For some designers, plus sizes don’t cut it. That’s not the case with Prabal Gurung.
“I’m size-blind,” says the Singapore-born designer who was raised in Kathmandu, Nepal. He said he routinely cuts ready-to-wear up to size 22, providing a range rarely seen in fashion collections, yet typically retailers look the other way. “When the buyers come, they are buying to what they think they need,” Gurung told WWD, somewhat cynically.
Now Gurung is collaborating with Lane Bryant on a limited-edition women’s collection to be sold under the Prabal Gurung Exclusively for Lane Bryant label, WWD has learned. It’s scheduled to hit 180 Lane Bryant stores and lanebryant.com in March. “It’s a one-year deal for two seasons,” Gurung said.
There will be about 18 items in the first season, ranging from $48 T-shirts to $398 leather jackets, as well as dresses retailing from $128 to $138 and skirts priced at $108.
Gurung’s collection marks Lane Bryant’s fifth designer collaboration. Isabel Toledo kicked off the program with a spring 2014 collection. Sophie Theallet, Lela Rose and Christian Siriano followed with Lane Bryant collections. The tie-ins, though temporary, are integral to the retailer’s strategy to raise its brand image and bring newness to the assortment more regularly. Lane Bryant, with 775 stores and about $1 billion in annual volume, is the nation’s largest chain specializing in women’s sizes 14-28. It has also produced the Jessica Simpson and Melissa McCarthy lines.
“Prabal really wanted to do this,” said Linda Heasley, the chief executive officer of Lane Bryant. “He feels so strongly about the message we are advocating, that all women deserve good fashion. He can’t get buyers in department stores to buy his large sizes so he wants to work with us.”
Noting that she owns a sexy sheath dress with a “strategically placed slit,” Heasley described Gurung’s design philosophy as “so editorial,” adding, “Prabal is a master at mixing materials, fabrics and textures — he pulls it off in such a way that each piece becomes its own artistic statement. His ingenuity at mixing sporty ease with unabashed glamor has made his label a huge success.”
A collection with a designer label can sell better than the regular assortment. “It’s varied with each collection,” Heasley replied, when asked how the designer products fare. “We get incredible pickup from the various collections, but I can’t answer that across the broad. We see amazing traffic and a lot of interest with each designer and have seen very good sell-throughs…We are getting ready to announce other strategic partnerships.”
Another piece of the modernization strategy is Lane Bryant’s feisty “I’m No Angel” campaign launched last February. It encourages women to be confident in their own skin and own it. “I feel [the campaign] has a lot of traction,” Heasley said. “We’re getting it ready for the fall. It’s about a celebration of women.” The Lane Bryant woman, Heasley added, “is like all women in America. She is active. She is beautiful. She has a life.”
Gurung said he was impressed that large-size model Ashley Graham this year appeared on the cover of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, and was struck when he saw an “I’m No Angel” ad on the side of a bus. “For me it was a call out. Just to be able to celebrate diversity of any kind is something I wanted to be part of. I am a very instinctive person.”
Partnering with Lane Bryant, a division of the Ascena Retail Group, ” just felt right for me to do. I have dressed women of all sizes from day one,” when he launched his collection in 2009. “I made a gown for the cover of O for Oprah Winfrey, who shared the cover with Ellen DeGeneres. It didn’t even look like it was a different size. It was an incredible opportunity. I don’t care about the size of women. I’m more interested in the essence of who she is. I want to be able in my own way to reach out to all these women who feel sidelined, and say to them, ‘You do matter to me.’
“Everyone of us wants to feel validated, that we are being heard, that we matter. I felt this particular group of people were kind of not really truly being addressed. In a way, as a designer, I am already excluding a lot of people,” meaning those that can’t afford his high styles. “Besides the personal and creative considerations, I look at the business side. Plus size is a huge market and one of the most neglected.”
Creating large-size fashion for the masses is not really a technical challenge, Gurung said. “I am the aesthetic director and they are the ones who have the technical solutions. The styles and silhouettes are really true to our design aesthetic. There is really not necessarily anything we are avoiding,” he said.