By  on June 4, 2008

On the theory that everyone needs comfortable clothes, even in tough economic times, retail buyers are turning to casual, well-priced basics. Here, three California-based lines that aim to take comfort dressing to new levels.

BORN UNIQORN

When actresses and childhood friends Taryn Manning and Tara Jane started their line in 2005, they didn't know much about the business of fashion, even though Manning was known as a Hollywood trendsetter.

"We'd buy the very last bolt of a one-of-kind fabric and make samples mom-and-pop-style," Manning said.

Now, in equal partnership with Vernon, Calif.-based manufacturer Orbit 7, which also produces the T-shirt line Krisa, the 29-year-olds have relaunched their line for fall and expanded distribution to Los Angeles boutiques, such as Ron Herman and Fred Segal, and Stackhouse in New York.

The line has evolved from allover graphic T-shirts and short terry rompers that only came in small and medium to a full-size range of refined jersey dresses and sweatshirts sporting whimsical, yet more restrained, images.

"Our tastes have changed as we've gotten older," Jane said. "Our cuts are more conservative."

The collection, which wholesales for $30 to $75, comes in four fabrics: French terry, Supima cotton, burnout cotton and baby thermal.

"We are running around from day to night, so we have to be comfortable, but also have to impress," Manning said. "There's nothing worse than being in tight jeans all day."

Of the price point, she said: "It's important for our customers — the bulk of whom are in Middle America and want that L.A. look but can't afford it — to be able to buy our clothes. With H&M and Forever 21, you have to be competitive."

291

The name 291 is derived from the last three digits of the Venice Beach zip code shared by the company's three founders: husband-and-wife team Simon Cohen and Christina Apostolidou — he's the former president of Michael Stars and she was a trend analyst for Guess — and graphic designer Matthieu Le Blan.

Their love for the laid-back beach culture in California and abroad led them to create a line of bright Ts and sweats with nature- and vintage-inspired graphics, which launched for spring 2008. Of the timing, Apostolidou said: "It was the moment to jump back to casual Ts and sweats. Everyone, even Juicy Couture, was doing dressier clothes."Wholesale prices range from $22 for a plain Supima jersey tank to $125 for a printed cashmere sweater, and shapes vary from classic to slouchy, befitting of an international nomad.

"We don't ever intend to take the line dressy," Apostolidou said.

The label is sold in Bergdorf Goodman, Planet Blue, Scoop, Intermix, Theodore and Harvey Nichols.

KISMET

Growing up working in his family's Italian restaurant, Tony Noceti never thought he would wind up selling women's loungewear. But that changed when he waited on Jamie Finegold, chief executive officer of JD Fine & Co., parent of the contemporary label Tart and several mass market loungewear and sleepwear lines.

"I became his protégé and I ended up doing $3 million in sales by the fourth quarter," Noceti recalled. "It was a full-on roller coaster for a kid who didn't know anything about manufacturing."

After two years with JD Fine and heading sales at a Chinese manufacturing company, Noceti has partnered with a backer in La Jolla to start his own line, Kismet. Based on the void he sees in the market for versatile loungewear, Kismet offers thermal, Modal and terry separates for the upscale casual lifestyle, priced from $32 to $78 wholesale and targeted for specialty department store distribution.

"It's an interesting time in the industry," he said. "In the state of the economy, people are not buying houses and cars, but they still need fashion to feel good."

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