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Instead of going the conventional route of launching a collection and then opening freestanding stores, eveningwear designer Lorena Sarbu first opened two signature boutiques and now is unveiling her signature collection.
This story first appeared in the April 13, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
A cross section of red carpet-worthy gowns and modern cocktail dresses, her designs are well suited for people much like herself — stylish, intercontinental women whose days revolve around work, family and travel. Born in Romania’s second-largest city of Timisoara, Sarbu started her foray into fashion by studying business and design at the International Academy of Design and Technology in Chicago. After relocating to Los Angeles with her husband, William H. “Toby” Crabel, she continued her studies at the Fashion Institute of Design Merchandising. Rather than rush into business as many young designers do, she preferred to get a better handle on the retail scene before launching a signature collection.
“I was always working on my designs, but I did not think it was the right time to launch my collection,” Sarbu said. “But I always planned to launch my own collection and solely have my own line.”
Sarbu unveiled a Beverly Hills boutique in 2008 selling an assortment of European labels, and followed up by opening another store last year in Milwaukee’s Third Ward, where she and her husband have a second home. She recently used both locations to test a few of her own styles.
Once prepared to break into the wholesale business, Sarbu opened a showroom at 530 Seventh Avenue in New York earlier this year. She since has hired as executive vice president of sales Jeffrey Ciullo, who left Badgley Mischka last fall as vice president of sales after a three-year run. The 32-piece collection wholesales from $850 to $4,500 and will be sold at stores such as Bergdorf Goodman, Julian Gold, Elizabeth Anthony and Mary Jane Denzer.
While Iranian actress Shohreh Aghdashloo wore a Lorena Sarbu dress when she won an Emmy this year and Drew Barrymore, Taylor Swift and Carrie Underwood are said to be followers of the designer, Sarbu has gained the most Hollywood exposure in a highly unpredictable way. “TMZ” often features the exterior of her Beverly Hills store as the paparazzi capture celebrities leaving a leading plastic surgeon’s office across the street. “If you watch ‘TMZ,’ you see my name on the building. It’s all this free advertising,” she said.
In addition to vintage books, history and architecture, travel is a primary source of inspiration. In fact, last summer’s sojourns to Monte Carlo, Monaco, especially the colorful floral displays perched in the quaint hotel where she stayed, helped shape her inaugural collection. A one-shoulder lace gown with rose motifs, a silver shimmery gown with cap sleeves, a black gown embellished with feathers and a short black dress with gold lamé are among the key fall styles.
From a business perspective, she stays sharp by asking Crabel, who owns Crabel Capital Management, for advice from time to time. First-year projected wholesale volume is $4 million to $5 million, according to Ciullo, who considers Marchesa, Monique Lhuillier, Reem Acra and Naeem Khan to be competitors. Sarbu is considering staging a presentation during New York Fashion Week in September. “New York really is much better than L.A. I mean L.A. Fashion Week — what is that?” she said.