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WWD A issue 10/27/2014

In an open-space office in New York’s SoHo neighborhood, Natalya Poniatowski was straightening out a table of jewelry. A few feet away, someone organized the logistics of delivering a selection of headbands to a magazine shoot, while another checked on the payment status of a recent sales order.

This story first appeared in the October 27, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Welcome to the world of LuxCartel, one of several new incubators for young designers with a focus on accessories. LuxCartel, The White Space and #8 New York are among the newest crop in fashion agencies offering such services as press relations, sales, creative direction and merchandising.

“The company was structured to be an all-encompassing incubator, essentially an office share for designers who cannot have their own internal team, and then a p.r. office and a sales office,” said Poniatowski, chief executive officer of LuxCartel. “We provide all those services at a preferential rate.”

Alison Brokaw, founder of The White Space, added, “I wanted to help emerging brands gain access to the American market in an efficient, cost-effective way by offering them access to influential retailers and press. The brands we work with require more than what a showroom can offer. We can do everything in one shot and keep the cost down.”

Brokaw, a freelance stylist, formed the company in 2013. Today Brokaw oversees a roster of clients that varies from season to season. Most recently, for spring 2015, The White Space worked with British eyewear maker Finlay & Co., fine jewelry designer Jody Candrian and Serbian jewelry brand Arme de L’amour, as well as two ready-to-wear lines.

“Finlay & Co. had several distribution channels in Europe but hadn’t been able to access America,” said Brokaw. “This was a really cost-effective way for them to come here, access the market, and they’ve done really well — now they sell at Barneys. They got to come to New York, meet retailers and get feedback. I facilitate it, but I really want the designers to interact with the retailers to get feedback about price points and delivery dates. It’s great to get information directly from buyers.”

Brokaw, who declined to disclose client fees, uses her experience in the fashion industry to facilitate these meetings, and connect brands with retailers, often creating showcases for her brands during market weeks. The White Space occupies a 600-square-foot office and works seasonally with the Koons studio to hold such showcases.

Lynn Rosetti of #8 New York is also an industry veteran, having spent time with Stephen Sprouse, Jill Stuart and Anna Sui. Most recently, she spent 13 years running the Steven Alan showroom. In 2013, however, she decided to go out on her own.

“I got it into my head that accessories was the way to go,” she said. “The market for ready-to-wear has gotten so small — there are fewer designers that have bigger market share — so I had this idea to focus on handbags and more lifestyle accessories.”

Rosetti runs #8 New York from a 500-square-foot showroom and currently oversees eight brands: smartphone case-maker Corners4, headphone brand Frends, eyewear companies Sunettes and Sunday Somewhere, jewelry brand Poupette and handbag designers Campos, Marie Turnor and Oliveve, the latter of which is her own brand. As a one-woman operation, Rosetti focuses primarily on the sales end, bringing in freelancers during busy market weeks, and, like Brokaw, she connects brands with retailers.

She also offers advice to the brands, such as what factories to use or how to price the merchandise. “A lot of handbag designers are just paying enormous fees because the factory has taken advantage of them,” she said. “They just don’t know any better.”

Rosetti charges a monthly fee of $1,000 for her services, and standing place on display in her showroom, as well as 12 to 15 percent in sales commission. She said her self-funded venture saw a profit within its first four months.

“We’re growing at the rate I anticipated,” she said. “I don’t want to get too big. I want to keep that one-on-one aspect with the designers.

LuxCartel operates as a one-stop shop for emerging talents; an office share with services in p.r., sales, consulting, creative direction, merchandising, strategy and logistics. Poniatowski, formerly in private equity, began as an investor and silent partner in the company, which was founded by Jenna Sloan.

“Slowly, I became less silent,” she said. In December 2012, Poniatowski took over the firm, which at the time offered p.r. and sales services. With one additional full-time employee, an intern, and a handful of brands remaining from the initial launch, Poniatowski refocused the company. LuxCartel currently employs three sales associates, three p.r. executives, a client-relationships expert and ceo Poniatowski. It works with accessory brands Masterpeace, Anndra Neen, and Aurora Bailey, as well as ready-to-wear brand Kalmanovich.

“I like working with brands that have growth potential,” said Poniatowski. She noted that most brands approach her for representation, rather than her soliciting clients. “Sometimes  people will recommend an amazing brand, but I can’t have these designers think of me as their agent. The relationship needs to be much more student and teacher, where they will accept my team’s authority. And for that to happen, they tend to have to come to us.”

The tough-love mantra is a cornerstone of the company’s success. “It’s not just a business relationship,” she said “A typical client-agent relationship is, ‘You pay us money, and we make you smile.’ A LuxCartel relationship is, ‘You pay us money, and we’ll do everything in our power to make your brand grow, even if that means yelling at you.’ We don’t sugarcoat anything.”

For its involved services, LuxCartel charges a flat monthly fee, as well as 10 percent in sales commission.

“We base our fee on the fact that our work combines the work of a p.r. office, a sales agency, a consulting and logistics agency,” Poniatowski explained, adding that 90 percent of that revenue goes to paying office rent and employee salaries.

“I am adamant about organic growth,” she said. “I never invest money in the company. We generate and spend. It’s always been a break-even, or slight-profit, company. Overall, we are in the positive.”

During fashion week, the company hosted presentations for A La Russe, Anndra Neen and Masterpeace, which drew editors, buyers and a number of “It” girls, such as Constance Jablonski, Leandra Medine and Stephanie LaCava. Poniatowski herself is something of an “It” girl, frequently photographed at fashion events, yet she maintains that she’s still an industry outsider — and that, in fact, is part of the company’s strategy.

“The founding members of the group have nothing to do with fashion,” she said. “We have a good eye, an understanding, good connections and our brains. The fact that we’re not limited by how it’s done in a normal fashion company has helped us so far.”

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