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This story first appeared in the February 19, 2013 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Eco-friendly fabrics have come a long way in recent years and so has Susan Woo, who began her namesake environmentally conscious clothing line in 2009.
Feted with the 2013 Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation award for sustainable design, Woo said she feels like she’s hitting her stride creatively and has been handed the tools to put her creativity into action.
“When I first started, all the organic fabrics were the most simple, easy, plain fabrics in the world,” she said. “Now, I have been given a much greater palette to work with.”
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Strong on tailored pieces, Woo’s fall collection features pencil skirts, dresses, blouses, pants, shorts and jackets out of organic cotton and wool, natural silk and leather in black, gray, white, cream and burgundy.
During a year in which fairy tales are being retold on the big screen (“Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters” and “Jack the Giant Slayer”), Woo said the inspiration for the collection was a damsel in distress who, instead of waiting for a man to come to her rescue, saves herself.
“It has a romantic element to it, but it is not girly or feminine,” she declared.
Powerful females play a constant role in Woo’s work. Every season, she said, she envisions making clothes for a woman she calls Jane Bond.
“She’s so capable and so self-assured,” said Woo.
That female archetype crosses boundaries, and Woo insisted her clothes do, too. “I honestly feel that the collection is more for a spirit than a certain body type or geography,” she said. “It is about this woman who is very confident. There is a real edge to it.”
Woo describes her green approach as a bonus to shoppers, not usually the sole reason they buy her line. However, she is committed to her design process and production being as sustainable as possible.
Woo’s devotion to sustainability started at an early age. She recalled her parents were careful about what they put in and on their bodies. Organic food and makeup were household staples.
“I never grew up drinking soda. I joke they were juicing 20 years ago. They were so ahead of the trends,” she said. “I realized so much of it worked its way into my subconscious. I try to live a very healthy lifestyle.”
Woo’s personal experience is important to her brand. “I really wanted it to be something personal, not just an aesthetic. If you look at the luxury brands and the brands I have worked at in the past, it is about lifestyle. You have an emotional connection with the brand,” said Woo, who toiled at Louis Vuitton, Derek Lam and Chanel before going out on her own. “People who buy the collection really appreciate the story behind it, whether they agree with the eco aspect or not.”
Skirts, blouses and coats have been strong sellers for Susan Woo, according to the designer. “I love a great coat. I will spend money on a great coat. It is a passion of mine,” she said. “Everybody wears a black coat, but you want something special.”
Woo has sold her line, which is priced at retail from $120 to $945, in just a few boutiques, including Bhoomki in New York and Atelier 360 in Greenwich, Conn., on purpose.
“We had talked with department stores, but we weren’t ready. I am a big believer in walking before you run,” said Woo.
But the brand is spreading its wings. It is selling abroad and is even considering entering a department store. Although the deal isn’t done, Woo said, “It is really catering to a certain clientele, and it is more of a boutique [line]. That intrigues us because it would be a comfortable fit.”
— Rachel Brown
For more than two decades, Ladakh has served up clothing aimed at fashionable women in their 20s. It’s about time the Australian brand had a sibling.
Enter Huntingbird, Ladakh’s younger sister. The target age for the line is 16 years old, according to Ladakh managing director Keith Richards.
“We found it difficult to cover the diverse areas of the market in one brand,” he said. “With 16-year-olds, they are still in school. With 22-year-olds, the emphasis is on postcollege.”
The name Huntingbird was the product of internal brainstorming.
“We liked it because it is a slightly edgy name and quite an active name,” said Richards. “It is a positive name that gives the sense you are out there. The Huntingbird is out there doing things.”
While Ladakh trades in fashion-forward clothes, Huntingbird is much more street smart. “The term that we use is urban beach fashion,” explained Richards. “It is not specifically a surf brand, but it does approach the market in what I call a ‘weekend street casual’ sort of area.”
Brand manager Jemma Ly described Huntingbird’s assortment as “festival wear.”
“It is quite young and edgy, not too dressy, but you can dress it up,” she said. “We try to use a variety of fabrics with different textures.”
Certainly, Huntingbird isn’t for wallflowers. Bright prints are used throughout its fall collection, from kaleidoscope to paisley. Ly pointed to dresses, tops and sweaters, many of which are loose-fitting, as standout performers for the line. “Anything that is contrasting, that has some point of difference, does really well,” she said. “It is casual, but it is not basic.”
