PARIS — The humble T-shirt is about to get a new designer spin.Fruit of the Loom is partnering with Paris-based designer Cédric Charlier on a unisex line of T-shirts that will be presented on June 21 alongside his men’s and women’s collections during Paris Men’s Fashion Week.It marks the first designer collaboration for the 166-year-old brand of classic underwear and casualwear for men, women and children, which is owned by Berkshire Hathaway Inc.Charlier has produced four styles in ring-spun 100 percent cotton fabric, featuring design signatures such as multicolored stripes and asymmetry, in a color palette ranging from black, white, navy and heather gray to red and pink.Available in sizes ranging from XS to XXL, they are priced from $120 to $140 each.It was the Belgian designer who reached out to Fruit of the Loom, which he considers one of the most iconic American brands. “It’s a brand I’ve always worn. Every time I go to New York, I stock up,” he told WWD in an interview at his headquarters, a raw industrial space in the Marais district of Paris.A veteran of labels including Céline and Lanvin, Charlier has prized comfort and mobility as key qualities of his eponymous line, launched in 2012 in partnership with Italian licensee Aeffe SpA. T-shirts are already part of the collection, but Charlier wanted access to Fruit of the Loom’s superior production chain.“They are experts in the field. In terms of quality, I think it’s almost immortal. It’s a guarantee of quality that is very valuable in my eyes,” he said.Fruit of the Loom has been bolstering its basics business with premium product since 2011, when it partnered with celebrity stylist Leslie Fremar on a line of T-shirts and contemporary layering pieces sold at Bloomingdale’s.In 2014, it unveiled its new, trendier label Seek No Further with twin pop-up stores in London and Berlin.Lis Cravens, senior vice president of brand management and sales at Fruit of the Loom, said the partnership with Charlier opens a new page for the brand.“It actually fits fantastically within the strategy, because while we do have basics within our business and within our brand, we also deliver some more specialty and trade-up product, and that’s where our growth has been in the last few years,” she said.Cravens is confident that the brand’s existing customers will respond well to some of the designs, which play with heritage design features. For instance, one T-shirt style features two superimposed breast pockets, while another splices together horizontal and vertical versions of the brand’s logo.Other styles, such as an asymmetrical T-shirt that joins together XS and XL shirts, are aimed at a more fashion-forward clientele. The collection will be distributed exclusively in stores that carry Charlier’s line, which is available in around 140 points of sale worldwide.“Definitely the Millennial is a focus for us,” Cravens said. “With Cédric’s distribution in Europe, in Asia and then in the higher-end retailers here in the U.S., I think it’s a great opportunity for the brand to reach a different consumer, a new consumer, while still delivering to the very loyal consumer that we have today.”She added that Charlier was a good fit both because of his genuine enthusiasm for the product and his design aesthetic."With his design, he's talked about comfort and confidence, which also makes sense for us," Cravens said. "He wears our T-shirts, so we had someone who really believes in our brand, who understands our brand, so we knew the translation of his design with our brand was going to be authentic and real."The collaboration comes at a time of renewed interest in vintage casualwear brands. Vetements has recently collaborated with Hanes and its subsidiary, Champion, while Russian streetwear designer Gosha Rubchinskiy has partnered with Kappa and Sergio Tacchini.Charlier, who switched to a new schedule to coincide with the launch of his men's line last season, said he wanted to open his brand to different people.To that end, he is forgoing the catwalk for a presentation at his headquarters that will take the form of a photo shoot involving between 30 and 50 models selected during a street casting, against the backdrop of a specially commissioned video.The Fruit of the Loom collaboration will showcased in a separate room with an installation by artist Christophe Hamaide-Pierson."The idea is to speak to a multiracial, young and dynamic audience," he said. "I think it's interesting to work with personalities rather than models." Charlier said he sees signs that the fashion industry is embracing more diversity. "We are getting closer and closer to reality," he opined.The designer hopes to expand the Fruit of the Loom collaboration into sweatshirts and tracksuits in coming seasons — and why not even underwear.Cravens echoed the sentiment. "We think that this is the first step. We'd love to be able to design even more collections and assortments and really make it even more accessible to more consumers. We're excited about it," she said.
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