SURVIVOR
VICTOR COSTA KNOWS TO HOW TO WEATHER HARD TIMES

Byline: Holly Haber

Richard Hatch, the last one left standing at the end of television’s much publicized “reality” show, “Survivor,” has got nothing on Victor Costa.
In a business where survival is measured daily by design, shipping and sell-through, Costa has needed more lives than a cat.
For instance, the designer has had to withstand the trials of embezzlement by an employee, the bankruptcy of his Dallas firm and that of a successive backer in New York as well.
Costa’s definitely landed on his feet. His line of suits and dresses rises again, and this year, Costa’s wholesale volume will register seven times the $1 million pot Hatch had nabbed on that TV show. And while Hatch may have had his 15 minutes at the Emmys, Costa’s star is much more likely to continue to hang in there.
“Hold tight and ride the course,” were Costa’s words to the wise during a personal appearance at Neiman Marcus here. “There have to be ups and downs.
“The shooting-star people are the ones who don’t last, because they stand for one thing and when that is finished, they don’t know how to replenish with something new.”
Costa started designing bridal gowns in 1958, after obtaining a degree in fashion design that included a year at the l’Ecole Chambre Syndicale de la Couture in Paris.
“I was never anybody’s assistant,” said Costa. He found his niche interpreting couture looks at prices for the upper-middle class and the affluent. He’s still at it now, with the backing of Couture Fashions, maker of Rose Taft Couture.
And business is so hot, he thinks he’ll pull in $10 million to $12 million next year, selling to such stores at Saks Fifth Avenue and its Folio catalog; Nordstrom and Neiman’s, including Neiman’s Web site.
Costa’s even developing an overseas business and claims that Evening Dress by Marina Kourbatova in Moscow is selling and reordering his goods.
Costa’s line has excelled at retail this fall, with sparkly wool boucle suits trimmed in fox fur, as well as a laser-cut reembroidered taffeta blouse that has sold 1,000 units at Neiman’s since last spring.
The collection generally wholesales from $149 for a long dress to $420 for a lavishly embroidered gown. Separates start at $79.
Costa’s relationship with Couture Fashions is only a year old, but it has enabled him to add considerable flair to the line. He now goes to China to work with beaders and embroidery artisans to get embellished fabrics that he designs.
Costa has updated the style of his line with glitzy evening pants and bare dresses so it appeals to a broader age span.
“It still amazes me that somebody like LeAnn Rimes is wearing a Victor Costa. “Guiding Light” was just here [at the New York showroom] and ordered lots of things for different characters.”
But Costa’s mainstay is mature women, who want a lot of look for their money. For spring, Costa is big on suits, the color pink and geometric prints.
“I’m doing pink eveningwear, pink separates and pink daywear,” he said. “I look at the best in the world and interpret it for my customer at what they can afford.”
He’s working on a pink six-ply silk crepe suit that mimics the twist-style shown by Valentino, for example.
Costa has been based in New York since his own company folded five years ago in Dallas. Costa now lives in Sherman, Conn., an affluent small town. He also keeps a pied-a-terre in Manhattan.
“It’s so much easier for me to do my job in New York,” Costa reflected. “If you need something, you run out the door and it’s there — feathers, satin, whatever.”
But he still makes regular trips back to Texas. Women there, he observed, haven’t lost their taste for extravagant style.
“Over the past five years, New York has grown to dress more like Texas than Texas has like New York,” he mused. “Look at “Sex and the City,” where they wear the bag, the shoes and the jewelry.
Extravagance, however, does not have to go completely over the top.
“It’s not bad taste here, but they want the mostest,” he said of Texas. “The hair has deflated and the [hair] color has softened. With the fashion media everywhere, women cannot be oblivious to good taste anymore.”
At Neiman’s, several women approached the designer to tell him they had been keeping his dresses in their closets for years.
“He has a big following here,” commented Norbert Stanlislave, merchandise manager for the store. “His line does very well and he’s very accommodating. Both the customers and the sales associates understand the collection.”

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