LONDON — Edgy designers here are taking inspiration from Fred Perry, the 54-year-old brand whose heritage runs from tennis whites to Mods on motorcycles.
The retro casualwear label has launched a higher-end line called Blank Canvas, which has challenged emerging British designers, including Jessica Ogden and Peter Jensen, to put a new spin on the brand’s history. They have created one-off collections for the brand, which brings their individual aesthetics to Fred Perry’s signature polo shirts and sporting silhouettes. While Fred Perry gets a boost to its design credentials, the designers can take their vision to a wider demographic.
“It isn’t catering to my usual customer base, but that doesn’t mean that market doesn’t interest me,” Ogden said. Jensen agreed. “Hopefully a customer will buy a nice Peter Jensen shirt and a cardigan from Fred Perry!”
It isn’t the first time the company, owned by the Japanese firm Hit Union, has collaborated with a designer. In 2003, the company launched a capsule line in partnership with Comme des Garçons.
“The Comme des Garçons line allowed us to speak to retailers at a more design-led level,” said Richard Martin, marketing consultant at Fred Perry, who said that the Blank Canvas line was born out of the success of the Comme des Garçons collection, which is sold at Fred Perry Laurel stores and Comme des Garçons stores, as well as retailers that carry Comme des Garçons.
“We’d sold the Comme des Garçons line to over 200 retailers who wanted more of the same,” Martin said. The Blank Canvas line will be sold through outlets, including Opening Ceremony in New York, Creatures of Comfort in Los Angeles and Colette in Paris, as well as Fred Perry’s higher-end Laurel stores. “We can deliver the line to independent retailers mid-season, when they need something fresh,” Martin said.
Ogden’s six-piece collection for spring 2006 includes looks such as an oversized dusky pink T-shirt in pique cotton, with a cotton gingham bow detail at the neck. “I wanted to take the basic polo shirt and feminize it,” said Ogden, who is known for her girlish designs. There’s also a cotton gingham skirt in washed-out pea green and brown checks, and a knit cardigan with a gingham bow tie in the line that retails from $139 for a smock tennis shirt to $204 for the oversize cardigan.
Martin hopes the partnership with designers will attract design-conscious consumers to Fred Perry’s mainline collection, too, which is priced from $92 for a polo shirt to $557 for a guardsman’s jacket.
“It tends to happen that higher-end customers will access the brand through Comme des Garçons or Blank Canvas, and then be drawn to the classic Fred Perry product,” said Martin, who added that Ogden’s line also would attract the female consumer, “who isn’t generally brand loyal, but more concerned with fashion and trend.”
Martin declined to give sales figures for Ogden’s line. “The range isn’t going to make a fortune — there are only four or six styles,” he said. “It’s more about raising the profile and position of the brand.”
Ogden’s collection, in stores for the next three months, will be followed early next year by a women’s collection by Jensen. He also has designed a three-piece men’s line for Fred Perry, which will hit stores in October, and retail from $139 for a polo shirt.
“It’s such an English brand, which is really appealing,” Jensen said. “I’ve tried to include details from my own collection, such as the very narrow fit for men’s wear and bright colors, with classic Fred Perry details.”
He has played with Fred Perry’s laurel motif, adorning his pieces with a magnified version of the logo. For the women’s wear collection, Jensen will carry through the same bright colorways and clean silhouettes.
“We’re following their shapes from the Thirties, such as the polo shirtdress,” Jensen said. “I love that it’s like an English school uniform.”
Martin declined to name future designers, but said the company would be looking for a London-based designer who favors “strong colors and prints,” for summer 2007. He also added that, along with raising the profile of the brand, Fred Perry’s retail presence would be expanding. The company is looking for space in New York and in northern Europe, with a view to opening “in the near future.”