Byline: Arthur Friedman / Kathleen Nicholson / Eric Wilson
NEW YORK — After cutting his teeth at some well-known design houses here and in Paris, William Calvert took the big bite this year when he opened his own ready-to-wear firm.
Using funds of his own and from his family, the 27-year-old designer set up shop in a small showroom at 29 West 57th Street, next door to Bergdorf Goodman, which will begin carrying his resort line next month.
“It’s been a lot of work, but the response has been mind-blowing,” Calvert said. “As a family-owned business, you have to watch every nickel. I’m lucky to find time to sketch, what with ordering fabric, making the phone calls to buyers and press, and selling the line once the stores come in. But it’s worth it, because I’ve been able to get the buyers and editors to come see the line, and the retail reaction has been good.
“It says a lot about the stores and a lot about the clothes that they came to see the collection and bought it,” Calvert added.
Calvert holds degrees from Philadelphia College of Textiles and Science and Academia Italiano Moda in Florence, Italy. After graduating in 1991, he had hoped to work in Italy, “where the approach to quality is unmatched.” But after a weekend trip to Paris, he landed a job as a design assistant for Balenciaga. He later held similar posts at Pierre Balmain and Rochas.
With the French economy hitting the skids in 1994, the Baltimore-born Calvert moved back to the U.S., working as an assistant designer for Diane Von Furstenberg, where he helped create a new collection of knitwear called Casual Chic. Most recently, Calvert was a design consultant for Brooks Bros., “helping to bring their women’s collection into the Nineties.”
His initial fall collection is now hanging at the Barneys New York flagship on Madison Avenue and at Christian Woods in Pittsburgh.
Wholesaling from $870 to $1,380, the line features dresses and suits in cashmere and wool jersey, and silk jersey in heather, crepe and matte weaves.
Calvert’s signature construction is a one-seam wrap in his dresses that results in a contoured, sleek silhouette. Key styles include a long-sleeved cardigan dress with wrap detail in back, a V-neck dress with a satin inset in the back, a tie-back slipdress with silk taffeta half-circle detail and a racer-back column.
Calvert said he’s on track to bring in $200,000 in first-year sales.
Joseph Boitano, executive vice president of Bergdorf Goodman, said Calvert’s resort offerings at the store will be in an exclusive selection of colors. Boitano said Calvert was “a fresh talent, the type we are constantly looking for.”
“We particularly like his use of silk and viscose jersey,” he said.
Ann Adams, owner of Christian Woods, said it’s particularly rewarding when a store gives a young designer a chance and it proves successful.
“The clothes are beautiful, with great attention to construction and special details, like the piping on the back of his two-piece jersey dress,” Adams said. “We’ve got to give new designers like this a chance or we won’t have any designers left.”
Christian Woods started carrying the fall line last month, and Adams said that, based on its success, she’ll be buying it again for spring.
Eventually, Calvert would like to have his own boutique and expand into shoes and daywear.
“At some point,” he said, “in order to grow, I know I’m going to need some outside financing.”
NEW YORK — Susana Monaco has her own system of test-marketing.
Each season, she passes her designs on to friends — a writer in Los Angeles, a painter in Paris, a lawyer in Miami and a photographer in New York — to get their input on fit, color and durability. And each season, she mixes the paints herself for 10 colors she runs in her line and chooses just one fabric in which to produce the entire collection.
But if this formula sounds a little too homespun for slick Seventh Avenue, her store list doesn’t reflect it. Nordstrom’s, Bloomingdale’s and Barneys New York, as well as specialty stores like Fred Segal and Scoop NYC, are snapping up her clean, constructed, yet comfortable shapes that wholesale for about $100. Her design philosophy will result in $1 million at wholesale this year.
It’s only been 1 1/2 years since she left a career in custom work behind, sold her Jeep to finance her business and teamed up with her best friend from college as a business partner.
It was nearly inevitable that Susana Monaco would have her own label. She was surrounded by fashion as a child. Monaco, her mother and five sisters are from a long line of tailors, and her father owns a clothing manufacturing plant, where her collection is produced. After studying art in high school, she attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, where she majored in illustration, before changing to fashion design.
