Catherine Malandrino is trying something different.
The designer has been on the sidelines for two years and has seen the upheaval in the fashion world and the changes in consumer behavior that are hitting traditional retail. She considered launching another high-end brand, but chose an alternative path.
“I didn’t want to approach it with just selling clothes; I knew that what I had to offer was really bigger than that,” she said, describing what she sees as a new business model. “The landscape of fashion has changed so much in the last two years. I wanted to approach fashion, which has always been my passion, with a different point of view. For me, and through my experience, I’ve been able to connect very well with the consumer.”
In the past, through her own boutique and department stores, the designer frequently did personal events. “I realized that a personal connection was making the difference, not only as a designer, but as a women speaking to a woman. With clothes, I want to emphasize the strength and forgive the weakness of the woman,” she said. “Because I’m French, when people were meeting with me, they realized how authentic my French identity was.”
So Malandrino contacted Mindy Grossman, chief executive officer of HSN Inc., with a business proposal. The result is her new brand in collaboration with HSN, French Rendez Vous, which will make its debut on TV and online on July 28.
For 20 years, Malandrino has considered herself an ambassador for French fashion. Last year, she received the Chevalier of the French Order of Arts and Letters at the French Embassy in New York, where she was recognized for her innovative fashion designs that have inspired Americans to take an interest in French artistry. When she received the honor, François Delattre, French ambassador to the United Nations, said, “Catherine is one of the most photographed French women in New York, right after the Statue of Liberty.” He described her as a “wonderful ambassador to French culture in the U.S.” and a bridge between Paris and New York.
According to Malandrino, her intention with her brand is to bring affordable French style in fashion, accessories and home products to American women. “This collection is about being chic, but accessible in price,” she said.
The offerings will be enhanced with videos and photographs of scenic French locales and Malandrino wearing the clothes.
The designer’s July appearance will be followed by four more over the course of the next 12 months, and then new ones will be added. Each two-hour episode (9 to 11 p.m.) will be linked to a French destination, such as Paris, Courchevel, St. Tropez, St. Barths, Paris by Day and Paris by Night. HSN, based in St. Petersburg, Fla., broadcasts to 95 million households in the U.S.
The initial “Paris” launch will consist of 14 apparel styles, two handbags, two necklaces, a red lipstick and red nail polish. The clothes are very French in spirit: a striped T-shirt; a sweater with the word, “Paris” on it; a faux patent-leather trenchcoat; a white poplin blouse with a graphic on it; a shirtdress; a wrap cardigan, and a red jumpsuit. Necklaces say “Paris,” and “Je te’aime,” (“I love you”) written in Malandrino’s handwriting.
The second episode, “Courchevel,” will feature a duffel coat jacket, a wrap quilted coat and sweaters with stars and words. Overall, styles will retail from $49 to less than $200. Sizes range from XS to 3X and 2 to 22. The apparel is manufactured overseas by Nation Design, a New York-based private-label knitwear and sportswear manufacturer. Various suppliers will produce the other categories.
Grossman said she met Malandrino through Mary J. Blige years ago when HSN was working with the singer who was coming out with her anthem album, “My Life,” and launched an exclusive fragrance on HSN. “Mary did a small project with Catherine around these fabulous Ts empowering women. That’s how I got to know her and her husband, and I always thought she was incredibly talented. We ended up getting re-connected because she had an amazing concept which got me very, very excited,” said Grossman.
“What I love about Catherine is she certainly is an incredible designer, but she also has a vision of context, where that design is coming from and what stories she wants to tell. The whole platform begs for storytelling and to make it immersive. One of the things we’re trying to do more and more and more is to contextualize storytelling through programming,” she added.
It’s not just about offering dresses with a French sensibility. “Every single show is this idea of a French rendezvous. What was Catherine inspired by, what are her favorite spots, what’s the best red lipstick you’re going to wear with that fashion, what are the sunglasses?” said Grossman. “Malandrino has an innate femininity to what she does, but it’s still very empowering,” she said.
