NEW YORK — Whether it’s a ready-to-wear designer exploring sportswear or bridal designers expanding into eveningwear, vendors are braving the economy and branching out. Here’s a look at what six firms are doing to separate themselves from the pack.

This story first appeared in the June 4, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Linda Loudermilk

Los Angeles-based Linda Loudermilk was originally a sculptor before entering the apparel industry with her eponymous eveningwear line. Previously available only to celebrities out of her Los Angeles atelier, the designer is now set to show her spring 2003 line at the Paris ready-to-wear shows in October.”We met with someone from the Chambre Syndicale and they weren’t sure if we should show at the Pret-a-Porter shows or the haute couture shows,” said the designer. On why she chose to show in Paris, Loudermilk said: “The line is very European and the response that I get in the U.S. is that it’s a European style.”

Furthering the European styling, the line will be manufactured in San Marino, Italy, starting with the spring 2003 collection. Styles for the line range from leather bustiers to full-length leather gowns trimmed with Swarovski crystals.

“It was a natural progression into clothing design because I used to do sculpture with metal objects on the body,” Loudermilk said. “If I wanted to be an artist I would just do my sculpture, but I really enjoy business, so combining the two was natural.”

Since Loudermilk said she thinks edgy clothing today is cut for younger clients, the designer plans to fit her clothes on numerous body types.

Inspirationally, the line is based on Loudermilk’s intuition of trends and nature, which the designer said translates into lots of leather gowns with woven leather details in solid colors like black and white.

According to Ashley Acree, director of sales and marketing, the line is expected to reach sales between $250,000 and 300,000 for spring 2003.

Bill Blass Coats

After using Loro Piana’s “Storm System” fabrics in limited outerwear pieces this spring, Bill Blass Coats created a 15-piece line using the water-repellent and wrinkle-free technology in heavier fabrics supplied by the high-end Italian mill. Previously, Storm System technology was primarily used in lightweight rain slickers.

New York-based coat manufacturer Rose Cloak & Suit Co. holds the license for Blass outerwear and has struck up a special agreement with Loro Piana to use Storm System technology exclusively in camel hair, wool and wool and cotton blend fabrics for women’s coats, raincoats and outerwear.

The line features toggle coats, carcoats and peacoats, as well as full-length styles in rich fabrics including cashmere, camel hair, mohair, corduroy and tweed. There are also traditional quilted coats and some nylon pieces.

The line is designed in conjunction with Bill Blass Ltd., but is manufactured in contracted factories in Italy and Poland, according to Rose Cloak vice president Ron Gallo.

“We tested it out in spring 2002, but it’s going to explode in fall,” Gallo said, who said he expects sales volume to reach $2 million for fall.

Wholesale prices for the line start at $545 and run as high as $2,295 for a black nylon coat with zip-out mink lining.

Donna Haag

Citing more sales potential for a lower-priced line than her designer-priced ready-to-wear label, Donna Haag’s secondary line, DH2L, made its debut for fall 2002 retailing with a wholesale price range between $65 and $300.

The designer said she expects first-year sales revenue of $1 million for the sportswear line and plans on selling to both specialty and department stores.

“The potential for these price points is greater, so it’s a way to expand the business,” Haag said.

According to Haag, mixing different types of fabrics creates a special look, such as placing an ultrasuede detail across the waistband of a tie-dyed satin dress. Another example of fabric play is the placement of chiffon inserts in the seams of a stretch denim dress. Other fabrics like double-faced jersey and stretch satin are apparent throughout the line.

“For the designer line, there’s a lot of [customization] and we work with the mills to change colors so they’re exclusive to us,” Haag said. “We continued to do this with the sportswear.”

Michelle Roth

The idea for Michelle Roth’s evening line sprouted when the Australian-born bridal designer started reworking her client’s wedding gowns to wear as evening gowns. For spring 2003, Roth will introduce a true evening line to be sold separately from the bridal, though she said she will continue offering her popular wedding dress recycling program.

“My national bridal clientele didn’t want to let the Michelle Roth experience stop after the wedding,” Roth said. “With my eveningwear, I won’t have the restraints, so I can really let loose.”

One area where Roth will loosen things up is in the bust. “There will be cleavage for sure,” said the designer. “But it will be modest cleavage.”

Roth said her main objective is to create wearable clothes that are comfortable, rather than overbearing. Slip dresses and bias-cut numbers with lace overlays will keep the line light and airy, Roth said, while a combination of French and U.S. fabrics, such as Chantilly lace, thin charmeuse, four-ply silk and some denim, will add diversity and luxury. Colors will be earth tones like tarnished bronzes and golds, in addition to basic black and navy, Roth said.

The line will be manufactured entirely in New York, with wholesale prices of $1,000 to $4,000.

“Not everyone is going to the Oscar’s every night of the year, so the look has to be light and not overly beaded,” she said, while citing her golden rule: “If I don’t feel comfortable wearing the piece, then it’s not part of the collection.”

According to codesigner Henry Roth, the line is expected to generate sales of $2.5 million to $3 million this year.

Peter Langner

Best known for his high-end wedding gowns, Peter Langner reacted to strong demand from clients and retailers in the U.S. and launched a small special-occasion collection for spring retailing. The line is currently available at select stores, such as Rizik Bros. in Washington, D.C., and Yolanda’s in Waltham, Mass.

For fall, the line is aimed at better department stores in Europe, the U.S. and Canada, such as Harvey Nichols, Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys New York, according to Langner.

With the help of 29 women in his Rome-based atelier, Langner created 20 dresses that range in style from strapless silk gowns with crystal beading to delicate chiffon pieces with organza appliques.

The handcrafted quality found in Langner’s bridal work is present in the evening collection, since both come out of the same studio, but the two lines differ in style. The bridal is more tailored and architecturally constructed, whereas the eveningwear is less rigid and sexier, the designer noted.

Langner also employs three full-time embroiderers who give him the ability to make fabrics more elaborate, whether it’s by encrusting an entire dinner jacket out of crystal or by adding beads to a lace bodice. Langner also works closely with Italian mills to make special fabrics for his designs, furthering the customization element of his work.

Rather than creating gowns from a sketch as most designers do today, Langner drapes muslin over a mannequin to get the desired silhouette and drape of a gown — a practice normally associated with couture designers.

Langner said creating a small niche where success isn’t associated with volume is his main objective.

“There are a lot of companies that are doing great business, but they try to get as many gowns out as possible,” he said. “I’m not able to make 4,000 gowns with the quality I have. I don’t want to cut quality and service for production.”Landed U.S. wholesale prices for the evening line range from $1,100 to $2,600, with some pieces reaching as high as $4,900. Langner said he wants to keep retail distribution limited and projects first-year sales volume to come in around $250,000.

Emilio Cavallini

After producing his own line of hosiery for 32 years, as well as private label legwear for retailers such as Banana Republic and Express, Emilio Cavallini has entered the ready-to-wear market with a small collection of seamless dresses and separates made from circular knitting machines.

The apparel is made alongside the hosiery in Cavallini’s Florence, Italy-based factories using nylon, wool, viscose and cotton blends. The line makes its debut for the fall retail season and is targeted at specialty stores. The wholesale price range is between $30 and $80.

Lisa Cavallini, who is Emilio Cavallini’s daughter and president of the company’s U.S. operations, said she expects first-year sales revenues for the apparel to reach $10 million.”

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