Byline: Katherine Weisman

PARIS — “The idea of the whole project is to bring back the designer edge to Cacharel without the premium price points,” says Inacio Ribeiro. “It’s about going back to France in the Seventies, when the real pret-a-porter was emerging.”
Ribeiro is half of the husband-and-wife design team Clements Ribeiro; the two have just been named artistic directors of Cacharel with a 3 1/2-year contract. While their first effort will be focus exclusively on relaunching women’s ready-to-wear for spring 2001, future seasons will have Clements Ribeiro overseeing all Cacharel branded goods from children’s wear to accessories, with the exception of fragrances, which are licensed to French cosmetics giant L’Oreal.
Ribeiro and Suzanne Clements were here last week for internal meetings and to meet the fashion press.
In an interview with the designers at Cacharel’s headquarters here on Rue Tronchet, Cacharel founder Jean Bosquet was frank about the challenges facing his company and how these led to hiring internationally known designers to rekindle the 38-year-old label.
“In 1998, we asked ourselves, do we want to stay a family company or do we want to seek partnerships? We decided to stay family-owned, and then we needed to figure out how to successfully stay independent,” said Bosquet. “The answer was that we had to be present on the international market and try to meet the consumer demand for the brand.” The first step in the restructuring was closing down company-owned apparel factories in France last year due to the high cost of labor, which translated into a bad price-quality ratio. Now Cacharel sportswear is manufactured mainly in Italy with some portions of the collections being sourced in Asia. At the same time, Cacharel moved its design, sales and marketing offices to Paris from its historical headquarters in Nimes.
This year saw the March 1 appointments of Clements Ribeiro; Annick Gorman, a fashion and retail veteran who has worked with the Printemps and Galeries Lafayette department stores here, Esprit in San Francisco and Celine, as creation and communications director, and Marcel Libaud, formerly with Lagerfeld and Givenchy, as head of research.
The investments on the creative side have totaled roughly $2.7 million, Bosquet said. On top of that, there will be heavy investments in visual merchandising and a new ad campaign, all to be developed by Work in Progress. That budget has not been established yet.
The first step, however, is to bring Cacharel’s rtw to the fore. To do so, Clements Ribeiro will have a strong focus on tops and blouses, especially those using the colorful Liberty fabrics that helped to establish Cacharel’s foothold in fashion years ago.
“Between 1975 and 1980, we were a top exporter to U.S. stores. We were in ‘diffusion’ ready-to-wear, but it was very wearable,” said Bosquet. “Now we realize that our clothes didn’t correspond to the client; they were not trendy. The new collections will be much more creative.”
That creativity comes at a price. Beginning with spring, the Cacharel women’s line will cost about 10 percent more than current prices but remain 10 to 20 percent lower than designer rtw prices, Bosquet explained. Average French wholesale prices start at about $41 for shirts and reach $53 for knits. Pants and skirts will wholesale on average for $51. Dollar prices are converted from the French franc at current exchange rates.
Clements and Ribeiro feel they are up to the task.
“We’re very excited about designing real clothes. I think the luxury thing is getting so boring. What we’re doing is a bit like Joseph, which offers a totally wearable but up-to-date wardrobe. Cacharel, though, will have a strong injection of creative designer input,” explained Ribeiro. “It will be commercial, but very relevant in terms of the international designer scene.”
Bosquet, in fact, is looking to fill a niche that he’s identified between designer rtw and creative sportswear. He refers to Agnes b., which boasts the price points he’s after, but he feels that line is too basic. Then he cites Banana Republic.
Ribeiro pipes in, helping to define the niche by saying he sees the new Cacharel women’s line being sold on the fifth floor of Bergdorf Goodman or in Barneys Co-op.
In more concrete terms, Cacharel would like to win six to 10 sales points in the U.S. for spring 2001. The headquarters here will manage American sales for the first season, but then Bosquet would like to set up a distribution agreement there for subsequent seasons. Cacharel is exported to such markets as Greece, Russia, Turkey and Japan via distribution agreements. The company manages Europe internally. The brand boasts about 80 freestanding stores worldwide; roughly 20 of these are wholly owned, and of those 20, 15 are in France.
In this restructuring, all parties acknowledge that the brand has been strengthened more by fragrances, with the perennial bestseller Anais Anais or the newer blockbuster Noa, rather than by rtw. Ironically, they also see as an advantage the fact that the Cacharel name, fragrances aside, is not well known in the U.S.: It enables the company to start from scratch.
“It’s exceptional to own the brand behind leading perfumes,” remarked Bosquet, who likens the current Cacharel story to Sleeping Beauty. “We could not wake up the brand if it wasn’t already strong.”
Bosquet, 68, could take the easy path and retire rather than tackle the harshly competitive diffusion market. But that’s not in the cards for now.
“Hey, I created the baby, and I want to see it grow. Plus, I have two children, a son and a daughter, who have started to work with us, and perhaps they will want to continue,” Bosquet says. “Why stop now?”