Videos of the French destinations will be integrated with content throughout. “The arc of the storytelling is the live aspect of her being here, and we’ll integrate a significant amount of video from the actual environments that are the inspiration,” said Grossman. She believes that Malandrino’s offering will connect with HSN customers who will appreciate the context she will bring.
“It’s an interesting apparel environment. I really believe to garner excitement, engagement and attention from this environment, you have to move yourself away from price and you have to move yourself away from commoditization. You have to create things that have meaning. Fortunately, we have a platform that enables us to do that. My feeling is we’re not just selling clothes. We’re engaging and giving people ideas and we’re inspiring them. When they do get that product, it’s not just ‘I saw the product,’ but this is how I wear the product, this is the look I want, this is how it will make me feel, this is where it’s inspired from. I think that’s important today,” said Grossman.
In addition to her July appearance, Malandrino will be on air in October, December, February and early next spring. “We’ll do as much as her creativity can capture,” said Grossman. “Like anything else, we’re going into this as a permanent long-term brand build. There’s an extended commitment and there’s no end to what we think we can do.” She declined to give a first-year volume projection.
Asked if it will be one of the company’s bigger fashion brands, Grossman replied, “We’re definitely committing to it as if it’s going to be one of our big emerging brands. I think she will be great on air.”
Some of HSN’s top apparel lines are with Iman, Serena Williams, Giuliana Rancic, Diane Gilman, Melissa McCarthy and Wendy Williams.
Malandrino said she did 20 years of fashion shows in America and enjoyed the creative process, the job and the rewards. But the fashion world is changing and, for her, connecting with the customer was always the most important part. “The ultimate reward is seeing [a customer] wear my blouse,” she said. With all this new technology, it’s important to be a part of this new world. “As a designer, this is my new challenge to be a success in this new world,” she said.
As for whether it was difficult for her to work within HSN’s price parameters, she said, “It was very interesting. Bringing great, original style with a level of quality, and at the same time making sure the silhouette and the price will be accessible, I feel is my next phase. It’s a very interesting challenge, and I want to achieve it.”
Her aim is to design for all types of American women. “The proposition is quite ageless. I am designing with the idea of different bodies in mind. They will be extremely wearable,” the designer said. “The clothes are not too fitted. We’re not revealing too much of the body. French style is not about revealing, but about seducing.”
The collection will have heart logos and lots of graphics.
Meanwhile, Malandrino has been embroiled in a lawsuit against her former backers, including Arthur S. Levine, Elie Tahari and Bluestar Alliance LLC, in connection with the sale of her company in 2011 and 2013. The designer declined comment, but Levine said the suit has been settled for an undisclosed sum.
Malandrino will write a French blog on HSN’s web site, where she’ll give her opinions on the best French restaurants, the best terraces in Paris, the best recipes for some of her favorite dishes such as le croque monsieur (a toasted ham and cheese sandwich).
The designer said she’s looking forward to being on TV, and will undergo media training at HSN at the end of the month. “I feel very comfortable with the idea of sharing who I am and my style. I’m not going to think I’m going in front of 300 million people. I’m going to think I’m in front of my best friends sharing ideas,” said Malandrino, who’s had some TV experience as a guest and judge on “Project Runway” and eight appearances on “Make Me a Supermodel,” as well as backstage conversations with TV reporters following her fashion shows. She will appear on the show with HSN host Colleen Lopez.
Having grown up in Grenoble, France, Malandrino graduated from Esmod and worked at such Paris houses as Dorothée Bis, Louis Féraud and Emanuel Ungaro. She then directed the French label Et Vous. In 1997, she came to New York and worked at Diane von Furstenberg before introducing her own signature collection in 1998, winning the windows of such stores as Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus. A high point of her career was her Flag collection, which she sold in 2011, which was featured in Bergdorf’s windows. Her clothes have been worn by such celebrities as Blige, Demi Moore, Heidi Klum, Nicole Kidman and Beyoncé.