PARIS – Cacharel, the French contemporary sportswear brand that is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is out to redefine itself minus a star designer — or designers — at its helm.


“There will no longer be a ‘Cacharel by…’ There’s one star: Cacharel,” said Marc Ramanantsoa, the firm’s new managing director, who plans to realign the brand by changing its design studio, management, distribution and production structures.


The house gave a preview of its new fashion direction in its Rue d’Uzès boutique in Paris on Monday, delivering a capsule collection that lacked fizz but included enough sweet moments to charm modern-day mademoiselles. These ranged from fetching blouses in cotton, crepe and sheer organza sprinkled with retro motifs to tone-on-tone takes on the house’s signature Liberty print and polkadots, to a line of tailored wool and cashmere coats in primary shades. There were loose black velvet shorts, slender pale gray denim looks and easy frocks in girly prints with Peter Pan collars and pockets.


“If you take the Cacharel identity [evoked by] Sarah Moon’s campaigns, you see sweetness, innocence, romanticism. We haven’t found that over the last few collections,” said Ramanantsoa prior to the show.  He described the brand’s new direction, which aims to recapture its charismatic innocence in a modern take on Cacharel signatures using upgraded fabrics. The house’s clothing prices will rise slightly, in line with Cacharel’s “accessible luxury” positioning, he said.


Jean Bousquet, Cacharel’s founder and chief executive officer, is developing a new store concept for the brand, to be implemented over the coming months.


In today’s crowded contemporary market, however, it remains to be seen whether these new ideas will help raise the house’s profile in France and abroad.


Having surfed to prominence in the Sixties and Seventies on the back of Europe’s emerging youth culture, Cacharel has since struggled to move with the times, going through two teams of buzzed-about designers. The husband-and-wife duo of Suzanne Clements and Inacio Ribeiro, who in 2007 parted ways with Cacharel after seven years as its artistic directors, were knocked by Bousquet for having strayed too far into designer territory. Cacharel’s latest design pair, Mark Eley and Wakako Kishimoto, left last November after just two seasons at the house. At the time, a Cacharel spokesman cited a “difference in creative vision.”


Meanwhile, Ramanantsoa is conscious that France takes priority in any planned comeback, and he disclosed plans to open 20 stores (mainly franchised) across the country in the next three years. “We’re aggressively attacking the French market,” he said, adding that the company is also expanding internationally, with a new store opening, on average, every two months.


Today, Cacharel’s women’s wear line is distributed in 163 doors, including 39 franchised locations and the firm’s sole freestanding store in Avignon, France. Its men’s wear is distributed in nine doors. For 2007, Cacharel posted sales of 33.6 million euros, or $46.5 million, according to a company spokeswoman, who added that 90 percent of that business is generated abroad.


In December 2008, the brand announced it would stop formal shows, although Ramanantsoa hopes to return to them by this fall.


Making such a change is necessary to regain the confidence of retailers, he believes.  “We need to come back to the product and convince them that there is a change. We want to see the street dressed in Cacharel,” said Ramanantsoa, who confirmed that the house’s anniversary reissue Liberty line for spring has already convinced certain high-profile retailers to take them on, including Colette and Galeries Lafayette.



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