The Other Clinton
Thomas Clinton Smith has a thing for redheads. “My ideal customer is Brenda Starr,” explains the 49-year-old designer, who is represented in Atlanta by Don Overcast & Associates.
While the cartoon journalist probably would have loved his suits, redheads aren’t they only ones attracted to his bright colors, bold buttons and matching accessories. The three-year-old line brought in $2.3 million in wholesale sales this year, and Smith is projecting $3 million for 1994.
The designer co-owns the New York-based company with his partner, Steve Leivent, who runs the business side of things. Most of the production is also done in New York, although silk prints are done in the Orient.
The line wholesales from $129 to $225, with most suits falling in the $145 to $169 range. The collection is a mix of day and evening suits in fabrics such as silk doupioni, moss crepe, linen and sateen cotton. It sells in such stores as McClures, Nashville, Tenn.; Embry’s, Lexington, Ky., and Suzanne’s, Mobile, Ala.
Two years ago, as a Christmas gift to buyers, Smith designed silk print scarves with sketches of his clothes in varied situations. These scarves have since become a part of his line, and for fall he is introducing a collection of silk separates using the designs, called Smitty by Thomas Clinton Smith. The pieces range from $29 to $69.
All his designs are very feminine with lots of detail. Smith’s philosophy is simple, “When a woman spends a lot of money on something, she wants to look like she did.”
You can’t accuse George Simonton of being shy. Neither are his suits, which are on-camera favorites with television personalities like Katie Couric, Sally Jesse Raphael and Kathy Lee Gifford. “My designs are very graphic, so they’re good for TV,” explains the designer.
Simonton has been designing practically all his life and has had his own line for eight years. While his styles change each season, Simonton’s dedication to great-fitting, comfortable suits doesn’t. “That’s the most important thing and the only way the line is going to continue to sell,” Simonton explains.
Company sales topped $6 million wholesale last year. Suits in the signature line average in price from $325 to $350, wholesale. A second division, George Simonton Studio, which was added last year, ranges from $150 to $200. In addition, the designer is offering George Simonton Evening for the first time this fall. A small collection of special occasion and evening suits in triacetate and wool crepe, the line wholesales for $200 to $350. Simonton’s accounts include Tootsie’s, Dallas; The Parisian, Birmingham, Ala., and Saks Fifth Avenue, New York.
For fall, Simonton is offering lots of Donegal tweed and leather trim on suits. He also thinks fur trim is making a comeback and is including some in the collection.
“Every season is a new beginning to me, it’s always a fresh look. The one thing that doesn’t change is that there’s nothing more beautiful than a woman in a great tailored jacket.”
There’s no Helene in Miriam, Julio and Vivian Fernandez’s family-owned company, Helene D. Collections, but there is a very specific customer. “We’re designing for the ladies, especially mothers-of-the bride,” explained Vivian Fernandez.
The six-year-old firm specializes in two- and three-piece day and evening suits with lots of embellishment. The possibilities range from gold trim to multicolor beading and embroidery. “We try to keep very conservative bodies and use details to add style,” said Annie Dietch, who designs the collection.
Miriam, the matriarch, is in charge of production, while her son Julio runs the financial end and her daughter Vivian directs sales and customer service. Vivian says the name Helene D. was picked simply because they were looking for a pretty woman’s name for the collection.
The Fernandez family also produces Kokomo, a more casual collection of separates that focuses on jackets and pants. Vivian Fernandez said that while Helene D. does not appeal to a wide range of customers, Kokomo allows them to reach a much broader customer base. The combined sales of the two lines reached $5 million last year.
Wholesale prices on the Helene D. line range from $69 to $139, while Kokomo prices average between $29 and $99. Both sell in stores such as Jacobson’s, Chicago; Gantos, Grand Rapids, Mich., and Nordstrom, Dallas. Fernandez said 75 percent of their business is with specialty stores.”The designs are unique. Color, trim and buttons are key, but it’s still very versatile.”
Both are represented at markets by Viju Sales a multi-line rep firm, which the family also runs.
“We started as a sales representative firm and then created our own lines,” says Vivian, explaining why they manufacture under the Helene D. name. “We want to keep the two businesses separate so the other lines get equal play.”