LONDON — There is nothing like austerity to get Inacio Ribeiro’s blood pumping. After leaving the London runway — and the design studio at Cacharel — Ribeiro and his wife, Suzanne Clements, have relaunched their own label on a tight budget, and are quietly building momentum.
“Cutting budgets back is so exciting,” said Ribeiro without a trace of irony from the chaotic living room of the couple’s north London home, where they live with their two young children. “We are bubbling with new ideas, and using our limitations as an opportunity to be creative and experimental.”
The couple, who put their company into voluntary liquidation in 2005 and left Cacharel in 2007 after a seven-year tenure at the French label, made a quiet comeback last July during couture week in Paris. They collaborated with Karen Nicol, the textile designer known for her embroideries, on a small collection of knitwear with vintage adornments such as jet beading, grosgrain frogging and lace insets. Stores including Barneys New York, Dover Street Market, Matches and 10 Corso Como snapped it up. They quickly followed it up last October with a capsule collection of cashmere, which had been one of the signatures of the duo’s previous label.
For fall, they launched a small ready-to-wear line with a low-key presentation at their home during London Fashion Week. It features cashmere and angora blend coats, two-, three- and four-ply cashmere knits, and silk dresses with adornments such as cameo or crystal buttons, grosgrain epaulets and pearl-encrusted zips.
Ribeiro said sales have grown 300 percent since last July, although the company’s turnover is still small and far from its height of 3 million pounds, or $4.8 million, a year in 2004.
Bridget Cosgrave, fashion and buying director at the British multibrand store Matches, said Clements Ribeiro has always sold well at the store, and their comeback was welcome. “Their collection is totally different now — it used to be all about intarsia, and now it’s more pared down and in-tune with what’s going on. The quality is lovely, and it appeals to a niche market,” she said, adding the store would likely do some one-off knitwear projects with the designers for holiday.
Ribeiro said the current plan is to think small on a variety of levels. He said that in the past the couple would spend 150,000-250,000 pounds — or $240,000 to $400,000 — on research and development, working with about 70 patterns a season. For fall, they spent 20,000 pounds, or $32,000, and slashed the number of patterns to 12.
He said he and his wife do not even have a studio and are working instead from home, “testing ideas in our heads and sketchbooks.” The two, who finance the business themselves, rent a studio space in Paris for pattern making and draping.
“It’s been a big, fun game for us, finding ways to be better, stronger — and more competitive but on a smaller scale. We’re even aiming to bring down our prices by 20 percent for spring 2010,” he said. Retail prices for the fall collection start at about 600 pounds, or $780.
Going forward, Ribeiro said knitwear would be the “hinge” of the collections, and would be fully coordinated with wovens. They are currently working on a capsule collection of limited-distribution, one-off pieces of rtw and accessories made from vintage couture fabrics. They will unveil that collection during couture week in Paris in July. Ribeiro said the capsule collection will be bold and bright and not for the faint of heart. The duo also plans to stage a presentation at London Fashion Week in September.
Also on tap is an upgraded, noncommercial Web site featuring a series of 30-second films, which Ribeiro hopes will make the collections come alive for the couple’s customers. The films will debut in September, he said, and be a “warm-up” for London Fashion Week. “We want to connect with our consumers — and watch what happens,” he said.