NEW YORK — For some, keeping up with Stacey Bendet could be a little rough.
This story first appeared in the January 31, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
The 29-year-old founder of six-year-old contemporary brand Alice + Olivia can’t seem to get her words out fast enough. She is so psyched about her fall line, she pulls items off racks and has a story behind each piece. She can’t wait until her fall presentation, which will take place at her store at 80 West 40th Street here on Feb. 7. The presentation, she contended, will be unique.
“Buyers don’t come to the shows to buy, they come to the showrooms for that,” Bendet said. “They come to the shows to be inspired and entertained. I’m going to do that.”
For Bendet’s presentation, her store will be transformed and sectioned off into four rooms, each highlighting a different type — the Upper East Side mom, the downtowner, the minimalist and the rock ‘n’ roll girl. Her mission, she said, is to show buyers how one dress, pair of pants or top can be worn on many women, even if their styles are very different.
“We are only showing about 16 looks, but I really think that you will absorb so much more from this presentation than you would by watching 30 or 40 looks walk by on a runway,” she said, quickly checking her BlackBerry.
Meanwhile, Bendet’s business is growing. She said by the end of this year, Alice + Olivia should be a $50 million business. There are five freestanding stores in New York; Southampton, N.Y.; Greenwich, Conn., and Los Angeles. By the end of 2008, Bendet said she will have at least two more stores, in Beverly Hills and in Malibu, Calif. She’s also looking for a location in Miami, and is opening a showroom in Los Angeles in April.
“All of our stores are beating plans,” Bendet said. “Especially our store on Robertson [in Los Angeles]. We are selling so much there, we are 30 percent above plan.”
Bendet said she is working with Slatkin & Co. on the development of a full line of candles. She has also signed a licensing agreement with Homestead to launch a full collection of home products, including bedding, and possibly even furniture. She said they are in the first stages of planning the line and it probably won’t launch for at least another year.
“I am a firm believer that you should treat your home like you treat your wardrobe,” she said. “You should keep it fresh and updated, so this is going to be really fun.”
Bendet has come a long way since launching her company six years ago with a great fitting pants style, the Stacey Pant, which remains a top seller. She started the company with then-partner Rebecca Matchett, who is now co-founder of another contemporary sportswear company, Rebecca & Drew. Only a few months into business, Bendet split from Matchett to team up with Theory chief executive officer Andrew Rosen, whom she met just after college when she was working as a Web site designer. Rosen, who invests in contemporary apparel firms such as Rag & Bone and Gryphon, and Bendet each own a 50 percent stake in Alice + Olivia.
“Stacey is a dynamo,” Rosen said. “She is so unique in that she is a designer, but she also has this great vision for her company. She has a real sense of the business and tremendous talent. It’s because of this combination that she has really developed quite the following.”
Rosen said after a tough holiday season at retail, Alice + Olivia came out as an “outstanding performer,” which gives him and Bendet the confidence to keep it going.
“The hardest thing for me has been to keep up with the demand, to keep up with the production,” Bendet said. “But I am pretty sure that we are doing all the right things; we bring in new people and have it under control.”
The Alice + Olivia collection is sold at high-end specialty stores such as Atrium, Henri Bendel and Shopbop.com and at better department stores such as Bloomingdale’s. The brand has been a consistent strong seller.
“They are just so easy to work with,” said Ann Watson, fashion director at Henri Bendel. “They know what we are looking for and are so great at making it happen.”
Shopbop.com buyer Kate Ciepluch agreed.
“Alice + Olivia is appealing because Stacey covers her bases — she provides knit dresses that can be worn to work, killer pants, dresses that instantly make you feel sexy,” she said. “She keeps girls in awe by hitting trends before anyone else. Her conservative pieces are still a little funky and the fit on her pants is stellar. She was ahead of the curve by offering floor-length dresses, body suits to be worn with high-waisted pants and wide-leg pants. She constantly updates staples, which gives the customer a reason to buy more.”