FULL SEAM AHEAD
THEY’RE YOUNG, AMBITIOUS AND PRIMED FOR SUCCESS.
Byline: Brooke Magnaghi
What do a flea market junkie, a gospel-loving Iranian, a self-professed “vintage redneck” and a die-hard Sicilian have in common? Retail success is the thread that binds these talented, but disparate young designers. Their businesses and collections may be small, but their ideas and creative energy are larger-than-life.
One case in point: 24-year-old Sicilian Fausto Puglisi. Hold onto your cannolis, folks — “megastardom,” as Puglisi so unabashedly puts it, is his mission. His mantra: “Poetry will save the world.”
Already Madonna, Britney Spears, Whitney Houston and Lil’ Kim, to name a few, have slithered into his oversexed getups and raucous Swarovski crystal jewelry. As for the “M” word? He knows all the lyrics to all of her songs by heart. “Madonna, gosh!” he exclaims. “I love her! She can ask me whatever she wants! I adore her. Yeah, baby, yeah! You’re a goddess!”
You may find yourself asking, “Is this guy for real?” Consider this: Puglisi is all about fun. “I am in love with my life,” he says. “I need to drive fast. I want to touch the sun. I don’t like fashion victims. Beauty is my obsession.”
His collection mirrors his thought process — wildly colored, glitzy, playful, sexy and slightly disconnected. The theme: Eighties meets Ancient Greece. The focus is on his wide crystal belts, chokers, rings and armlets that wholesale from approximately $400 to $2,000. There are Grecian-inspired tops that go for $700 to $800 wholesale, micro-miniskirts at about $400 and crystal-encrusted boots that start at $300. Puglisi describes his look as “a tribute to Times Square and Las Vegas, Sunset Boulevard and Star Trek.”
His retail business may be small — his line was bought by a few stores, including Seven New York and American Rag, and his volume reached approximately $65,000 last season — but the demand is growing. And there’s no question about his star power. Helen Ellis, buyer at 4510 in Dallas, describes Puglisi as, “the most energetic and hilarious person — we have so much fun when we see him! His pieces are so unique and playful.” The store has carried his accessories and some eveningwear since December with great success. “He is so passionate and enthusiastic about what he does, he’s going to be so big,” Ellis says. “The quality of his belts and accessories is really amazing.”
Meanwhile, on the other side of the pond, Tony Smith, formerly of The Smiths, teamed up with William Reid, the men’s wear designer, last year. “The fashion industry is a fragile environment to work in as an independent designer,” Reid explains. “We both felt there was strength in numbers. There aren’t many people you’d choose to have as a business partner, let alone a creative one. Tony and I just happened to strike a chord — it was instant.” At the time, Reid’s men’s collection had been around for four years and last season, the duo launched their first women’s collection, William Reid. Barneys New York, Stanley Korshak, Curve and Bond 07 immediately scooped up the collection, which reached a wholesale volume of $1 million for the debut season. “The duo at William Reid made the ‘Great Gatsby’ look new and fresh again with all their ladylike ensembles,” says Rose Clark, vp and general merchandising manager at Stanley Korshak. “It’s their time to shine — they’re revitalizing the romantic look in a realistic way.”
They’ve come a long way from their humble beginnings. Reid roughed it one summer at a lumber yard, “I had no idea I wanted to be a designer at that point. My parents were in the [lumber] business, so I think I resisted it for awhile. That was probably my worst job experience. That, or delivering pizzas!” Smith, for his part, spent a character-building stint hauling trash on the island of St. John before packing it up and heading to Parsons School of Design to study fine art.
For fall, the duo plans to launch a collection of shoes and bags, and a denim line in addition to the relaunch of Tony Smith’s collection, this time high-end and under his own name. These endeavors are all made possible by their approach to business. Smith explains, “I think we both saw an opportunity to create a company with multiple lines. Writers have workshops, artists have them. We both look at this as our own ‘workshop.”‘
While the style for the women’s spring collection was Southern in feeling, “Fall takes a slightly different direction,” says Reid. “The collection is a little more smoky, a little more jazzy — it’s got a little more Delta in it.” Adds Smith: “The William Reid woman is still a sweet, innocent Southern girl, but now she’s sneaking out her bedroom window at night — ‘Days of Heaven’ meets ‘Thelma and Louise’!” As for their personal styles — “vintage redneck,” claims Reid, “As in jeans and rare concert T-shirts.” Smith, on the other hand is “heavily into jeans — worn with a really nice sweater. If he’s vintage redneck, I’m modern Mayflower!”
