LUTZ & PATMOS: RESEARCH INSPIRES CASHMERE LINE

Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — For this fall’s launch of Lutz & Patmos, their signature line of cashmere sweaters and accessories, Tina Lutz and Marcia Patmos scoured a variety of stores and mills around the world to get a handle on the market.
While the U.S. will be the focus for the launch, the line will also be shown to European retailers later this month.
The duo became friendly five years ago, while designing Barneys New York’s private label Basco line. After the retailer filed for bankruptcy, Basco sportswear was one of the first financial casualties.
“We talked about doing our own thing for so long,” Lutz said. “But we knew it was such a big step and we would need to do so much research.”
The research led to Lutz and Patmos checking out 15 yarn mills, convincing 200 friends and family members to complete quality-related surveys, creating a customer profile, scouting hundreds of stores in the U.S. and abroad to see for themselves how they might broaden their mix and drafting detailed reports about their potential competitors’ production and distribution. All this was done prior to any design work.
“There are so many lines out there that you can’t tell what the focus is,” Lutz said. “To compete, we felt we really needed to have focus.”
Having worked in the fashion industry for 22 years combined, Lutz, a designer for Nuala, a yoga-inspired line, and Patmos, a freelance designer for Kate Spade, knew they would have to do some serious legwork.
“With all the lines out there, we knew to start a company we had to focus on one thing,” Patmos said.
Their customer profile, which they refer to as “the movie,” spells out everything from favorite actresses like Jean Seberg and Charlotte Rampling to preferred modes of transportation. Think classic Volvo, bicycle or high-speed trains. The profile makes other eclectic claims. For example, the Lutz & Patmos customer relaxes when reading The Herald Tribune, The New Yorker or Smithsonian, and enjoys the occasional cigarette or doughnut.
The movie also highlights a battery of other interests, including her mental stimulation — NPR, BBC, CNN and the Internet.
“Before designing anything, we wanted to create a movie to describe our customer — what she reads, where she shops — to have her visually in front of us,” Lutz said. “Now we can keep our movie in mind when we design anything.”
The initial collection consists of 10 sweaters, two hats and two scarves, made of Scottish cashmere and produced in Italy. Wholesale prices range from $285 to $600 for sweaters, and $87 to $235 for accessories. Colors include thunder gray, fire red, heaven blue and cloud pink. This week the line is being shown to retailers in Paris.
Julie Gilhart, vice president of fashion merchandising for Barneys New York, said “The level of quality is outstanding” and the designers have “a very modern sensibility.”
“They have enough experience under their belts that they know how to execute it and present it. I think they will do very well,” she said. “It’s simple, but beautifully complicated.”
This fall’s four groups — Kilimanjaro, New York, Berlin and Tokyo — each have items named after areas and things true to their respective locations. A 16-ply cardigan coat in the Kilimanjaro group is called Arusha, after a nearby village. Berlin has the six-ply “bauhaus” sweater that can be worn on or off the shoulder, and Tokyo has the “Asahi” hip-length belted turtleneck with slight bell sleeves. The latter happens to be Lutz’s favorite Japanese beer.
In terms of New York, the duo is partial to the West Village, where their sweaters splash color in Lutz’s minimalist West 13th Street apartment. There’s the two-ply Leroy crewneck, the Horatio turtleneck, the Perry scarf and the Morton beret.
Lutz said her friend and neighbor Christy Turlington, who has started two businesses, Nuala apparel and Sundari skin care, has been a great inspiration and often offers her input. Well aware of escalating cashmere prices and the wobbly economy, Lutz and Patmos said they knew their brand had to have a point of view.
The pair also took into account how their own shopping habits have changed in recent years. No longer interested in hunting for trends that expire quickly, they said they prefer to invest in items that will last for years, but aren’t plain basics.
Small shoulders, ergonomically designed side seams and logo mother-of-pearl buttons are key features. Even the company’s logo involved some homework. They went with an old engraver font that was initially used for the stone exteriors of bank buildings.
Lutz & Patmos plans to offer translucent storage envelopes to protect the cashmere items from moths and humidity, or to use for travel. Each item will also have a yarn card and washing instructions enclosed in an envelope imprinted with the brand’s logo.
There are no plans for advertising at this point because, Lutz said, “We want this to be really special and for people to find out about it through word-of-mouth.”