PARIS — Olympia Le-Tan’s fashion shows have built up quite a reputation.
This story first appeared in the December 3, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
As eccentric, droll and colorful as Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, they often steer into provocative territory, playing with female stereotypes — though not without a good dose of humor — and mixing grandma’s old-school knitting styles with pin-up fashion.
Aficionados of Le-Tan’s sassy, tongue-in-cheek universe are about to experience it up close: The French designer is opening her first retail outpost on Friday.
“It’s going to be like a doll house,” the former Italian literature major said at her charming office, which is filled with colorful embroideries, antiquated books and secret passages.
“I’ve had my eyes on the building for six years — it used to be an antiques shop which belonged to friends. But when they left it, I couldn’t afford it,” she added.
The small, uneven corner house spanning two floors at Passage des Deux-Pavillons, just behind the Palais Royal, was subsequently snapped up by British shoe designer Rupert Sanderson. Now, it’s Le-Tan’s turn.
“There is going to be a lot of pink,” she teased. Cue walls clad in a printed monogram fabric designed by her father, illustrator Pierre Le-Tan, who provides all the prints for his daughter’s quickly expanding ready-to-wear collections.
Custom-made carpets, furniture adapted to the space, and racks conceived by Marc Newson to resemble accessories are expected to create a unique retail experience.
The 485-square-foot venue will house Le-Tan’s full rtw range on the ground level; accessories, including belts, bags, scarves, socks and brooches, and a dressing room will be upstairs.
Best known for her hand-embroidered book clutches mimicking a broad range of literary classics from “The Catcher in the Rye” to “The Great Gatsby” to “Dracula,” which she often themes to match her storytelling collections, Le-Tan said the shop was the logical next step following the successful launch of her rtw line two years ago.
“Having retail gives a brand more value and the opportunity to display the entire selection,” she said, revealing plans to create more capsules, such as a series of Christmas dresses done in exclusive fabrics, or a collaboration with The Walt Disney Co., which will feature accessories as well as apparel and is to make its debut here this month.
Behind the cartoon characters and pink tapestry is a solid business. The brand, founded in 2009, boasts an annual turnover of $5 million and 110 points of sale in more than 30 countries, including Dover Street Market, Opening Ceremony and Browns. Between fall 2012 and the same season this year, sales jumped 100 percent.
“It never really occurred to me to do fashion,” said Le-Tan, who learned on the job. “I always wanted to go to art school.” That is, until Gilles Dufour, a friend of the family, offered her an internship at Chanel. “This was in the main studio, there was a lot of color and fabrics. I learned how to be organized, though I didn’t keep the method,” she noted with a smile.
She followed Dufour to Balmain, before assisting him at his own label when he was let go due to some provocative designs. “We actually got fired because of a WWD review, which called the collection misogynistic. It was the era of erotica in fashion, everybody was doing it, but that didn’t go down well,” Le-Tan allowed.
Defiantly, she kept a penchant for the risqué with her own label. “As a curvy girl, it’s an aesthetic that I’ve always been drawn to. I’ve always been interested in erotic drawings and photography of the Fifties and Sixties, and the beautiful and sexy women in old Italian or Hollywood movies. To me, those women look confident and proud of their bodies. I think it’s empowering…and if you feel good about yourself, you can do great things,” she explained.
Le-Tan, who has financial backing from Gregory Bernard, the French producer behind films including “Lagerfeld Confidential,” says she has her eyes set on more retail.
“We are looking for a space in London and Tokyo for 2015; New York and L.A. in 2016,” she said. “I want to do shoes, kids’, men’s, jewelry, perfume — everything, though maybe not all at once.”
With pieces ranging between 300 euros, or $373 at current exchange, for an embroidered sweatshirt and 2,500 euros, or $3,111, for an oversize clutch, rtw now accounts for 50 percent of sales. Expanding the line is top of Le-Tan’s agenda.
“Our bestsellers are the book clutches — and then whatever embroidered skirt we do, and I always want to do more, try a new fabric. It’s never enough,” she said.
With additional investors’ money (she is currently looking), Le-Tan hopes to set up an atelier enabling the brand to make all rtw samples in-house, as it does with its intricate embroidery, a technique her grandmother taught her when she was a little girl. The pencil-print embroidered piece from her most recent collection, “We Don’t Need No Education,” for instance, took 350 hours of handwork.
“Out of 1,000 stitches, I only master about three, but that’s all I need,” the affable designer noted, adding: “I’m very good at chain stitch — it relaxes me.”
Come next year, Le-Tan’s e-shop is to receive a (digital) makeover, further heralding the designer’s ambition to expand her little empire globally.