THE LIGHT SIDE OF PARIS: YOUNG DESIGNERS FOCUS ON CONTEMPORARY

Byline: Robert Murphy

PARIS — It may be the capital of couture, but Paris is also home to a growing number of young designers whose collections interpret this city’s chic — sans the haute price. Maxime Vibert and Laurence Dolige at Madame a Paris, Laetitia Ivanez at Les Prairies de Paris, Vanessa Bruno and Bali Barret are among a new generation of designers who are invigorating the contemporary segment here, which has been defined by names like Agnes B. and APC.
“They’re easy clothes for difficult girls,” Bruno said of her seven-year-old label, which runs the retail price gamut, from $92 for trousers to $550 for a coat. “They’re not as basic as Agnes B., but neither will they burn a hole in a girl’s wallet.” Bruno described her collection as inspired by what girls in Paris like to wear, saying, “I think it’s a style that appeals to people around the world. It’s trendy, sophisticated and pretty.”
Bruno, who operates one Paris shop as well as six boutiques in London, said sales of her line increased by 30 percent in 2000.
“There is a lot of opportunity for fashion at a good price in Paris at the moment,” said Judy Collinson, executive vice president and general merchandising manger at Barneys New York. “There is so much fashion in Paris, and young designers stay on top of the trends.” Collinson said Barneys stocks Vanessa Bruno, as well as Les Prairies de Paris, which she said perform strongly. “They are current and about fashion at the moment,” she said.
“What I’m doing is close to Agnes B.,” said Barret, 36. “We share the approach of providing fashionable pieces at inexpensive prices.” Barret, who started her eponymous line 2 1/2 years ago, said she is largely influenced by men’s tailoring. “It’s my practical side,” she explained. “But I also add small feminine touches of personality.”
Barret’s line, which is carried in 90 doors, including Bergdorf Goodman in New York and Printemps in Paris, retails between $80 for a shirt to $150 for a coat. “It would almost be easier to do more expensive clothes,” said Barret. “Trying to find fabrics that are nice, but not expensive, takes a lot of time.”
Barret said her line’s sales last year were about $1.1 million, up about 30 percent from 1999.
At Les Prairies de Paris, Ivanez also acknowledged her approach to creating price-conscious garments with a special touch is similar to that of Agnes B. and APC. “But I have a more updated, feminine approach than they do,” she claimed.
Ivanez founded Les Prairies de Paris six years ago, after trying her hand at acting. Today, she produces two collections per year of about 70 pieces, wholesaling between $75 for trousers to $140 for a coat, which are sold in 120 doors around the world. Last year, sales grew by 50 percent, she said.
“There’s a demand for a product that is young and modern, just below the designer price point,” said Ivanez, adding that her fashion is largely inspired by Paris girls. “The clothes have a very delicate side and I concentrate on details. But there’s nothing experimental about my clothes. I’ve always been interested in designing clothes that will sell.”
Madame a Paris, founded three years ago by the 24-year-old Vibert and her partner, Dolige, 32, also tries to capitalize on its Parisian touch.
“Without a doubt, this is very Parisian,” said Vibert. “Paris women are known around the world for their style and chic, so we wanted to play with that idea and make it modern and young.”
Retail prices for Madame a Paris, carried in 30 stores, including Fred Segal in Los Angeles and Kirna Zabete in New York, range from $150 for a skirt to about $600 for a coat.
“We are doing so well with Madame a Paris,” said Beth Shepard, co-owner of Kirna Zabete. “It’s so French with a je ne sais quoi; very playful, charming, sexy and sophisticated.”
Shepard contended that, at the price, Madame a Paris is a product “that is very hard to find in the U.S. It’s design with a bang for the buck.”