Huntingbird has built a respectable retail base in Australia and is carried by more than 50 clothing boutiques and surf stores in the country. The brand was recently introduced in the U.S., and Ly reported that Pacific Sunwear of California has picked it up. Fitting its age target, Huntingbird tries to stay affordable. Retail prices range from around $40 to $105.
READY TO FISH
IN 2006, Ilja Visser, who had started a namesake couture collection about a year earlier, dove into ready-to-wear with the line Ready to Fish. Seven years later, she’s casting an even wider net.
Ready to Fish is launching in the U.S. after building its business in Europe and Asia.
“We have a firm belief that we have to grow, but we also want to do it very controlled and steadily,” said Peter Heysteeg, managing director of the Ilja Visser Group. “We didn’t go to the U.S. before because we wanted to focus on Europe and Asia. We have an established client base there now. The U.S. was the most logical next market.”
Ready to Fish, which targets women 25 to 45 years old, was created to be the everyday counterpart to the couture line Ilja but incorporate couture-level details. Its retail price range is from $160 to $1,045.
Created by the same team of 20 that develops Ilja in an atelier in Amsterdam, Ready to Fish is known to feature, for example, hidden closures and seams, asymmetric silhouettes and unusual mixes of materials.
“It is characterized by being feminine. We always have very soft fabrics,” said Heysteeg, who added the brand’s knit and woven pieces are robust performers. “It tries to accent the woman’s body — it is close to the body without being really tight.”
Besides making the clothes, Ready to Fish has produced environments in which to house them. It has reconstructed old furniture into white racks to display its pieces. The brand also gives away albums to shoppers who purchase its items. “If you buy something from certain labels, you get a bag and a paper brochure in it showing you the rest of the collection. Our experience is that people throw that away,” said Heysteeg. “We thought, ‘Let’s do something that will stick with you.’ ”
Heysteeg acknowledged that it’s tough for a Dutch brand to become a success in the American market, but he said he’s learned from others in the Netherlands that have made the move. “It takes much more time in preparation before you can start selling and delivering and getting your money in the U.S. That’s a difference. Europe is one big economic area, so it is way easier,” he said. “You have to be patient.”
Ready to Fish is planning its retail outreach in the U.S. “We don’t go for volume,” said Heysteeg. “We really go for the quality of the shops. We have a wish list, and we want to have as many as possible from that wish list. We’d rather say no to a shop that we don’t really want.”
Although Ready to Fish is Dutch, Heysteeg said it would appeal to stores because its sensibility is more universal.
“We are not at all focused on the Dutch market. We are well aware that we have to do things that are desired all over the world,” he said. “The inspiration comes from everywhere, not really from the Netherlands.”
After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising’s jewelry design program last year, Nicole Meng didn’t wait long to put her schooling to the test.
Meng recently launched a namesake jewelry line with around 55 pieces in its debut collection. Manufactured in her native Taiwan, the collection is split into three sections: glorious aboriginal, which uses turquoise, feather and Swarovski Elements crystals; royal fantasy, which incorporates wreaths and other symbols of royalty, and religious consciousness, which contains religious iconography such as the cross and the Saint Benedict Medal.
James Chen, an account executive at Nicole Meng, said the collection is also divided by price point. For stores that desire affordable pieces, he pointed out, there’s plenty in the collection from which to choose, including rings and earrings priced from $50 to $130. But there are also necklaces priced up to $575 for stores able to stock more expensive pieces.
Chen elaborated that the lower-priced items are intended for customers 16 to 35 years old, whereas the pricier items are aimed at customers from 35 to 55. Speaking generally of Nicole Meng’s assortment, he asserted, “We priced it a little bit lower than a lot of the brands out there.”
Bold statement necklaces filled with Swarovski rhinestone crystals have been bestsellers so far for Nicole Meng, according to Chen. They come in gold-plated brass, silver-plated brass and hematite-tone brass versions. Throughout the line, Meng’s materials of choice are rose and yellow gold-plated brass and silver-plated brass.
Although Nicole Meng has just gotten off the ground, it’s already selling at four stores, notably the e-tailer maxandchloe.com, where, Chen mentioned, one to two pieces of Nicole Meng jewelry have been selling per day. This year, he said, Nicole Meng’s goal is to enter 50 doors and become profitable, but raising awareness about the brand is its main focus, he added.
