Byline: Godfrey Deeny

PARIS — Plenty of skeptics doubted Ines de la Fressange could mount a successful career as a designer, but the ex-supermodel arrives in New York this week at the head of a burgeoning fashion house.
This year alone, Ines de la Fressange SA has signed five licenses with established European manufacturers, moved headquarters into a new Paris townhouse, began breaking into the duty free market and seen her company’s turnover grow by 50 percent.
On Wednesday, de la Fressange will make a personal appearance at Saks Fifth Avenue, with a cocktail party in her second-floor boutique later that evening. Saks chairman Philip Miller will later host a dinner for the former Chanel muse.
“I wanted to come before, but couldn’t because I was pregnant,” explained de la Fressange as she bustled around her studio in the company’s new headquarters in the ninth arrondissement, which includes comfortable office space, a roomy atelier and spacious showroom.
In August, de la Fressange corners opened in Saks’ L.A. and San Francisco outlets, and openings are planned in Philadelphia, Boston, White Plains and Short Hills, N.J., in the next two months. These will all stock accessories and ready-to-wear, which accounts for two-thirds of the French fashion house’s turnover.
“Saks has now proposed 10 other boutiques for us in their chain. Phil Miller and Rose Marie Bravo have been great. They gave Ines a warm welcome and a great space in New York — 120 square-meters between CK and DK,” said de la Fressange president Thierry Dufresne of the lease department the company opened in Saks a year ago.
“Our aim now is to target the U.S.,” added Dufresne. The house has also created a North American subsidiary, Ines de la Fressange Inc., managed by Paulette Weisenfeld, a former Christian Lacroix executive.
In Europe, the house now owns three boutiques, one in Milan and two in Paris. It also boasts franchise stores in Lyon and Montpellier, and rtw corners in 46 multibrand boutiques in Europe, as well as retailing accessories in over 400 European boutiques.
The house has also signed a license with Gonthiez, which also makes jewelry for Chanel. This line was shown at the Paris trade fair Bijorcha in the fall and is already in over 300 sales points. In February, it will be sold on all Air France flights.
De la Fressange SA has also signed with Guene, which makes bags for Dior and Chanel, among others. “These are people who are used to doing pretty large numbers, so we are very hopeful,” smiled Dufresne.
A third license is with Yves Deshouliere for porcelain. This will be launched in January 1995, but because of the recognition of the de la Fressange name here has already made magazine covers in France, including Maison & Jardin.
Finally, the house has new carpet and swimwear licenses, the latter with Nautic, which manufactures for Chanel and Hermès. De la Fressange is also in talks with fragrance companies in France, Germany and Spain, about doing an Ines scent.
“Ines has played such a big role in the history of perfume that now she has such a great name in scents,” said Francois Louis Vuitton, who owns 51 percent of her house. De la Fressange owns 34 percent, Dufresne 10 percent and the Vuitton clan leader Henry Racamier 5 percent.
This year, the house expects turnover to rise nearly 50 percent to $7.1 million (37 million francs), and Dufresne is predicting a 40 percent gain in 1995 to $9.6 million (50 million francs). However, the fledgling house still expects to lose over $2 million this year, and a further $1 million next year.
“But we’ll be breaking even for sure in 1996,” insisted Dufresne. But does he really believe that Ines is a designer, and not just a jeune fille with good taste? “People asked us that four years ago, but eight collections later, she has definitely proved herself. She also has a great rapport with customers. We are going to sell 10,000 pieces of fashion on the Avenue Montaigne this year, so it’s clear there is a demand for her ideas. And let’s face it, Ines spent 10 years working in Karl’s studio at Chanel. Is there a better professor than him?”

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