The departure comes as the contemporary retailer and manufacturer is set to relocate its production team from Brisbane, Calif., to a 5,100-square-foot studio in downtown’s fashion district in February.
The company also is reportedly exploring additional space at the Cooper Building for its 30-member design department already positioned at the fashion district landmark, as well as offices for the rest of its staff.
The split was amicable according to Li and Bebe sources.
“We mutually separated,” Li said. “It just became too corporate for me once the company was moving to L.A. They’re really great people. I made it through more than a year there. I never made it working for someone else.”
The staff in Los Angeles hosted a send-off on Dec. 14, she added. “When I started for them, I really thought that maybe they would do my line some day. I’m a little bit too old to be the real Bebe customer,” admitted the 43-year-old who is known for her sensual bohemian look. “I wanted to do what I want to wear.”
One of the original members of the Coalition of Los Angeles designers, Li closed her 13-year-old wholesale division and the 1,700-square-foot store in the Los Feliz neighborhood in 2000 as part of her agreement with Bebe.
The designer evidently lost no time getting back to the business.
Next week, she will ship the debut of Monah Li Couture, a self-financed line of reconstructed vintage separates. The Traffic boutiques in the Beverly Center and in West Hollywood’s Sunset Plaza are her first customers.
The tops line is signature Monah Li in its use of luxe silks, cotton jersey and rayon. But, she stressed, the line will be “more casual, and less velvety” than the dyed slipdresses she was known for. Pieces wholesale at about $120.
The Judy Kurgan Sales showroom in the CaliforniaMart is representing the new line.
Li is keeping the new venture small, however. “My dream is to have 10 to 15 really good stores,” she said, adding that she is seeking sales of $500,000 to $1 million in the first year. “Maybe later, I would go back into being a garmento.”
As for returning to retail, Li said: “Who knows where this will go.” In the meantime, she also is scouting for a publisher for her memoir, now called “Bent Vienna,” after her native city.
At Bebe, sources said there are no plans to replace Li. Neda Mashouf was appointed general merchandise manager of design in November, after having served in several merchandising positions with Bebe since 1984. She also is the wife of chief executive officer Manny Mashouf.
One source reports that the company is shifting to a greater emphasis on “logo gear,” reflecting strong sales in that category.
Bebe currently operates 159 stores and has said it plans to open 25 to 30 doors this year.
For the quarter ended Sept. 30, the firm recorded income of $6.5 million, or 25 cents a share, 13 percent higher than the $5.8 million, or 23 cents, reached in the year-ago period.
Sales were $73.6 million, up 18.7 percent from $62 million reported in the prior-year period, and same-store sales increased 2.6 percent. Comps were running up 9 percent prior to Sept. 11, but have declined 17.7 percent since.
Product licensing generated $220,000 and its e-commerce unit saw sales jump 108 percent due to a broader merchandise assortment.