Byline: Leonard McCants

NEW YORK — Three industry veterans are looking to disprove the notion that “it’s never the right time to start a business.”
Even as retail business has suffered through a difficult fall climate, especially since the Sept. 11 attacks and this month’s anthrax incidents, Oleg Cassini, Malcolm Starr and Michael Faircloth are forging ahead with new collections for spring and fall 2002 retailing.
The trio of lines range from the better to designer price categories and are counting on a need for fresh merchandise to entice consumers’ purchases. But the companies are cognizant that conditions are problematic and they are therefore planning conservatively.

Never someone to rest on his laurels — despite his 88 years — Oleg Cassini has signed a licensing deal to produce a collection of day and evening suits in conjunction with Rousso Apparel Group.
The licensing agreement will span all of Rousso’s units. Suits will be made under the Zaralo division, career and related separates under E-Lo, and casual separates through the Rousso division.
Following the recent success of the Jacqueline Kennedy retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute and a resurgence in vintage Cassini looks, Rousso executives said this was the most opportune time to launch the better-priced collections, even in a tough retail environment. They stressed that Cassini will have design control over the lines and will help pick color stories and trends for each season.
“He still has his finger on the pulse of what’s going on in the market,” said Victor Rousso, president.
Some of the product categories will bow for spring, with all of them ready for fall 2002. The suit collection will start selling in February and will wholesale for $80 to $140, according to David Lomita, president of Zaralo, the suit division of Rousso. Separates and sets will run from $25 to $48.
“We’re trying to get to that niche,” Lomita said. “For us to capture and grow it in a volume vein, which Mr. Cassini is interested in, we need to increase the number of stores.”
He said the suit line will include skirt and pants looks and come in satins and wools, with velvet and fake fur trim.
Lomita estimates first-year distribution to count 300 doors and sales volume to reach about $14 million. The company expects Cassini brand apparel to generate about $25 million to $30 million in its first year.
“With the outlook so cloudy right now, we’re playing it very conservatively,” he added.

In a business that has become increasingly youth obsessed, women of a certain age — that is above 40 — have found that they have few options when it comes to eveningwear.
They represent a market that Malcolm Starr — an industry veteran who owned a ready-to-wear business that hit its peak in the late Sixties — will be courting, with his new collection of evening suits and separates bowing for spring retailing.
“We’re making clothing for women 35 and older because that is where the lack is for beautiful, elegant clothes,” said Sue Ng, Starr’s partner and the line’s designer. “It’s time that women had something to wear where their husbands will say, ‘Gee, you look great tonight.’ We’re not making clothing for children.”
Starr and Ng initially began presenting the 35-piece, gold-range collection during the truncated spring New York Fashion Week, and have set up shop in a new showroom at 533 Seventh Avenue.
The collection of embellished wool suits, printed silk dresses and cashmere separates will be produced in the U.S. and China and should wholesale for about $300 to $400. Starr is looking to keep initial distribution below 100 stores, with most of the focus on smaller upscale specialty shops. First-year wholesale volume, he predicted, should hit $1 million.
Starr started in the fashion business working for his father, Fred Starr, in 1953. In 1964, Malcolm Starr went to Hong Kong and bought a factory there with 72 machines and installed two Americans to run it. It was there he also met Ng, whose father worked as a subcontractor for Starr.
Malcolm Starr Inc. went public in 1969 when it produced four different collections. By the late Seventies, his Hong Kong factories employed more than 600 people and total volume topped $30 million. Starr sold the company to the Kreisler Group in 1982 and consulted for several different companies until last year.
For the past several years, Starr and Ng have discussed forming a company, and while saying there is “never a right time” to launch a new collection, Starr conceded that current conditions at retail may make it tougher to sell the line.
“The people we have been showing this to have been enthusiastic,” Starr said. “But nothing is sure until its sure.”

Michael Faircloth is ready to try it on his own again.
Away from the comfort of his Lilly Dodson boutique in Dallas, and with the spotlight still trained on him since designing First Lady Laura Bush’s inaugural ensembles, Faircloth has begun to wholesale his ready-to-wear collection for spring retailing.
Between appointments with buyers in a suite at the Waldorf-Astoria, where he showed his collection while looking for a New York showroom, Faircloth discussed his 52-piece, pants-less collection, his second attempt since folding a prior venture three years ago.
“It’s got a lot of jute embellishments and rafia embellishments,” he said. “I wanted a very feminine approach, very flowy, very soft and very cool.”
The socially driven line includes daytime looks in wool boucle and cotton, and dinner and evening ensembles in silk cloque, gazar and organza.
With wholesale prices reaching $3,800, buyers have been picking up “more sophisticated and understated” items, he said.
“What they’re saying is that they’re doing a trunk show schedule and they’ll let the clients select something more fun at that time,” he added.
Faircloth and company president Vicki Center have projected $2 million in sales the first year in about 10 doors.
“Of course, we have goals that we’ve set for ourselves,” Faircloth said. “But if we don’t obtain those goals, we’ll adjust a few things and continue with the next season.”

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