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Monika Chiang Sets Platform for Growth

With almost a year of business under her black-studded belt, the designer said the company is entering “the next phase in our business development.”

A still from Monika Chiang’s mini-film.

NEW YORK — “This is a turning point for us,” said Monika Chiang.

This story first appeared in the September 11, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

With almost a year of business under her black-studded belt, Chiang has a better understanding of what consumers want. The brand, which is backed by Christopher Burch’s J. Christopher Capital LLC, is still very much a reflection of Chiang’s lifestyle and sensibility, which is sexy and feminine crossed with the elements of a hard-edged rocker.

“The brand is very authentic to how I dress,” she said.

“It helps that Monika has a strong voice,” added Terence Bogan, general merchandise manager. “She’s not indecisive at all. Monika is about the unexpected juxtaposition of things.”

“I know what I personally want. I’m always in heels,” said the 5-foot-9 designer, “but it’s inevitable that you have to wear flats sometimes.”

Leave it to Chiang to come up with a way to put some of the sex appeal of heels into sneakers and ballerina flats with a hidden wedge. “The hidden wedge gives you a certain posture,” she said. “It’s not overtly sexy, but you look a little better. For me, a heel is a mood booster.”

Chiang’s mood is already up. She said the company is entering “the next phase in our business development.” Some of the brand’s initiatives include its first ad campaign, consisting of a 30-second mini-film airing on Taxi TV during New York Fashion Week. Two freestanding stores will open in 2013, and Chiang continues to seek “the perfect space” on Madison Avenue. Bogan said 15 Monika Chiang units will be operating in the U.S. by 2015. Burch has said he plans to invest $15 million to $20 million in Monika Chiang over the next four to five years and that the brand will ultimately have 150 stores.

The company has a goal of increasing e-commerce’s share of total business from 8 percent to 15 percent. The site on Sept. 4 unveiled a facelift, with a major redesign and relaunch in early 2013. Chiang is also building a wholesale business. The brand is being represented by Showroom Seven. Intermix, its first wholesale account, is launching Chiang’s shoes this month.

Surprised by the positive response to apparel and jewelry — Chiang thought shoes and handbags would be the most popular — new categories are planned for spring, including lingerie, swimwear and performance athleticwear. “I’m very active myself,” Chiang said. “I don’t see anything cool that you can throw on to go to the gym. We’re also looking to expand dresses and ramp up with more tops.”

For spring, there’s a watersnake clutch with silver bullet closure, at $290, and a raja hobo in reptile-embossed matte leather, $550. True to her belief that “jewelry is about being bold,” Chiang designed a sapphire bejeweled body necklace, $395, gold spike necklace, $495, and gunmetal chain vest, $295. “We’ve been doing well with denim,” Chiang said. “We have an over-the-top embellished jean for $2,500. A sales associate in our L.A. office called and told me that a 13-year-old came in and bought a pair.”

As for the ad campaign, “I’ve wanted to do a mini film since the brand launched, but we hadn’t established the Monika Chiang woman yet,” Chiang said. It starts with a beautiful blonde holding a crocodile handbag and walking into an apartment to the strains of “Ave Maria.” Ignoring the handsome man sitting on the couch, she slips out of her dress and silver-capped high heels and puts on a long-sleeve black leather bodysuit, black leather gloves and silver spiked sneakers. While she works up a sweat with a medicine ball, the man, who’s been working up a lather on the couch, approaches, and she kicks a soccer ball toward him.

“It’s about power,” Chiang said. “I imagine people will think it’s provocative. I like to push the envelope.”

The campaign includes a billboard on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles and a full-page ad in Du Jour magazine.