MILAN — “Designing today is about mixing the elements, as in ready-to-wear pieces made with couture fabrics and worn over jeans. That’s the way people dress,” says Stephen Fairchild, who will show his second collection on Sunday night at a party at the Hotel Diana Majestic.
Fairchild, who’s no fan of fashion extravagance and extravaganzas, is much more interested in salability and in creating real clothes for real women. “I want my business to work and make money,” says the 40-year-old designer. “I don’t want to be a flash in the pan.” His sentiments are echoed by Giovanni Burani, chief executive officer of the $252-million Mariella Burani Fashion Group, which has formed a joint venture with him for production and distribution. “Fairchild has a hands-on business approach and a broad vision of the market,” said Burani. The ceo added that he expects the business to hit the $15 million mark by 2005, thanks to an initial distribution to 200 sales points in Europe. He doesn’t currently sell to the U.S.
Fairchild’s concept of “affordable luxury,” with wholesale prices that average $150 for a coat and $70 for pants and knitwear, is the brand’s strength, particularly in uncertain economic times. “A woman must never feel like she’s been ripped off, but must feel confident and secure about her purchase,” he said. Rosy Biffi, owner of the hip Banner boutique in Milan, noted that she had restocked 50 percent of the spring collection because it sold so quickly. “It’s young, fresh and acknowledges the trends without being throwaway trendy,” Biffi said. “Also, the delivery for the reassortment was supersonic.” The designer, an American now living in Brussels, is the son of John B. Fairchild, the former chairman and editorial director of Fairchild Publications, who is now editor at large. Stephen acquired a European design sensibility while working as an assistant to Giorgio Armani and as the men’s wear director at Valentino. In between, he was at Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein in New York. “The Americans have a great sense of sportswear but are too puritanical, whereas the Europeans put things together in a hipper and more modern manner,” Fairchild said.
For fall, he is taking his inspiration from Marlene Dietrich in “Shanghai Express,” and he plays up the East-meets-West angle with a blend of Asian elements — think soft shoulders and asymmetric closures — and English-style tailoring from the late Twenties. “The Eastern influences, such as the kimono sleeves, paired with masculine tailoring, create the newest volume for me,” said Fairchild, who favors low-waisted pants and below-the-knee skirts. He calls the palette, with its preponderance of black and ivory, a “piano keyboard.”
Accessories include fedora hats and smaller Chinese-inspired numbers. The knits feature tone-on-tone embroidery, while other key looks are a shiny cotton and nylon trench coat with big lapels and kimono sleeves and a wool and silk jersey dress with a plunging neckline bordered by tiny ruffles.