Michael Bastian, Robert Geller Aim to Build on CFDA Wins

The designers discuss their strategies for growth.

Appeared In
Special Issue
Men'sWeek issue 06/09/2011

After five consecutive nominations, Michael Bastian won a CFDA Award on Monday — and it couldn’t have come at a better time. The designer is in the midst of relaunching his signature label after buying back his license from former partner Brunello Cucinelli in December and not producing a collection for the fall 2011 season in order to revamp the business.

This story first appeared in the June 9, 2011 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“We have better pricing, with the goal of reducing prices by 10 to 20 percent across all categories and we are producing in all new factories,” said Bastian of his newly independent company. “The goal is to be more competitive at retail while keeping the quality of the product at the same level. We are about to kick off spring ’12 selling in Milan this month and my hope is that this award may help us pull in new accounts that haven’t heard of us or haven’t been paying too much attention to us.”

Ironically, Bastian’s win as Menswear Designer of the Year — edging out Simon Spurr and Patrik Ervell — comes on the heels of his skipping New York Fashion Week in February to focus on the spring relaunch. “I was never 100 percent clear how that happened. To paraphrase Sandra Bullock, maybe I wore them down,” said Bastian, who launched his own label in fall 2006 after a career that included jobs at Tiffany & Co., Polo Ralph Lauren and Bergdorf Goodman.

For this past spring, the line was sold in about 35 stores globally, including Bergdorf Goodman, Jeffrey, Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s.

While not producing his own collection for fall, the designer did oversee the Gant by Michael Bastian line, now in its third season. That partnership with the Sweden-based sportswear maker has provided a key revenue stream to Bastian — allowing him to end his license arrangement with Brunello Cucinelli and move the business out of his apartment and into an office and showroom space this past December. “Gant has really been the miracle that made this all possible,” said Bastian.

The Gant by Michael Bastian range is now sold in 30 countries, including more than 100 stores in the U.S. and more than 150 stores internationally. Retailers include Barneys New York, Bloomingdale’s, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Ron Herman and Scoop, in addition to Gant’s own stores.

“The line has exceeded all of our expectations, with 30 to 40 percent growth in sales per season,” said Ari Hoffman, chief executive officer of Gant USA, which last month inked a new three-year contract with Bastian, with options for renewals.

In addition to the Gant partnership, Bastian is launching a co-branded line of sunglasses with Massachusetts-based Randolph Engineering, first available at retail this month.

Robert Geller, winner of the Swarovski Award for emerging talent in men’s wear said he expects a longer-term impact for his prize. “It won’t double sales in a year or anything. It just doesn’t work like that,” said Geller, who was nominated once previously for the award in 2009. “I think more stores will recognize the name and take a look at us. But it can take a season or two before stores make a commitment to take a collection in.”

Launched in fall 2007, Robert Geller is now sold in about 70 stores worldwide, including Barneys New York, Fred Segal, Blackbird and Aloha Rag. Japan is its single largest market, comprising 40 percent of sales, and the recent earthquake and tsunami disasters there took a serious toll on orders from retailers, said Geller. “I was there last week and the Japanese people are very focused on rebuilding and continuing business, but the economy has been affected,” he noted.

For fall, Geller is continuing his footwear collaboration with Common Projects, now in its third season, and will also launch a jewelry collection for spring 2012 with Brooklyn-based Scosha.