PHILO FACTS: CHLOE INTRODUCES MCCARTNEY’S SUCCESSOR
Byline: Miles Socha
PARIS — She doesn’t have a famous last name like Jagger or Lennon.
But Phoebe Philo, Stella McCartney’s successor as the designer of Chloe, is the house’s best bet for building on the momentum of its young, sexy fashion direction, according to Chloe president Ralph Toledano.
“She really represents what the Chloe customer is about today,” Toledano told WWD. “Phoebe has, together with Stella, created the new image of Chloe. For me, it was vital to continue on that trend, which has been behind the revival of the brand name. I’m pretty sure that women will easily identify themselves with Phoebe. She’s young, she’s very attractive and she really belongs to that world.”
Philo, 27, a graduate of London’s famous Central St. Martins fashion school, has worked at McCartney’s side since she arrived at Chloe four years ago. Fashion insiders have long pegged her as the house’s most likely heir. Toledano acknowledged that he has been quietly preparing for a possible McCartney exit for almost two years. “I knew that she wanted to start her own brand name. It was important to her, and she just had to do it,” he said. “I wish her all the best.”
Toledano said he needed a “business partner” who would be fully committed to the house and its business direction.
“I’m sure our business has been handicapped in some ways by the uncertainty surrounding our designer,” he said. “Now, we are very clear where we are headed.”
The growth of the Chloe business has been dramatic in recent years. When McCartney arrived in April 1997 as the successor to Karl Lagerfeld, the volume of the ready-to-wear totaled about $2 million, according to market sources. Last year, it is believed that Chloe’s volume swelled to more than $35 million.
At present, Chloe’s top ready-to-wear line is sold in about 270 doors worldwide, including Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue in the U.S. and Harvey Nichols in London. And the new licensed See by Chloe casual collection, being produced by Italy’s Neo Res, is slated to be delivered to a total of 450 stores in its debut season this fall.
Francesco Dalla Rovere, chairman of Neo Res, said that the contract with Chloe remains intact. “Everything will proceed as usual,” he noted. “The contract is for eight years, and we will be delivering the fall-winter collection, our first See collection, as planned. We are very happy with Phoebe’s nomination. She was the one that was really the driving force behind the See by Chloe line.”
Toledano has said the See line has the potential to eclipse the volume of Chloe collection in three to four years. And on Monday, he was optimistic that McCartney’s exit would not disrupt Chloe’s growth curve. “We can even speed up the growth of the company,” he asserted.
And what about the Gucci-backed Stella McCartney line, that will likely debut for spring 2002 retailing? “We’ll have a competitor. We’ll deal with it,” he said. “I really feel there’s enough room for Stella McCartney, for Phoebe Philo, for Nicolas Ghesquiere, for all these young designers.”
Chloe was founded in 1952 by Gaby Aghion and became known for romantic, soft and feminine looks. It got a boost when luxury group Richemont bought the brand from Aghion and her business partner, Jacques Lenoir, in 1985.
Toledano noted that Chloe has survived as a ready-to-wear brand for almost 50 years and weathered the departure of Lagerfeld, who designed for the brand from 1992 to 1997.
“I believe in the strength of the brand,” he said. “The most important thing is to find your niche.”
Toledano said he has assured retailers the product positioning, pricing and styling would continue in the same direction, albeit with more of Philo’s imprint. “They’ll find the pants; they’ll find the tops; they’ll find the sexiness, the youth, the newness the fun. It’s a vocabulary. Had we decided to change direction, we would certainly have lost business.”
Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director of Neiman Marcus, said Chloe’s pants, jeans and novelty T-shirts have been among the brand’s best sellers since the house took a younger, sexier direction. She said she assumed Philo would apply the same sensibility to the collection.
To identify a McCartney successor, Toledano said he met with scores of designers from Paris, the U.S. and the U.K. But he said none made a stronger impression than Philo.
Philo is on vacation and could not immediately be reached for comment. However, in a statement, she praised McCartney for allowing her to have such a “big input” into the new identity of Chloe.
“Now is the time to build on our accomplishments, making sure that Chloe becomes a product that is irresistible,” she said.
As reported, Chloe plans to introduce accessories, lingerie, footwear and a new fragrance. A complete handbag collection is expected to be introduced to the trade this summer for spring 2002 retailing. To be sure, the exit of McCartney, a staunch animal-rights activist, created new possibilities for the house in creating accessories.
“Phoebe loves the idea of working with leather,” Toledano said.