BRYAN EMERSON: REFRESHED AND WISER

Byline: Rose Apodaca Jones

LOS ANGELES — If life is a movie, and, in these parts, it’s not unrealistic to think of it as such, gold-label designer Bryan Emerson is onto her sequel.
She’s banking that the lessons learned will make this go-round better than the original. What’s more, after 15 years in the business, which included shuttering production temporarily in 1998, Emerson is back and ready to roll.
She has her sights set on slinking her signature bias slip dresses onto the “directors or directors’ wives who aren’t interested in wearing Armani or Versace” to the upcoming Golden Globes and other awards events dominating everyone’s schedule here for the next three months.
A national sales force is in place, poised to double the current 100 doors in the next two years. Volume is expected to be about $1 million this year. Buyers will preview summer when market week begins here Friday, and fall when the line shows at Coterie in New York next month.
Today, the company’s “financially solid,” Emerson added, referring to the break in business two years ago. Although brief, the experience of losing her backer at a time when her Beverly Boulevard boutique had completed a successful first year, coinciding with the end of her first marriage, left her reevaluating her next step.
“I’d been doing it all for 12 years — designing, selling, marketing. It finally caught up with me,” she recalled.
The equestrian enthusiast retreated to Santa Fe, N.M., but soon local retailers she’d befriended encouraged her to get back into the dress business. It took only a couple of months to recharge — and realize she was happiest doing her line. Before year’s end, she returned to Los Angeles, called some of her former employees and rehung her shingle.
Today, headquarters is a 4,000-square-foot building filled with production and an in-house crew of 12, off one of the city’s theater districts on Santa Monica Boulevard. “I am so ready,” she said.
The movie metaphor extends beyond life. Emerson looks the part. Her platinum tresses and cherry lips, creme satin sheaths and the multiple strands of pearls she loves to wear are vintage Hollywood. Four small pooches — three shelties and a miniature Yorkie — each decked at the neck with a bandanna, scamper around her, settling in on the sofa or near her lace-up boots.
She describes the 1920 Craftsman home she shares with her new husband of five months as “old Hollywood,” having draped the eclectic and antique furnishings with yards of the luxurious Italian panne velvets, silk charmeuses and chiffons that have become staples in her line. The soft slip dresses, feather-and-velvet-trimmed dusters and long French Chantilly lace scarves, retailing from $200 to $1,000, also evoke Jean Harlow’s Hollywood.
“The flowing softer shapes feel sexier to me than something that’s tight on the body. I buy these softer fabrics because I love them,” she continued, “and because they are conducive to softer shapes. I don’t do constructed bodies.”
For summer, the line leads with a silk chiffon and silk crepe inspired by Thirties-era scarf prints in orchid yellow, turquoise, black and coral. Asymmetrical layering of tanks, tea-length ruffled skirts and dresses make it “the kind of special occasion dressing where you might wear a hat,” she suggested. Her creme and white sheaths, in fact, are frequently picked up as bridal gowns during the garden wedding months. She continues to use dead stock and vintage-inspired buttons in glass, carved wood, Korozo nut and bugle beads, calling them “jewelry to the clothes.”
Buttons also continue to be looped. Emerson, who frequently prefaces sentences with the fact that she was self-taught, couldn’t make button holes when she started. But the detail has become a signature and a way of strategically draping the two-sizes-fit-most clothes.
Until offering a second size last spring, her single-size line had also been the favorable end result of having no formal technical education. Key local retailers such as Maxfield and Shauna Stein had immediately scooped up the first collection, and a career was born. Emerson’s line is now available at Gloria S. in Brentwood and Wendy Foster in Santa Barbara, Calif.; Mel & Me, Providence, R.I.; Roz and Sherm, Detroit; Jean Lewis Malloy, Albany, N.Y.; and Tootsies, Dallas.
The new size chart, per retailers’ requests, splits into a 1 for small and 2 for large, working for most women size 4 to 12. “A medium customer has to decide how she wants the clothes to fit her.”
She has also refocused on the creative end with the arrival last August of Leslie Gallin, an industry veteran from New York with sales, merchandising and marketing experience from Escada, Pauline Trigere and Geoffrey Beene. Besides national sales, Gallin is working on further developing the brand through channels outside of advertising.
“This business definitely has its ups and downs, but this is what I do,” Emerson said. “I’ll probably do it in some form or another for the rest of my life.”

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