“Right now we need to get more people to know about the brand,” Chen stressed.
— Rachel Brown
LEE + LANI
Los Angeles-based swimwear line Lee + Lani, which launched in August at the Miami Swim Show, is showing at Project for the first time. Lisa Marie Pascuccio (Lee), founder and designer, and Alana Ault (Lani), head designer, know their way around a bikini. The former swimsuit models met while attending the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising eight years ago.
“I modeled for swim lines Beach Bunny and Ashley Paige, so I learned a lot about what was missing in the market,” said Pascuccio, a Boston native.
“There’s always room for a new line with a different point of view,” added Ault.
The line comprises the Beach collection of basic bikinis and the Private collection of higher-priced suits. The latest offering features high-waist two-pieces, smocking and mesh details with colorblocking, as well as kaleidoscope, orchid and smoke prints. Also new for fall are six cover-up styles, including a high-waist slit-front skirt in washed silk, a floor-length racer-back dress and a cage dress.
Separates start at $35 wholesale and go up to $120 for one-pieces and cover-ups. The line is currently available at retailers including Nic Del Mar and Nikki’s Beachhouse Boutique in Miami and H. Lorenzo and The Library on Larchmont in Los Angeles and on the brand’s e-commerce site, leeandlani.com.
— Marcy Medina
Four years after VF Corp. acquired Splendid and Ella Moss, the brands he launched in 2002, Moise Emquies is getting back into the apparel game.
“I never thought I’d be making T-shirts again,” said the Los Angeles-based entrepreneur, who stepped away from the companies in 2010 to pursue furniture-making and real estate ventures.
Now his new line, Stateside, is set to make its debut at Project. It was hard to stay away from apparel, Emquies said, “because I kept getting phone calls from companies, and I helped out a lot of young designers because it was fun. After a while I found myself applying what some of these young designers were doing to my own expertise and background.”
Emquies built his former companies on a foundation of great textiles — back then, a striped cotton-Modal blend that set a standard for contemporary T-shirts. When one of his favorite suppliers sent him some yardage of royal Supima cotton, he said, he fell in love again. This time he decided to enlist a stable of young freelance designers, who each bring a different aesthetic. Then he edited the pieces into the Stateside collection.
“One designer works for a more couture-type company, another one works for a great French contemporary brand, so I take all the viewpoints, from sexy to masculine to girly, and make them all a little more Stateside.”
The line includes basic Ts and more fashion-forward bodies, as well as bottoms and dresses. The goal, he said, “is that it all has to end up being like your favorite old T-shirt.”
To that end, all the pieces are pigment-dyed for that coveted washed-out look, and there are, of course, a lot of stripes. The company is based in downtown Los Angeles, where all the fabrics are made, as well as sewn and dyed.
The projected retail range will be $48 to $108, and Ron Herman, Fred Segal and Madison have already placed orders. “I want to keep it small and tight,” said Emquies of his new, wholly owned company. “There is a lot of growth to be done in the States, but I would consider international distribution.
After selling Serfontaine, the premium denim company he founded in 2000, in 2011, musician-turned-designer Mik Serfontaine is reentering the business at Project with Saints/LA, a new line of denim and sportswear that combines the aesthetic of wovens with the comfort and fit of knits.
“Since 2000, stretch denim and fit have been inseparable,” said Serfontaine, who was an early adopter with in-store body scanners and four-way stretch fabric XFit Lycra. Using Japanese technology, Serfontaine is now taking woven fibers and knitting them rather than weaving them.
“Technically it’s very difficult to run an indigo-dyed yarn through a knitting machine because indigo has a lot of impurities in it, so we had to work through a lot of problems, but now we have the best hybrid technology,” he said.
He founded the company with his wife, Maria Serfontaine. She serves as the brand’s creative director and head designer, while Mik is chief executive officer. They started with denim bottoms and added rock ’n’ roll elements like leather, and sportswear components like hoodies and sweaters to round out the collection, which wholesales from $75 for denim bottoms and leather tops to $125 for leather-trimmed hoodies.
On-trend items include indigo-dyed French terry, laser-cut and floral printed leather and embroidered denim. The color palette is black plus desert neutrals.
