LONDON — One of this season's fashion mysteries is the fate of Roland Mouret, who has opted to show his last collection — at least with his current backers — privately in New York this week after several seasons on the runways.
Mouret has kept mum about his plans, and declined all comment for this story, although industry sources say he's interviewed at companies including Chloé and Ungaro.
The designer split with his backers, Sharai and Andre Meyers, last October over differences in strategic direction. The Meyerses still own his name, but Sharai has indicated in the past that she will not continue to use it.
Industry observers have mixed views about the designer's future. No one doubts his talents — he's a press and specialty store darling, and his Galaxy dress flew off the rails last fall — but some are concerned about the ramifications of his decision to part ways with the Meyerses.
"I think Roland would make a great creative director for an established house, as he doesn't own his name. That way, he could establish himself again and be sure next time he gets the right backing," said Joan Burstein, owner of London retailer Browns.
Burstein added that Browns has been inundated with preorders of the designer's new Titanium dress for spring via the store's Web site.
Jean-Jacques Picart, an industry consultant based in Paris, said Mouret's talent and versatility will serve him well in the future.
"Mouret dresses a large range of women from 30 years old and up in a chic, modern couture way without extreme effects," the consultant said. "He is very suitable for an American brand that wants to offer European allure for an American way of life."
Marianne Castier, who undertakes creative searches at Sterling International in Paris, said Mouret has great talent and personality. "He designs what is good for today: Fresh, modern, feminine and realistic — with a little French touch."
But Castier, who thinks Mouret would fit well at a French or American house, shrugged off suggestions that the designer's personality contributed to the split with his business partners. "Any designer has an ego and special character, but he is not more difficult than any other," she said.The Meyerses own 100 percent of Roland Mouret Ltd., and Mouret will remain with the company until April. From the start, the plan was for Mouret to receive a package of share options once the company made a profit, which is expected in the 2005-06 fiscal year ending in April.
Other industry observers are less optimistic about Mouret's future, however. "One option is for him to go and work for a brand," said Moira Benigson, owner of the eponymous executive search firm in London. "He could always take Phoebe Philo's job at Chloé, or join one of the houses at LVMH [Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton]. Or he could go to the U.S., and work for a designer like Donna Karan."
Benigson said Mouret's chances of making it on his own again are very slim: "It's a very difficult situation. Who do you know who's disappeared as a fashion brand and then made a comeback? Very few people. What are Helmut Lang and Jil Sander doing now?"
Nick Liddell, brand valuation director at Interbrand London, the branding consultancy, said Mouret needs to convince potential backers and employers that he's not a volatile creative type.
"He's left a young company that has not yet turned a profit. And until his company turns a profit, there's no value in the Roland Mouret brand. It's not hot property," Liddell said.
"Fashion is a serious business. Investors put large amounts of money behind brands, and they want to see a return," he added. "Mouret has to demonstrate a certain level of commercial awareness if he wants potential backers to come knocking."
— With contributions from Miles Socha and Robert Murphy, Paris
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