 percent this year at Lili Rose to more than $10 million. Unlike the competition, Armony isn’t out to expand the line or license out accessories.
To decompress from the hectic business week, he escapes to the surf in San Diego (less intent on the 20-foot waves of his youth) with his four kids.
“When the mind is clear, I can get ideas and get creative,” he said.