PARIS — Keeping men’s wear at the center of its development plan, Christian Lacroix SNC has inked a five-year licensing agreement with Peerless Clothing International for the production and distribution of tailored clothing in North America.

This story first appeared in the November 8, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The partners plan to unveil the first collection to the trade in January for fall 2012 retailing, with suits priced to retail from $1,000 and up, and boasting such details as novelty linings that change every season.

Disclosing the deal exclusively to WWD, Lacroix chief executive officer Nicolas Topiol said tailored clothing would be the first men’s wear volley across the pond for the Paris-based brand, which currently sells only home textiles and stationery in the U.S. following the shuttering of its couture and women’s wear operations in 2009.

He said deals for other men’s categories — including dress shirts, furnishings and sportswear — would likely follow, but that tailored clothing would represent the foundation of its men’s push.

Lacroix has an established men’s wear business in Europe and the Middle East, selling to about 180 doors and competing with such price peers as Paul Smith, Topiol said. Its licensees here include Sadev for men’s tailored clothing, Rousseau for men’s shirts and knitwear, Groupe TWC for bags and Mantero for scarves and neckties.

Lacroix, now designed by creative director Sacha Walckhoff following the exit of the founding couturier, began staging runway shows last June for its men’s wear, which has a French dandy vibe.

Topiol and Peerless president Ronny Wurtzburger said they detect a hunger for new brands in North America.

A suit powerhouse, Montreal-and New York-based Peerless markets private label and branded suits to more than 1,000 accounts.

Wurtzburger said Lacroix represents its first foray with a couture brand. Upper-tier names in its stable include Michael Kors Collection, John Varvatos and Tahari.

“It’s not just a suit. It’s the entire concept that makes it very inspiring,” Wurtzburger said of Lacroix. “I did a focus group of well-to-do women and the name was very well received, and perceived as a high-fashion brand with stimulating details.”

The executive said he has previewed the concept with a department store group with which he hopes to partner for the launch. He declined to name the retailer, but noted the collection would also be offered to better specialty stores.

“The most important thing is to place it with the right people,” he said. “We think it has legs and an opportunity to get Peerless into the couture.”

Meanwhile, in another high-profile venture foreshadowing an expansion into fast-growing China, Lacroix has been awarded a contract to design uniforms for China Eastern Airlines.

Topiol said the designs, to be worn by some 30,000 China Eastern employees, would be unveiled in March.

He credited the firm’s expertise in the category for winning the assignment. Employees at Air France have worn uniforms by Lacroix since 2005.

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