Byline: Leonard McCants / Julee Greenberg

NEW YORK — It’s been said that luxury consumers are the last ones to feel the pinch of an economic downtown. Three designers, who are introducing new high-end collections for fall, hope this notion remains true as consumer confidence in the economy falters.
For Hilton Hollis and Shani, this is the first time they have their names on labels, and they have both chosen eveningwear for their signature forays.
Hollis, a 1999 graduate of the Fashion Institute of Technology, has launched his first solo effort, a six-piece eveningwear collection inspired by Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s use of primary and saturated color.
Besides using the 19th-century painter as a design muse, learning from Toulouse-Lautrec’s triumph over personal difficulties helped Hollis as he assembled his first design effort, he said.
“Toulouse-Lautrec had to overcome so many obstacles in his life,” Hollis said. “He was a dwarf and knew that he would not live a long life, yet he was a go-getter and defied the odds.”
Hollis, who is 26 years old, said he started sewing when he was eight years old under the direction of his grandmother, Irma Hollis Goolsby. After graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology, he worked for a year as a Dana Buchman design assistant and freelanced with John Bartlett before he started his own company in May.
Despite his relative youth, Hollis said he is comfortable branching out on his own now.
“Why do you think that I have to have five years in the business working for someone else?” he asked. “If [other designers] can do it, I can do it. If you’ve got the drive and the passion for it, then do it. You have to step out on a limb sometimes.”
The six-piece collection of silk satin, silk crepe and silk chiffon dresses wholesales for $535 to $1,310.
Although it’s too early for him to think about sales projections, Hollis said he has appointments with a few retailers and has garnered support from several private clients.
“The one thing that I really want is criticism,” Hollis added. “And I want them to be totally honest.”
Coming from a range of experience in the industry, Shani said, “I’ve always wanted to design. These are the clothes I like: pretty, fun, feminine and flirty.”
Shani, who uses only the one name professionally and socially, worked at Seventh Avenue firms Kathyn Dianos and Nicole Miller, and retailers Ann Taylor and Talbots. Her first eveningwear collection runs from cocktail dresses to dinner suits for the “mature customer who wants to look young,” said Jim Piscitello, division head of marketing, sales and merchandising.
Wholesale prices range from $145 to $195 for dresses and $175 to $295 for suits and ensembles, Piscitello said. While he predicts $2 million in sales after the first year, he has plans to grow Shani’s business to $10 million within the next three years.
“We are in the process of building a foundation for this company,” he said. “While I am positive we are going to continue with this pretty clothing for evening, I can see Shani designing for after-five, as well.”
For Renee DuMarr, a designer-priced suit resource, fall is a time for brand extension. So, she’s introducing a sportswear collection using the same luxury materials from her ready-to-wear line, including fox trim, cashmere, silk jacquard, silk satin and velvet.
DuMarr, in business for 11 years, said the new collection will continue to follow her principles of designing “feminine and chic” clothing that gives the wearer “internal strength.” But it would also “fit more of my customer’s needs than one part of her life,” she said.
The sportswear collection wholesales for $125 to $495. DuMarr conservatively expects first year’s sales volume in sportswear to reach $2 million. To help achieve that goal, she hired Lisa Marie Minerva as national sales director and is looking to open a showroom in Dallas.