Another benefit of stretch is that it allows for more flexible sizing.
“We were always sensitive about how to fit the most people because it’s all about sell-through. The most jeans you can sell on the most shapes — you are in business,” said Serfontaine.
The new sizes, 0 to 3, cover traditional 24-to-31 jeans sizing, which amounts to fewer stockkeeping units to stock.
“This is not going to cancel or invalidate traditional denim, it’s just creating a new niche,” said Serfontaine. “You still have vinyl and cassettes with digital music. Everything can coexist.”
SOLD DESIGN LAB
What began with jegging is literally stretching into a new era of bottoms. At Sold Design Lab, ceo Michael Geliebter, son of L.E.I. founder Mel Geliebter, is creating a fall capsule collection for Project that aims to take the value-priced pull-on bottom (denim lingo for a bottom shell with the look of a five-pocket jean without the bulk of pockets or a zipper) to a wider audience with more on-trend items.
The label, founded in 2009 with the aim of creating premium-quality stretch jeans at reasonable prices, uses virtual stretch denim (SDL 360 is the more technical name) as its basis.
Three years and $100 million dollars in sales later, the product range has been expanded to include a traditional or “vintage” style group and a fashion-forward group inspired by Asian trends such as black-tone colors and laser prints. The pieces wholesale from $48 and $70.
“It’s been about 25 percent of [Sold’s] business so far, and we’re hoping to increase it to 35 percent, or about $25 million in first-year sales,” said Geliebter.
Also playing with more flexible sizing, Sold is available in XXS to L, encompassing the traditional 24-to-32 waist size range.
“What we heard from the retailers is that it was a great selling tool, but women want to know the product fits true to their size. There’s educating customers, but you have to be careful not to move too far in one direction,” said Geliebter, discussing split sizing versus traditional sizing.
You could say that the experience of a lifetime for a fashion designer — competing on NBC’s “Fashion Star,” which returns for a second season in March — tested the resolve of Sjobeck owners and designers JesseRay Vasquez and Garrett Gerson.
“It’s an experience we wanted to do once, and we won’t do it again,” Gerson said. “We lived on four hours of sleep and 14-hour workdays. We bought Whole Foods’ organic anxiety pills.”
Stress overload aside, the chance to work with the likes of Nicole Richie and John Varvatos gave the team a new confidence in creating their upcoming collection, featuring more structured pieces and draped dresses, in the hopes of bridging the gap between laid-back luxury and ready-to-wear fashion.
“I think it made us better designers and branching out of just being known as sweater designers,” Gerson said.
After a two-year hiatus from MAGIC, the Malibu, Calif.-based designers are now back at the Las Vegas trade shows based on the suggestion of John Eshaya, owner of JET. Showing this time at ENK, they were lured by the show’s international draw.” “We want more exposure internationally and hope to capture more of the market in Indonesia, Japan and Italy,” Vasquez said.
With 30 styles for fall and 30 styles for spring, Sjobeck (pronounced “show-beck”) is introducing a more cohesive line with bottoms, dresses and specialty jackets. Buyers will see fisherman pants, classic wide-leg trousers in silks, skirts in mixed materials, such as silk and wool bouclé, and sweaters in tinsel and silk. A highlight is the silk sweatshirt with sweater cuffs and ribbing.
Deliveries begin July 15 with wholesale prices averaging $95 for tops to $195 for dresses. Since it began seven years ago, the line has amassed a distribution of 90 stores nationwide and 20 abroad, including Ron Herman at Fred Segal, Intermix and Pamela Robbins.
“Their sweaters hang beautifully on the body and have a great beachy vibe for spring,” said Robin Mizrahi, partner in New York-based Pamela Robbins, crediting the line for its consistent innovation. “They stay true to bringing new flavor to the line.”
— Nola Sarkisian Miller
Peerless Clothing International is making a big push into outerwear for fall.
On Jan. 1, the Canadian-based tailored clothing powerhouse completed its acquisition of George Weintraub & Sons, an outerwear manufacturer, making Peerless “the largest manufacturer of overcoats in the industry,” according to Ronny Wurtzburger, president of Peerless.
Wurtzburger said Weintraub had served as coat licensee for many of Peerless’ top brands, including Lauren by Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and DKNY. And now that the two companies are one, the design teams that work on those brands’ clothing are working on their coats as well. The first collection under this new arrangement will be shown at the MRket show in Las Vegas.
