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This story first appeared in the August 17, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
It might have seemed natural for Aryn Glasser, 21, to go into the denim business after graduating from high school, because she grew up watching her father, Michael Glasser, co-found companies such as Seven For All Mankind, Citizens of Humanity and Rich & Skinny (the latter for which she served as the in-house model).
But instead, she ended up selling Isabel Marant-inspired sweatpants to Nordstrom in Sept. 2010, which led her to start her namesake label. The Aryn Glasser line has since evolved into tailored and relaxed tops and bottoms fashioned from comfy fleece as well as micro Modal, pima cotton and French terry.
Glasser’s love of high fashion hasn’t been hampered by working with comfy fabrics. Her holiday line, which she will show at Project (she plans to show spring at Coterie in New York), features a cuffed trouser that looks like tweed but is made from French terry, and a skinny jean that looks like leather but is actually treated fleece.
“What I know from watching my dad is washes and treatments, so I applied that to fleece,” said Glasser. “People are always so shocked when they touch the pieces, because they are cute, they fit well and they’re comfortable.”
Stores like Neiman Marcus have also bought heavily into her neutral-hued tops, which include open-weave shredded-look tanks, slouchy Modal T-shirts and a hole T-shirt that Fergie recently wore in St. Barth’s, prompting Revolve in Los Angeles to place an order.
Prices range from $30 to $80 wholesale. Glasser is content to build her line slowly. “My dad lives in that Seven boom, but I know nothing just happens like that anymore. The economy is different and people are afraid to take risks. But that doesn’t discourage me, because I’m passionate about it.”
Lanie Alabanza-Barcena, 31, created her first line, Hellz, six years ago as a side project while working as an art director at Rocawear. Now she’s launching a second line, called BOTB, at Workroom, Project’s niche show-within-a-show.
“The spring 2012 collection still has edge and attitude reminiscent of Hellz, but it’s a lot more fun and vibrant, whereas Hellz is kind of dark,” she said of the line, whose name refers to the “belle of the ball.”
It aptly features more feminine separates and dresses in artwork prints in addition to the detailed leggings that are also bestsellers for Hellz. There are Asian-inspired draped dresses with zippers, fine chains or hook-and-eye closures, as well as some with see-through mesh panels. The line features its share of black accented with peach, jade and turquoise.
Alabanza-Barcena is aiming for a greater distribution with BOTB, so she kept retail prices about 20 percent lower than Hellz, ranging from $45 for tops to $85 for dresses.
“I want to sell from boutiques to majors, including the Hellz core shops but also more women’s boutiques,” she noted.
The designer said that Workroom’s vibe matches BOTB’s spirit: “I like the energy of a new show and it’s within Project, so I get the same traffic.”
The decision to start a new line was personal, just like her first venture. “Hellz is for that edgy girl who grew up in street culture. Now I’m older, and so I wanted to create a brand for a woman who’s into a lot of things because she has experienced more.”
Aiming to reach contemporary retailers as well as the high-end jewelry stores he already sells to, prolific New York-based Alexis Bittar will make his first appearance at Project this season with all three of his lines: Lucite, Elements and Miss Havisham.
“On the West Coast, there’s a large portion of retailers who don’t travel to the East Coast or Paris, so we really wanted to put a footprint in the Project show to bring in the West Coast [buyers],” said Bittar. “We’re hearing more and more that Project is growing more influential.”
For Bittar, who already sells in Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, the contemporary apparel boutique that characterizes the Project shopper represents fertile business opportunities.
“For a lot of stores, jewelry and accessories are really what’s driving their sales. Our average price point is $250 to $275 retail, and I feel like that is a sweet spot right now, which is great for this economy.”
Bittar’s wholesale prices range from $75 to $550, offering something for everyone, pricewise and stylewise. His spring Lucite collection blends American Indian influences with Thirties Deco; Miss Havisham has a strong industrial, futuristic look — think the early Nineties Calvin Klein Obsession ad — and Elements features more bohemian pieces that Bittar says “are always popular on the West Coast.”
He may already be a fixture in the New York market, but Adam Lippes is making his first foray into West Coast trade shows by bringing his Adam label to Project for the first time.
“It’s so great the show is out of the West Coast,” said Lippes. “Since we sell out of our New York showroom, it brings us to a lot of really great people.”
The line already sells in Los Angeles boutiques Beige, Arcade and Revolve. Inspired by German artist Imi Knoebel, the resort and pre-spring collection at Project features silk georgette pants, blazers, shorts, miniskirts and dresses in saturated colors like deep cobalt blue and orange along with black, cream and nude. Wholesale prices range from $60 for a jersey striped layering tank to $590 for an allover sequin embroidered dress.
“Customers are responding to things in which they can feel comfortable and dressed up at the same time, or anything really special,” said Lippes. “They need to see value in anything, whether it’s fit or fabric.”
Underscoring his commitment to the West Coast, the designer said his Kellwood Co.-owned company is scouting retail space in Los Angeles because “we feel really strong about retail out there.”