“When it comes to my wardrobe, I prefer the classics,” says 34-year-old designer James Coviello. “For my Manhattan apartment and my house upstate, it’s 19th-century ephemera and exotica.” It’s no wonder his clothing and accessories collections have a distinctly vintage aesthetic. He describes his collection as “romantic, personal and detail oriented,” adding, “I really love history.” In fact, his favorite period in fashion is 1875 to 1900. “I think this also influences my collections in a different way each season.” He also finds great inspiration in flea markets. “Whenever I travel, I set my schedule around the local markets. I even went to Bangkok because of a particularly great one.”
Known for his intricate knitwear and artsy hats, Coviello got his start about 13 years ago designing jewelry at Erickson Beamon. Then a friend asked him to make a hat for Grace Jones, and his first hat collection bowed just months later, and was quickly picked up by Barneys New York, Bloomingdale’s and several specialty stores. Soon, his chapeaux were appearing in runway shows for the likes of Oscar de la Renta, Geoffrey Beene, Anna Sui, Calvin Klein and Gianni Versace. After 10 years of designing hats and knitwear, Coviello decided that the time was right to start producing a full-fledged ready-to-wear collection.
Fall 2001 will be Coviello’s fourth season designing clothes. Last season he staged his first runway show which was wildly successful. The collection wholesales from $30 for a novelty T-shirt to $600 for a shearling coat. Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Bergdorf Goodman, Fred Segal and Bond 07 all carry the line which reached a wholesale volume of $500,000 last season. Jennifer Wheeler, director of designer sportswear for Nordstrom, says, “we love his collection for its artisan, vintage qualities — not to mention his combinations of unique prints with special knitwear.” And, she adds, “we believe James is a rising star and are thrilled to be able to introduce our customers to his collection this spring.” In the future, Coviello plans on expanding his accessories line to include shoes and bags as well as leather goods. “I also can’t wait for my first store.”
Thirty-two-year-old Morteza Saifi prides himself on his imaginative tailoring techniques — the fruits of which are delightfully unique. “My work is not simple or minimal. It’s complex in construction with sculptural silhouettes,” he says. The sleeves of a jacket from his spring collection, for example, were taken from a pattern of a glove. It was precisely this desire to experiment that led Saifi to drop out of both F.I.T. and Parsons where he felt creatively stymied, despite the reputation of both for turning out talented designers.
Born in Iran, Saifi worked with his uncle, a clothing manufacturer, until he moved to the United States with his family when he was 19. “That experience initiated my interest in designing,” he says. He became a freelance illustrator at various Seventh Avenue firms. Finally, in February 1999, he presented his first collection which he describes as “an innocent effort — it was completely uncommercial.” So far, each collection has been thematic. “For instance, my fall 2000 collection was about weaving — the result of finding ways to join fabric other than sewing — and the spring 2001 line was inspired by the power, simplicity and emotion of gospel music.” His most wearable and approachable effort thus far, the spring collection was bought by Seven New York, Eva in NoLIta, A. Mason in Santa Monica and Clothing Etc. in Japan and reached a total wholesale volume of $20,000.
Joseph Quartana, buyer at Seven New York, says, “Morteza has a very ardent customer following. He likes to challenge what can and cannot be done to clothing. Spring 2001 marked an effort toward making the collection more accessible to the customer, but his couture designs are his specialty and are what his customers respond to most.” Wholesale prices range from $50 for a double-layered T-shirt to $650 for a jacket with weaving detail. As demand for his clothing increases, Saifi is actively searching for investors to help expand his business. His Web site, mortezasaifi.com, will be up in a month and he hopes that will help put his name — and his innovative designs — on the fashion map.