“It took sketching one step further,” says Monaco. “The actual making of designs was more three dimensional, like sculpting.”
And sculptural is how you can describe some of Monaco’s looks, especially the all-Supplex nylon spring collection, cut in such colors as paprika, steel blue, black and icy lemon.
“Our customer knows what to expect with this line,” said Monaco. “It’s not driven by trends, per se, but by clean and distinctive silhouettes.” But that doesn’t mean this line is full of classics. At a recent movie premiere, a very pregnant Heather Locklear wore one of the designer’s very sexy, short fitted halter dresses. In addition to the Studio 54-style tube dresses and halters, there are clean ankle-length, V-neck dresses with three-quarter sleeves.
When Monaco first started the business, she designed, sewed and sold the line herself. When she met with Henri Bendel buyers to show the line, they referred her to Annette Breindel, owner of the Annett B showroom. The line is now sold there, along with Chaiken & Capone, Rebecca Taylor, Geronimo by Stephen DiGeronimo, Helen Wang and William B.
“Susana’s clothes are terrific because there is something for everyone,” said Breindel. “There are body-conscious pieces for the stores that sell to a younger customer and styles that are more covered-up for the stores that sell to a more mature customer.” The young, hip sales staff at the showroom loves not only the look of Monaco’s styles but the fact that her pieces can actually be thrown in the washer.
Monaco says she decided to design contemporary sportswear “because that’s how I live.” Ironically, Monaco, the entrepreneur, is having a hard time finding time for a life outside of operating her business. “I don’t even have time to do my laundry.” But beyond the laundry troubles, Monaco says the best part of running her own business is adding dots to her world map; she loves seeing new red spots in places like Asia, Canada and the Caribbean.
A Renaissance In Hell’s Kitchen
NEW YORK — When Judy Barnes and Tracey Stewart moved into the top floor of a 49th Street factory building a few years ago, at least five buildings on their block were in ruins.
Their neighborhood, Hell’s Kitchen, was better known for illicit drug activities and prostitution than the haven it has recently become for young advertising executives, artists, actors and a surprisingly tight-knit community of designers. More than a dozen new businesses — bars, florists, hair salons and restaurants — have opened between Eighth and Tenth Avenues and from 46th to 49th Streets in the past year.
The neighborhood, just west of Manhattan’s Theater District, has been booming, thanks to the proximity of media and advertising firms such as HBO, MTV and Ogilvy & Mather, as well as new technology companies moving into Worldwide Plaza. Also new medium-rent, high-rise apartment buildings along Tenth Avenue have brought a younger professional crowd into the district.
Amid the area’s renaissance, Barnes and Stewart have remodeled their giant loft into a live-and-work space as the neighborhood was revitalized. The five decrepit buildings on their block have since been restored.
“Hell’s Kitchen is more mature than the East Village,” said the 32-year-old Barnes, who designs an edgy leather-and-burlap sportswear collection with Stewart, her husband of two years. “There are no stereotypes here. Where the East Village is completely for the funky, cool, trendy, clubby set, Hell’s Kitchen is a place where you can dine out and hang out all the time. It’s not expensive.”
Barnes, who started out selling dresses at the Fourth Street flea market while studying film at New York University, now focuses on developing the Urban Myth collection. Stewart, who is 30 and is a foreman at a nearby metal refinishing company, contributes with industrial-inspired accessories, such as hand-laced hard leather bags and burnished steel belt buckles for Barnes’ dresses. Both take design inspiration from the cultural mix and dramatic redevelopment of the community.
They are also working with other young designers to promote Hell’s Kitchen and share in the expense of marketing their lines. Barnes and Stewart staged a runway show in August along with 28-year-old Elizabeth Hutson, who runs Orchid Clothing Company, a contemporary dress and sportswear line. The designers also jointly send out their biographies and video tapes of the fashion show to retailers.
“We all live together in the neighborhood, and we happened to start talking one day about doing business here,” Barnes said. “We shared our ideas about where we saw everything going and how to get there.”
Hutson, who works out of her home on West 46th Street, said the idea appealed to her because she designs her clothes with the Hell’s Kitchen customer in mind.
