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The young contemporary sector is emerging as a harbor of trend-driven fashion at moderate prices as shoppers scale back during the economic slowdown. Quiksilver and Alpinestars are breaking into the market this fall from the action sports industry. And the category is attracting foreign labels such as South Korea’s Plastic Island as well as established U.S. brands, including BB Dakota and Free People. Here’s a look at three players with California ties that are aiming to make their mark this year: MM Couture by Miss Me, Tulle and Mink Pink.
MM Couture by Miss Me
Stella Cho is fond of silk. She also likes leather, sequins, embroidery, stones, ruffles and anything that lends a luxe look to MM Couture by Miss Me.
“People are afraid of silk,” said Cho, the creative director of MM Couture, who dedicates as much as 20 percent of her line to the fabric. “I still do it. It looks better.”
MM Couture is the latest brand offered by Vernon, Calif.-based Sweet People Apparel Inc., which is owned by Cho and her brother, Eric Choi. Sweet People’s brands encompass the junior line Miss Me and the denim labels Rock Revival, Sang Real, Mek and SR-07.
With wholesale prices between $28 and $150, MM Couture is considered the more sophisticated offshoot of Miss Me, which costs about 20 percent less. While MM Couture wouldn’t hesitate to offer a $136 Victorian-inspired black leather jacket with a cinched waist and ruffled collar as part of its holiday lineup, Miss Me would offer leather only as a trim.
However, because of the affiliation with Miss Me, which launched seven years ago, MM Couture benefited from not only the brand recognition but retailers’ trust, as well. Since making its debut last spring, MM Couture has been picked up by specialty shops such as Atrium, youth-oriented chains like Metropark and department stores including Macy’s, Belk and Dillard’s. In Canada, MM Couture is available at Hills of Kersdale and Mainstream, among other stores.
“People know Miss Me,” said Cho, a 44-year-old mother of three sons. “I’m not going to brag about it but I had a lot of hit items — denim [and] kimono tops.…Whatever I launch, they know I ship.”
Despite Miss Me’s success, Cho wanted to do more. In MM Couture’s holiday collection, she offers a $54 navy polyester dress that flows with exaggerated cap sleeves hanging past the beaded cheetah-print belt, a $40 ivory silk tank spruced up with a sequin bow on the Empire waist, and a $64 gray coat enhanced by pleats encircling the collarless neck, a bubble hem and puffy pockets.
“It’s affordable so you can change [looks] every day,” Cho said. “I don’t want to make something expensive and customers have to wait for it to go on sale.”
The city of Compton, Calif., which has struggled with crime and poverty, would seem to be one of the last places where someone would fuss over a button. But, surrounded by auto parts centers and warehouses located 16 miles south of Los Angeles, Anoushka Alden and Jennifer Smith do just that almost every day as the designers for Tulle.
Plastic resin takes on a multidimensional look in a hollow square with rounded edges. A button found at Alden’s grandmother’s house inspired a pearly disk etched with slats on the top and bottom sides for a crosshatch pattern.
An eye-catching button “says a lot about your personality and your customer’s personality,” Alden said.
Smith added, “It makes [the clothing] more special.”
That kind of attention to detail has reinvigorated Tulle, which was launched seven years ago by parent company Morning Glow as a junior label.
Smith, 27, who graduated from the Savannah College of Art and Design’s fashion design program, introduced her inaugural collection for Tulle last fall. She was joined last year by Alden, 26, who worked for contemporary designer Maxine Dillon after studying fashion design at Los Angeles Trade Tech College and global business at the University of Southern California. The designers infused a youthful sophistication in this fall’s collection, which is their first together. Each year, they will produce six collections divided into two deliveries.
Their designs include a belted jacket cut from a polkadot brocade with a high pleated collar, a forest green pencil skirt trimmed in black, and a sporty knit shift that envelops the nape in a gathered mock turtleneck.
Wholesaling from $20 to $65, Tulle is sold at Nordstrom as well as boutiques including Una Mae in Los Angeles and Therapy in San Francisco.
Tulle is popular at Los Angeles-based Clover, where customers recently snapped up quilted jackets retailing for about $100 straight out of the box. “Tulle doesn’t have pieces that are superexpensive,” said Drea Valentine, owner of the specialty shop. “They’ll have pieces that are spot-on for whatever the trend is.”
For its first foray into the U.S. market this fall, Australia-based Mink Pink is learning that girls want to have fun — at a good price.
“Why do you have to be rich to look good?” asked Rachel Evans, head designer at the four-year-old company. “If you want to look fashionable and funky, you don’t have to spend a lot of money.”
The label tallies annual sales of $19.5 million, and the most expensive item is a $160 bomber jacket made from leather sourced from Bali. Customers also can opt for the fake leather version that wholesales for $39. Other pieces include a $59 black wool coat spiffed up with a funnel neck and five rows of buttons, a $35 silk chiffon dress printed with lavender-colored leaves, a $49 cropped pin-striped blazer and a $13 striped T-shirt emblazoned with a picture of the Ramones.
Mink Pink is launching in the U.S. through 150 retail doors, including specialty shops such as Intuition and Lisa Kline in Los Angeles, Web sites like Tobi.com and Revolveclothing.com and national chains, including Macy’s and Urban Outfitters. Los Angeles-based Agent Icon Showroom is overseeing Mink Pink’s expansion in the U.S.
As Mink Pink begins to ramp up sales for the U.S., Evans said it will make one shipment of 20 styles a month — about one-third of the number of styles delivered in Australia.
Still, what the American customer will find in common with her counterpart Down Under is edgy design and exclusive prints. Evans, 35, said at least one employee is shopping for vintage clothes every day on her behalf — either online through eBay.com or at shops in London, Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York and Los Angeles — for prints and silhouettes like bodysuits that she’ll update. Evans acknowledges that she must innovate to compete with U.S. competitors like Forever 21.
“We’re constantly working on our line every single day,” Evans said. “To stand out, it takes great design. That can’t be compromised.”