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Sonia Rykiel Takes Aim at U.S. Market

French fashion house Sonia Rykiel appoints Caroline Dumiel director of international sales.

Sonia Rykiel fall advertising campaign.

PARIS — Sonia Rykiel is ready to retake the U.S. market.

This story first appeared in the June 14, 2010 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The French fashion house, synonymous with playful knits, will stage showroom presentations for its resort and pre-spring collections in New York for the first time this week.

In line with its new strategy, the company has appointed Caroline Dumiel director of international sales. Dumiel has strong knowledge of the U.S. market, having worked as sales manager for Europe, the U.S. and Australia at Kenzo, and before that as director of sales at Polo Ralph Lauren.

“We are getting organized and have the structures in place to meet the needs of the U.S. market,” said Nathalie Rykiel, president of the house. “This is an extremely important market for Rykiel and was instrumental to the brand at its inception.”

The pre-spring collection, to be presented in showroom appointments at Milk Studios from Tuesday to Saturday, will ship in separate batches in October and December in order to satisfy the U.S. market’s requirement for regularly replenished stock, Rykiel said.

The house also will present its capsule collection of cotton and velour basics at more accessible prices: Cotton dresses start at 195 euros, or $235, while a T-shirt retails for 130 euros, or $155.

Rykiel hopes the U.S. market will eventually account for 35 to 40 percent of total sales, versus 20 percent at present. The brand posted sales of 108 million euros, or $150 million, last year. Dollar figures are calculated at average exchange rates for the period.

“I am targeting the best department stores and multibrand shops,” Rykiel said, adding the brand is sold in boutiques including Ikram in Chicago, Wilkes Bashford in San Francisco and Tootsies in Houston. It also is available at department store Bloomingdale’s and via online retailer Net-a-porter.

Thinking about the U.S. market has prompted Rykiel to revamp the brand’s global communication strategy. Noting that WWD was the publication that originally crowned her mother “Queen of Knits,” she has added the tag line: “Queen of Knits since 1968” to the brand’s fall advertising campaign.

“It’s telling the world loud and clear who we are,” she said. “I want people to see that, after 42 years, we are still making the most sexy and desirable knits.”

Starting in the fall, sweaters will be sold in a specially designed box that comes with a label explaining the roots of the brand, founded by Sonia Rykiel amid the Paris student riots of 1968.

The label, which is still family owned, has come a long way since the designer crashed onto the fashion scene with her “poor-boy” sweater. Last year, it collaborated with Swedish fast-fashion giant H&M on a collection of lingerie and ready-to-wear.

“I know that American women have always been drawn to the style of French women, as epitomized by Rykiel,” said Rykiel. “We have been off their radar for too long, and now we are ready to come back.”

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Photo caption: Sonia Rykiel fall advertising campaign