BREAKING OUT IN TOUGH TIMES

Byline: Eric Wilson

NEW YORK — Even during a time of fierce competition, there’s some prominent new entries into the designer market.
Istvan Francer is launching a signature collection with Fin.part. The designer, a 14-year veteran of Donna Karan, showed his collection in New York this fall and landed an exclusive with Bergdorf Goodman for spring retailing.
Piazza Sempione also brought its collection to New York with the opening of its first U.S. showroom, at 595 Madison Avenue. Designed by Yabu Pushelberg, it reflects the company’s Milan headquarters, as well as the look Sempione has developed for shop-in-shops recently opened for Neiman Marcus in its Plano, Texas, and Tampa stores.
“In the U.S., the good news is we are going to be flat next year,” said Roberto Monti, principal. “But in Europe, we’ve done 50 percent more and Japan is going to become an important market.”
In September, the company signed a distribution agreement with Sanki Shoji Co. for Japan that will include the establishment of a showroom there, plus corner shops and advertising.
Meanwhile, smaller designers like Peter Som and Liz Collins said that the often dark outlook for 2002 could result in a shakeout for new companies. But they also feel they have advantages, by having tight operations, to weather the storm.
“In some ways, it’s definitely hard for me,” Som said. “Mine is still a small company, working out of my apartment. There’s definitely not any safety net, but if you’re a bigger company, you’ve got so many employees to worry about. I’m responsible to myself.”
While spring was a tough season, orders eventually came in late, resulting in a harried production schedule. Som said he’s had good reaction to looks that are embroidered or carry lots of details, and that there was strong demand for navy as a color that is subtle without being mournful.
Collins said she didn’t lose any spring orders in the end, but expects stores to act more conservatively next year. But based on a good reaction this season, the primarily knitwear-focused designer plans to introduce a wovens grouping next season, working with a factory in Rhode Island, as well as a selection of men’s wear.
“I can’t help but be optimistic,” Collins said. “Otherwise, I’d quit.”

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