NEW YORK — When Rory Tahari looked in her closet last year and saw a big black hole, it hit her. Where were the sophisticated urban clothes that could take her from the playground to the office to a big night out without sacrificing her comfort and style? The answer was, they didn’t exist.
So Tahari, who is married to designer Elie Tahari, created T-21, an alternative to the sloppy mommy uniform of sweatsuits or T-shirts and jeans.
It goes without saying that female designers have the inside track on what women want and need. When Donna Karan founded her own label in 1984 after a decade of working with Louis Dell’Olio on Anne Klein, one of the first things she designed was a bodysuit because she knew from experience that shirts often become untucked from pants and skirts.
“I wanted to design a collection based on the modern woman’s lifestyle,” Tahari said. “This is exciting because I know I’ve hit on something that’s not out there.”
Her line of 21 pieces stresses form and function with plenty of pockets for cash or credit cards — because sometimes Tahari doesn’t feel like carrying a purse — and innovative fabrics like double-faced jersey that can be turned inside out to double the options.
The multitasking pieces can be shortened or lengthened with snaps and zippers. Pants, dresses, jackets and skirts in silicone satin and silver-leafed cotton can be dressed up or down, depending on the occasion. The collection captures the current interest in sports apparel with racing stripes and hoodies, but is rendered sophisticated by its design.
T-21 is projected to do $5 million at wholesale in its first year.
Robert Burke, vice president and senior fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman, said, “I see hundreds of lines. I get a sense when they’re a one-note Charlie. This is based more on an attitude than a silhouette. These are very modern sportswear pieces with an edge.
“I don’t think this area has been explored that much,” added Burke. “I think Rory has just scratched the surface.”
Bergdorf’s, the first retailer to pick up the line for fall, is selling it on its fifth floor. While T-21 might be compared to Juicy Couture, Burke offered: “It’s more designed and has more of a fashion point of view. The materials, which are a little more technical and fashion-oriented, are quite impressive.
“When you see something like Juicy Couture come on the market and be as successful as it is, it means there’s a very big void there,” Burke continued. “While Juicy Couture is very successful, there are customers that want a wider version of that.”
T-21 is named after Tahari’s lucky number. She said that when she finished designing the collection and counted the pieces, lo and behold, there were 21 items.
For fall, the palette is black, white and gray. “With the first delivery, I wanted to keep it very tight and focused,” she said. “For spring, I will do a lot of color.”
A silver jacket made of silver-leafed cotton and glizzer ($298), is matte on one side and shiny on the other. It can be worn to the gym, then reversed for dinner out. Tank tops with ring buckle details are $98, and a ruched dress is $288.
Tahari, who was creative director of the Elie Tahari Collection for five years before launching T-21, said she always wanted to design pieces for that label that had a different point of view. When she came up with the idea for T-21 and told her husband she wanted to do it on her own, he launched a new company.
For sniping fashion folk who say Tahari leads a charmed life, she’s the first to agree.
“I’m lucky to have such a wonderful husband,” she said curled up on a gray wool sofa in her 48th-floor office with sweeping views of the city. “He’s been my biggest supporter.”