“I use a lot of bold colors,” Hutson said. “I’m not one for safe grays — it’s just not me. Mine is an urban contemporary women’s line for someone who’s not shy, but who is professional — someone between the designer and junior customers.”
The designers also network with David Ryan, whose eponymous hair salon at 451 West 46th Street is a neighborhood draw, and Colette Widrin, who opened a boutique next door to the salon in June. Widrin carries dresses from Barnes and Stewart’s Urban Myth label and Hutson’s Orchid, as well as accessories from Beth Rosen, Leslie Nuss and Erin Nevins, who all live in the area.
“When I decided to open a store, I felt that I could support young designers with small collections, but I had to decide whether that would be in the East Village or here,” Widrin said. “The cool thing about Hell’s Kitchen, and why I decided to open here, is that it still has a neighborhood feel. I’ve become friends with people I see walking down the street. People are always thinking that Hell’s Kitchen is full of hookers and crack addicts, but it’s really changing.”
For instance, new restaurants and shops such as Citron, the Vinyl Diner, Bar Nine and Terrastacio have all opened in the area in the last three years. There’s a Zen Palate across the street from Colette, and a store that will sell apparel and housewares made of hemp is scheduled to open a block away next year, Widrin said.
There’s also Spoiled Brats, Mike Rum’s pet store at 340 West 49th Street, where several of the neighborhood artists and designers meet. Dennis Glenn and ready-to-wear designer Bobby Burns, who live a block away, stop by often.
“It’s a neighborhood place to come,” Glenn said. “I just dropped my laundry off, but I thought I’d come and talk to Mike. This place is set up really eclectically, and Mike’s completely wild.”
Barnes and Stewart often drop by for coffee on the way to the Garment Center to pick up supplies.
“It’s how this neighborhood is. Everybody knows everybody,” Barnes said. “That, and they also have the cutest guys working there.”
NEW YORK — When Douglas Hannant was a display director for Barneys New York, and while creating displays for stores like Bloomingdale’s and Filene’s since the early Eighties, he saw too many customers leaving the stores empty-handed and frustrated.
“Everything in the stores was overly trendy, street-inspired, or so minimal it was just too basic,” said Hannant. “There was very little tasteful clothing with any detail at all. And there was too much sameness.”
So, instead of altering the clothes that came into the store to his liking, he thought he would design his own line. That was 1992, and the aspiring designer teamed up with his partner, Frederick Anderson, a former member of the Joffrey Ballet, to start an event-planning company to drum up the funds for their dream business — a designer collection. They gave themselves four years to save.
They made their goal with one year to spare, opening their first collection in 1995. In its first season, the Douglas Hannant collection was snapped up by Bergdorf Goodman. Now in its seventh season — he does three collections a year — his clean-lined designs, wholesaling from $150 to $1,500, sell at Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom, in addition to many specialty stores around the country.
Hannant takes a fine arts approach to design — as an undergraduate, he studied painting — using sculptural shapes in ultra-luxe fabrics with plenty of hand details.
“Clothing should be something that is added to the wardrobe from year to year and not disposed of with every whim of fashion,” he averred. “I want to create timeless pieces with a modern edge.”
Taking a cue from such designers as Balenciaga, Yohji Yamamoto and Halston, Hannant believes in individuality. For spring, there is nary a clam-digger in the line. There’s silk metallic for cardigans, delicate knit dresses with Chantilly lace cutouts, metallic mesh layered over pailletted chiffon for sleek wrap tops and silk that looks like denim for sharply cut jackets and skirts.
Two signatures appear on the line each season: buttery napa leathers and sculpted jackets with collars that stand away from the neck.
While Hannant has remained true to his mission as a designer, he maintains that doing something different from the trend-driven commercial masses is difficult.
“The hardest part for a young designer is getting your message heard. It seems advertising has become almost more important than the clothing itself these days, and when you’re new, there is no money for advertising. So, it’s a constant educational process at the stores. I think it’s so rewarding when a buyer, an editor or — most of all — a customer really gets it. We’re lucky because we have many people in the industry who are supportive of us, and we are building a steady customer base in stores season by season.”