While tons of digital versions of brick-and-mortar stores have mushroomed on the Internet in recent years, Le New Black, a pioneering online fashion trade show, for now remains in a league of its own.
Starting out as a subsidiary of Surface to Air, the site was founded in June 2009 by Bernard Coulombel and Vidya Narine. The company recently separated from Surface to Air following an injection of 420,000 euros, or $560,000 at current exchange, from Business Angels, a Paris-based investment fund. Surface to Air remains a minority shareholder.
All too familiar with the time-pressed nature of trade shows for both brands and buyers — having co-directed the now-defunct Rendez-Vous fashion fair with Nic Jones from 2005 to 2009 — Narine said that, rather than competing with fairs, the idea was to build a complementary platform where buyers can peruse brands’ collections before, during and after attending physical trade shows. Brands can also enjoy a permanent business-to-business sales season right up to the production of the collection.
The company plans to partner with trade fairs. It’s up to each brand to manage its own virtual showrooms. Each showroom features the brand’s latest look book, a brand profile, a list of retail accounts, prices, deadlines for orders and deliveries and an ordering system. Brands cannot access the showrooms of other brands.
Today, the site counts 55 selected brands as members, including Cat’s Tsumori Chisato, Basso & Brooke, Heimstone, Spring Court, Le Mont Saint Michel and Surface to Air.
More than 1,300 buyers are registered, from buying offices, department stores, luxury boutiques and concept stores based in more than 80 countries. Registered retailers include Colette, Dover Street Market, Urban Outfitters, Selfridges, Lane Crawford, Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue and Corso Como.
“The goal is to offer international buyers access to international brands and constantly inject new product throughout the year,” said Narine, who described the positioning of the brands as “affordable luxury,” spanning the contemporary, designer and heritage categories. “We select quality brands that we believe in, brands that have a real strategy.”
Membership is free for buyers. Member brands pay an annual registration fee of 3,000 euros, or around $4,000.