I would never declare myself the Queen of Downtown,” Daryl Kerrigan says. “Other people think of me that way, far more than I do.”
Perhaps, but Kerrigan certainly closed fashion week with a royal effort on Friday night — a fabulous Daryl K show that created the kind of excitement all too rare throughout much of the collections. It’s a mood that older, more established designers may aspire to but cannot possibly replicate; their operations are simply too precise, too slick.
Essentially, Kerrigan’s look is raw, raucous and rock ‘n’ roll. Aggressive? You bet. Eighties? The punk side of the decade. On the surface, it all cried street rather than chic, and the switch was as refreshing as it was raw.
Nevertheless, at the core of Kerrigan’s work are great clothes that are more diverse than her image suggests. Simon Doonan, executive vice president and creative director of Barneys New York, which has carried the line for two seasons, called Friday’s show “a gorgeous punk fest…with ideas that are not punky at all.” There were strong tailored pieces as well as beautiful, sexy sweaters, brash miniskirts and lots of the terrific, lean pants on which Kerrigan made her reputation, now in slightly eased-up proportions. And she also made a play for a more disheveled look with slouchy sweatshirts and baggy drawstring pants.
“I don’t really put my boot-leg hip-hugger jeans on the runway any longer,” Kerrigan says. “I don’t think any of us needs to see them there anymore.”
Even though Kerrigan brushes off downtown accolades, she admits to feeding off the energy of the street. “I do spend a lot of time walking downtown, taking my bike around. I don’t take cabs everywhere,” she explains. “I go to Harlem, Queens and Brooklyn. I love a lot of street culture in the city, not just downtown.”
It is just such street culture that inspires a business, which, while still small — $2 million in revenues in 1996 — already reaches as far as Japan. Along with her signature collection, Kerrigan also designs the less-pricy K-189. Daryl K wholesales for $80 to $600, and K-189, from $40 to $200. Both collections are carried by Big Drop and the Steven Alan boutique in SoHo, while Daryl K is also in Barneys, Fred Segal in Los Angeles and Ultimo in Chicago.
In addition, Kerrigan and her partner, Paul Leonard, have two downtown boutiques here — the original, tiny store on Sixth Street in the East Village, and a larger shop on Bond Street. There are also boutiques in Tokyo and Osaka, opened through a licensing deal with MBS, a division of Moonbat in Japan.
Kerrigan admits that she and Leonard still struggle with such day-to-day issues as sourcing fabrics. In fact, earlier this year when she won the CFDA’s Perry Ellis for emerging talent, sourcing was one of the main areas affected in a positive way. “It was good for my relationships with fabric people and suppliers,” Kerrigan says. “They perked up and said, ‘Oh, yeah, we’d love to do business with you.’ When you’re young and small, they don’t really want to work with you, especially in America, where minimums are so much greater than in Europe.”
For now, Kerrigan and Leonard are focused on maintaining high-quality production and establishing strong retail relationships. But growth will have to happen without the benefit of advertising: Kerrigan says editorial and word-of-mouth are getting her name out there well enough. “Our advertising strategy is not to advertise,” she says. “We are sales-backed, and it’s a little scary sometimes. We have to watch our budget. We really need to put the money into people’s wages to get our product amazingly well-made.”
The firm is represented in Los Angeles at the Findings showroom, and in Hong Kong at East of Seventh. Kerrigan says that over the next few years, she would like to develop a presence in Europe as well as add some new stores in the United States. Her current target: Nordstrom.
“We get a lot of mail requests from around the country from girls who see the clothes in magazines, and there isn’t somewhere near where they can buy them,” Kerrigan says. “It’s not so easy to satisfy everyone.”