Young Designers on the Verge

As designers such as Derek Lam, Doo-Ri Chung, Behnaz Sarafpour and Proenza Schouler's Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez appear to be rising in fashion's ranks, a handful of up-and-comers are in hot pursuit.

As designers such as Derek Lam, Doo-Ri Chung, Behnaz Sarafpour and Proenza Schouler’s Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez appear to be rising in fashion’s ranks, a handful of up-and-comers are in hot pursuit.

More often than not, getting more exposure involves getting accessories on the runway —something that several designers have in the works for February. They are also game about exploring international opportunities and, in some cases, opening freestanding stores.

“Everything is definitely moving faster than we thought it would,” said Wen Zhou, chief executive officer of 3.1 Phillip Lim. But like many of her peers, she is taking it in stride while keeping an eye out for new prospects.

Zhou is scouting a location for the designer’s first freestanding store, which is expected to open in SoHo next year. The 3,500-square-foot space the company hopes to close on this month would give Lim enough room to display the lifestyle of the brand, especially in relation to his new men’s wear collection, she said.

Zhou and Lim plan to further develop accessories in the next year. “We’ve done bags and belts, but we don’t have a complete collection. Everything is done in-house, and I think we will keep it this way,” she said. “We haven’t been thinking about licensing.”

Collaborations are another story. Lim has created a capsule collection consisting of a dress, tops, skirt and shorts for the Japanese retailer Uniqlo that will bow in May. Guests at his 7th on Sixth show in February will be among the first to see the shoes he has designed through a partnership with a major international apparel house that Zhou declined to name.

After receiving one of the runner-up prizes at last month’s CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund awards, Rodarte’s Laura and Kate Mulleavy have plenty in store for the next six months or so. Their label’s first collection of gloves, shoes and jewelry is being launched at On Pedder, a luxury accessories boutique in Hong Kong. Artistic invitations touting its arrival were sent to customers to clue them in to Rodarte accessories’ arrival.

The designers will put their creative minds to work by helping design the window display at Colette during next month’s couture shows in Paris. They will assist with the backdrop that will complement items from their collection that have already been selected.

This story first appeared in the December 5, 2006 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Another first for the sisters will occur this spring, when they start selling their ready-to-wear to Barneys New York and Browns in London. Barneys has also picked up the shoes they designed in collaboration with Christian Loboutin. They have teamed with him again for the kicks that will walk down the runway at their 7th on Sixth show in February.

“People in general want a full look,” Kate Mulleavy said. “Women want something that goes together instead of having to search for the right shoe to go with their new dress.”

Stanley Korshak has invited them to be the guest designers at a Feb. 13 luncheon/fashion show for 2,000 women in Dallas. The event will benefit the Leukemia Foundation.

Another runner-up winner, Thakoon Panichgul is using accessories to rev up interest in his Thakoon label. A deal for sunglasses is in the works and a resort collection will be introduced in June, said president Maria Tomei Borromeo. Sales have jumped 120 percent this year and further growth is planned now that Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus have picked up the collection for spring, she said. Barneys has increased its doors carrying the colllection to four. Internationally, the Thakoon collection is being sold in 12 countries, Borromeo said.

Maria Cornejo, winner of this year’s National Design Award, will introduce her first shoe collection during her February runway show at Bumble & bumble. Unlike the casual collections the designer has done with Keds, this one will be dressier and made in Portugal, and the company is handling it independently, said Cornejo’s business partner, Marysia Woroniecka. “We are continuing to work on developing a signature for leather goods and accessories with a small collection produced in New York, but we are looking for the right partner to develop a full-blown accessories collection,” she said.

For spring, the self-financed company has increased U.S. distribution of its collection by 30 percent, Woroniecka said. Talks are under way to line up distribution for Europe and the Far East, but the designer would rather wait for the right one than rush into anything, she said. With two freestanding stores here, including one that opened in the West Village in May, the independently owned company plans to pursue other locations.

Lela Rose is another designer who will be showing off new shoes on the runway in February. Through a collaboration with Payless as a guest designer, Rose has pulled together her first footwear collection. Another addition to her design portfolio is a wedding dress collection that hits stores this spring. The updated collection won high marks from retailers during the October bridal market, and even Rose was surprised by the demand. With her domestic business up and running, the designer said she is turning her attention to new markets and international business as ways to build sales.

Sari Gueron said she was considering looking overseas for growth, and intended to set up a licensing deal with a partner in Japan or Hong Kong. But she remains committed to the U.S.

“Our goal is to continue to cultivate our business,” she said. “We are a young company and have not reached our potential with our current retail stores.”

To drum up more interest, Gueron has produced her first resort collection for 2007. She also has made an effort to add more separates like cashmere sweaters, knits, jeans, jackets and coats to her signature collection. In seasons past, she was known for cocktail dresses and evening gowns, but the addition of separates enables her to reach a larger market, she said.