New year, new look, new Frankie B.
The premium denim brand that dared women in the Aughts to squeeze into low-riding, rocker-inspired jeans, is undergoing yet another makeover. Now owned by Mek Denim cofounder Kevin Chen and corporate lawyer Jeremy Weitz, who acquired Frankie B from founders Daniella and Gilby Clarke in January 2015 for an undisclosed sum, the Los Angeles-based company is dropping its last initial, offering a men’s line and adding a focus on ready-to-wear and retail stores.
“We all know what Frankie B was,” said Chen, who serves as chief executive officer and provides direction to the design team that is split between Los Angeles and New York. “We’re not going to make a low-cut jean of what people expect.”
Instead, Chen is taking a page from Rag & Bone, which made its name in rtw that is simultaneously urbane, rugged, elevated and accessible. In doing so, he’s trying to break away from the competitive denim market, which is veering more toward sportswear. “Not many people remember that Rag & Bone started in men’s jeans,” he said. “Frankie is the same thing.”
For its inaugural women’s fall collection, Frankie experiments with an extreme silhouette based on a cropped pant, a long, lean shirt and an oversize jacket thrown on top. Corduroy, denim and felted wool are used for the bottoms whereas striped cotton, mohair, double-faced wool, leather and shearling are selected for the tops and outerwear, including chemises, biker jackets and double-breasted blazers. Camel, blue and ivory dominate the mellow palette, which is mostly void of patterns and graphics except for thin stripes and a photographic image of Anna Karina in the French New Wave film “Bande à Part.”
In contrast, the much smaller men’s lineup includes red jean and moto jackets, paint-splattered skinny jeans and jogging pants cut from black wool flannel.
Retail prices start at $200 for a top and climb as high as $3,600 for an ivory women’s shearling coat that can be turned inside out to reveal a butter-colored leather side. Within that, denim sells for between $225 and $600.
This is the second revamp in six months for the brand. Last fall, Chadwick Bell took the reins of a rechristened Frankie B Hollywood in time for a show featuring lizard-embossed moto jackets and lace skirts for women and suede jackets and cotton suiting for men at New York Fashion Week. Bell, who studied design at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology and helmed his own rtw label from 2008 to 2015, remains on the design team, which consists of three other young designers. Chen said the group is “full of energy and imagination.” With résumés filled with, in his words, “not very important brands,” the quartet unites to bring their strengths to Frankie.
“If I had one designer work on the whole collection, it wouldn’t work,” Chen said. “Not every designer knows how to treat leather [and] how to wash denim. If I had a rtw designer, they would only know the women’s contemporary section.”
While buyers from Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom recently checked out the collection, Chen said he expects wholesale orders to roll in next month. In the meantime, he’s advancing with plans to build a network of free-standing stores. The first is scheduled to bow in Los Angeles’ Arts District under the vision of Jimenez Lai, an architect who teaches at UCLA and heads a firm called Bureau Spectacular.
Measuring nearly 2,000 square feet, the store is Lai’s first venture in retail design. Chen, who studied at FIT and owned retail stores that sold designer labels such as Missoni, Giorgio Armani and Gianfranco Ferré in Los Angeles and San Francisco in the Nineties, said his five-year plan is to extend the retail reach to New York, Miami, Dallas, San Francisco and Las Vegas. He declined to pin a figure on sales.
“I do my own thing,” he said. “Building a brand is a long-term investment. It’s not doing something cash-and-carry. Many, many brands have impatiently been inconsistent in what they do.”