LOS ANGELES — As the new creative director of Rich & Skinny, Michela Casale looked to unexpected influences for direction on how to revamp the denim brand after a two-year hiatus.
Casale, a former designer with Diesel and Miss Sixty who works out of Venice, Italy, for Gardena, Calif.-based Rich & Skinny, ticked off usual names like Isabel Marant and Rag & Bone, which mix experimental denim with sharp sportswear for a contemporary vibe. Yet she also studied Brunello Cucinelli for her new spring collection to be unveiled at Coterie in New York on Sunday.
“What we like about Brunello Cucinelli is the passion and value in the brand,” she said, noting that her ambition is to “bring a touch of Brunello Cucinelli to the denim a little more.”
Reaching beyond the usual parameters of the denim industry is a tactic that Casale hopes will differentiate Rich & Skinny. It’s also a ploy that succeeded for other relaunches like Los Angeles-based Frankie, which originated as Frankie B. of low-riding jean fame. Founded by denim veterans Michael Glasser and Joie Rucker in 2006, Rich & Skinny was acquired two years ago by Twin Dragon Marketing, a 36-year-old company that specializes in denim-related fabric and washes. While denim makes up half the line and Casale is honoring its heritage in the category, the new team is careful not to stay confined to the denim market.
“When we got it, denim was a bad word in the retail market,” said Cindy Chang, Rich & Skinny’s operations director. “Bringing back a premium denim brand didn’t make sense to us. It didn’t need to be solely denim.”
In addition to offering four basic jean fits — straight, relaxed cigarette, boyfriend and skinny high-waisted, Casale interpreted classic silhouettes, such as bomber jackets, chinos, parkas, field jackets and gauchos. Aside from denim, which serves as the base for a trenchcoat and also the lining for a wind-resistant and heat-retardant jacket, she used gabardine, twill and silver fox fur. She modified leather with printing, coating and other artisan techniques. Retail prices start under $100 for a cotton tank top, run up to $200 for shirts and pants, and max out at $3,000 for the fur parka.
“At this moment, I’m melding all my history with the knowledge of this company,” Casale said. “We are trying to express something new.”
Pursuing a different retail strategy than the one that Glasser had targeted for the novelty denim in the brand’s previous iteration, Chang said the new focus, as an advanced contemporary line, will allow it to reach a wider range of customers. She said Rich & Skinny will go after selective U.S. accounts among specialty shops, department stores and e-commerce sites initially in order to reach $5 million in first-year sales. “In five to 10 years, we want to be a certain brand to be $50 to $100 million [in sales],” she said.
To reach that benchmark, Rich & Skinny isn’t marketing specifically to the influential Millennial demographic. Instead, it favors an older, sophisticated, confident customer. “It’s someone who understands who she is and what fashion sensibility she has,” Chang said.
In other words, “she can mix plastic chinos with a denim jacket with a long trench,” Casale said. “She’s feminine but at the same time she has a touch of masculinity. She’s sexy but in a modern way.”