NEW YORK — Geoffrey B. Small is convinced the only way to get the attention of American retailers is to show in Paris. Small, a Boston designer who has already participated in trade shows in Paris, is determined to get more of that attention this season by staging his first runway show there.
A man who is gaining a reputation for recycling clothes into deconstructivist looks, Small has shown at the Paris sur Mode for two seasons. He will exhibit there again March 5-8, as part of the Carrousel de la Mode trade fair. His runway show is slated for March 9 and his name is carried in the “by appointment” list on the calendar of the Chambre Syndicale, which organizes the Paris designer shows.
“I got orders from stores that I probably would not even be able to get an appointment with if I were calling them from Boston,” Small said of his Paris ventures.
The designer, who is already known for his men’s wear and owns a signature store on Newbury Street in Boston, got first-time orders during the October Paris sur Mode show from Barneys New York’s Madison Avenue store; Heshy in Brooklyn; Gitobet, Edgewater, N.J., and Andria, Bal Harbour, Fla.
Small’s line is also sold at Ron Ross and Gallay Melrose in Los Angeles and IF Boutique in SoHo. The firm’s annual wholesale volume for its women’s wear is nearing $100,000.
He will stage his runway show at the Hotel Intercontinental where, he points out, Rei Kawakubo staged her first Paris show in 1981. Only about 50 guests will be invited, with about 10 of those invitations going to press.
“If you want to be creative and avant-garde, it’s hard to do it from America,” said Small. “So for the young guy who’s doing avant-garde and doesn’t have money, you go to Paris to make your name and then, as a result, you make your money here.”
He plans on bringing a show strong on Americana to Paris — but not the Americana of baseball and apple pie. Rather, most of the models will be Boston club kids he uses in his shows there, and the music will be the newest techno-rave mixes from Los Angeles. “I’m also dumping the use of the word ‘recup,’ which means recycled in French,” Small added. “I’m going back to using ‘recycled,’ which is my culture. To make a stir in Paris, you have to do something really different, and we’re planning on that.”
The pieces he’ll be showing in Paris are designed for a cutting-edge, youthful feel. Made from vintage jackets, shirts and trousers that have been turned inside out, they feature reverse French seams rather than exposed seams, are fitted by the use of ribbons and hemp that can be tied at the waist, and often include recycled bits of metal and machine parts or tribal-inspired stitching.
Small knows it’s a youthful look, and he’s happy to focus on that market. He’s also willing to give credit where credit’s due on the deconstruction trend.
“I know Xuly [Bet] and [Ann] Demuelemeester and [Martin] Margiela started a lot of this stuff, but I’m taking it forward in a way that hasn’t been done,” he asserted. “And I’m doing it at prices the kids can afford.”
In the spring collection, shirts constructed from the top of one shirt and the bottom of another wholesale for $22.50. Vintage sweaters that have peplums made from the bottom of men’s vintage jackets are also $22.50. A shirt top that has the bottom of a jacket sewn onto it for a jacket-dress effect is about $35 or $40 and comes with chain and safety pin cufflinks. Reversed vintage jackets with special seaming and back ties wholesale for $50. Ron Ross and Gallay Melrose, both in Los Angeles, have carried Small’s collection since the fall and report strong sell-throughs.
“We were one of the first retailers to stumble on him in Paris,” said Patty Ross, co-owner of Ron Ross. “The stuff just flew out when we got it in, and we’re looking forward to getting in the spring line. It’s perfect for the times — made from recycled clothing and at prices younger people can afford. I think he’s a great talent.”
Staci Buckley, manager of Gallay Melrose, said when interviewed earlier this month that Small’s spring line had just arrived in the store, and already four pieces had been sold. “We’ve gotten an excellent response, so we’re planning our reorder now,” she said. “The pieces that sold immediately were the men’s blazer cut in half with the bottom of it done as a skirt with suspenders. It’s a men’s wear look that’s very feminine.”
“He’s a genius,” said Andria Pardes, owner of Andria in Bal Harbour. She noted her store carries the French avant-garde designer Jean Colonna, “so I knew there was a customer for the look, but Small has definitely got his own style.” She said the collection arrived about two weeks ago and immediately had strong sell-through, particularly the recycled jackets and a deconstructed, recycled polo shirt.
“It takes about a week to get a reaction on a new line, a sense of how it will do,” Pardes continued. “And we’re delighted with this so far.”