It all started with a pair of blue jeans in 2012, but Frame hit its first pop cultural milestone in 2015 when the Le High Flare Stretch Denim Overall appeared on “It” girls Kate Bosworth, Lily Aldridge, Alessandra Ambrosio and Poppy Delevingne all spring. It’s telling of the brand’s evolution that its most-photographed item in 2018 wasn’t denim but a $2,495 black leather trenchcoat beloved by models Kaia Gerber, Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid.
But then again, Frame cofounders Jens Grede and Erik Torstensson know a thing or two about branding and image. As the founders of fashion and entertainment marketing firm Saturday Group, creative agency Wednesday and magazines Man About Town and Industrie, they honed their aesthetic long before creating product for Frame.
“I don’t think Frame was about denim necessarily. There was a Frame before there was a pair of jeans. If you look at what we did in the early days, there was a strong thread in all our personal projects. You come to a point where you have worked for so many incredible brands that you kind of want to try it for yourself and see if all your ideas can materialize in something physical,” Grede said.
In 2018, the company generated $250 million in retail sales and is projected to hit $400 million in 2019. Ready-to-wear, introduced in 2015, now accounts for 50 percent of the business, and by mid-2020, Frame will have expanded into accessories, footwear and swimwear.
The Los Angeles-based Frame has grown steadily since its first year, when it tallied $6 million in sales.
“After that, it was $22 million, then 45, 60, 90 and 125,” Torstensson said. With more than 2,000 wholesale accounts worldwide and six brick-and-mortar stores, the company’s distribution focus is now on retail and e-commerce.
“We haven’t pushed the button in terms of mass distribution. We are happy with our wholesale footprint, and in fact, we can reduce it as we grow our retail,” said Grede, who is inspired by fellow Angeleno James Perse, who scaled back his wholesale network to focus on his own stores.
“He controls the brand beautifully. That’s where our business is going,” Torstensson said.
He likens Frame and its L.A. denim contemporaries to The North Face and Moncler.
“North Face is an outerwear brand that might do fashion and Moncler is a fashion brand that happens to do outerwear. A lot of our contemporaries who make denim in L.A. are denim brands that do fashion. We are a fashion brand that happens to do denim,” he said.
Frame’s first handbag, a streamlined leather tote introduced exclusively in its retail stores last February, has since sold out and has spawned a mini version due in the spring.
Said Torstensson, “We always ask ourselves, ‘Are we allowed to do this as a brand?’ Our woman already has her handbag and heel from one of the super brands. What is our job in the handbag business for her? I call it best supporting actress. There is lead actress that might be Chanel or Louis Vuitton and Frame has a great job in supporting that. It can be head-to-toe or 9-to-5, which is a big job.”
While they maintain that they “have no business in eveningwear,” they do see opportunity in sneakers, which will launch this fall.
“California is so inspirational to the whole world now. People everywhere in the last five years have migrated from a more uptight way of living and dressing. Now we ask ourselves, ‘Would Jen Atkin, Jessica Alba or Kelly Sawyer like that?’” Torstensson said.
Rather than closing retail doors, Frame plans to open five to six more in the next 12 months. Its latest store will open in Miami’s Design District in May and the company is looking at Austin, Tex.; the Georgetown section of Washington, D.C.; Boston; Chicago, and additional locations in New York and L.A. Other possibilities include Silicon Valley and Palm Beach, Fla.
“We’d rather have more stores in fewer states where we have a stronger brand presence. And we do best where there is a real luxury customer, so Greenwich, [Conn.]; Aspen, [Colo.], and Highland Park in Dallas are on fire right now,” Grede said.
Looking forward, Grede said, “Our hope is to have built a strong ready-to-wear brand out of L.A. into a global concern. We want to be the next Calvin Klein. Tory Burch did a great job packaging her Upper East Side lifestyle and selling it to the whole world, and we almost want to be the counter-balance, the California way.”