“It’s not just about gray and black coats anymore,” Wurtzburger said. “Fashion is exploding. There’s burgundy, bright blues, olives, mustards. Everything has been modernized. We’re seeing an increase in sales because of this.”
Wurtzburger said he believes fashion styles should be 30 to 35 percent of the assortment, pointing to tartan toggle coats and Chesterfields with velvet collars under the Lauren label and a burgundy peacoat and raincoats in technical fabrics being offered for Calvin Klein. Leather trim, zippers and slim silhouettes are also part of the mix, along with double-breasteds, three-quarter-length styles and sporty overcoats. “We’re giving retailers tools to do business,” Wurtzburger said.
Although warm weather has impacted sales of outerwear for many retailers during the past couple of years, Wurtzburger believes this can be reversed by injecting fashion into the mix.
“I don’t think this season will be as bad,” he said. “There’s been a comeback the past three weeks. And coats have looked the same forever. We’re trying to start a whole new lifestyle category for coats.”
The company’s fashion-driven Tallia Orange brand, which will be shown at Project, has been at the forefront of this initiative since its founding three years ago.
“Tallia is built on color. We don’t have a basic coat in the line,” Wurtzburger said.
Slim silhouettes, fancy linings and buttons, and innovative fabrics are all hallmarks of the collection.
Tallia is also offering a grouping of “creative black tie” for fall that includes a purple velvet blazer with satin lapels, blue corduroy pants with a tuxedo stripe, a gray wool overcoat with satin lapels and trim, and slim-fit exploded tartan pants. “We want to take everybody out of just wearing a black tuxedo,” Wurtzburger said, “and allow a guy to show his individuality.”
Whether at Tallia or at one of the company’s licensed brands, Peerless is pushing to make a statement, particularly in outerwear.
“We’re trying to change the way people buy overcoats,” the executive concluded. “We want customers not to look at them as a commodity but to buy them because they’re special. If you have the right merchandise, you can win.”
— Jean E. Palmieri
Launched in spring 2012, Grayers is a men’s label that updates classic designs with a strong emphasis on quality at accessible pricing. The company, which will show at The Tents at Project, was founded by Peter Georgiou, a 10-year veteran of Ralph Lauren on the sourcing and product development side. Georgiou went on to found a Hong Kong-based sourcing company called Rhone Orchard in 2004, and he leverages that expertise in developing and manufacturing Grayers.
“The backbone of the company is a sourcing team that develops product for multiple brands,” explained Georgiou, who lives in Hong Kong with his wife, Joanna, a former Burson-Marsteller executive and cofounder of Grayers. “We use supply-chain knowledge and efficiencies in the whole system and deliver that product in a lean way. Our prices are a little above J. Crew but well below the designer level.”
While Grayers is manufactured in Asian factories, the line is designed a world away on a farm in North Carolina by Kenny Thomas, also a Ralph Lauren veteran and Georgiou’s partner in the company. Thomas worked for 13 years in the Ralph Lauren design department, on lines including Polo by Ralph Lauren, RRL, Sport and Golf, working his way up to vice president of concept design. Thomas was later senior vice president of design at Lucky Brand and is also an avid photographer.
The name Grayers comes from the term used for the casual gray flannel trousers that British men began wearing in the Fifties, in place of traditional three-piece suits. With a focus on classic men’s pieces that are highly wearable yet stylish, the brand has elements of collegiate, preppy and military influences — but often reimagined by Thomas in innovative fabric combinations. The fall collection includes a toggle coat fashioned from fleece and lined with herringbone, a Black Watch plaid blazer in a heavy double-knit sweater yarn and wool flannel trousers and cargo pants in Donegal wool.
The price range is $85 to $95 for shirts and chinos and $135 to $275 for outerwear. Grayers has been picked up by Nordstrom, which placed it in four stores last fall and increased that distribution to 22 doors this spring. The company is expanding to a handful of specialty store doors next fall.
“There are a lot of brands out there with shirts in the $125 range but not a lot at $85,” said Georgiou. “We saw a defined gap in the market, and it’s working quite well. We’ve all been around the block, and we know what works and what doesn’t work.”
— DAVID LIPKE