June 30, 2009

Designers to Watch: Charlotte Ronson (New York)

Falling somewhere between Isabel Marant and Chloë Sevigny on the vintage-inspired-downtown-chic fashion spectrum, somewhat lesser known than her twin sister who famously dated Lindsay Lohan, designer Charlotte Ronson has nonetheless managed to carve out a significant niche for herself in the fashion world, and with a surprising business partner: J.C. Penney.

What could a New York scenester and a staid department store chain have in common? Well, teenage shoppers, apparently. Ronson's accessible, sweet-but-almost-grungy Liberty-print dresses and rompers, high-waisted shorts, and back-buttoned cardigans translate so fluently to the mass-market line that it's nearly impossible to tell which of the above photos are from the discount line and which from her runway line. (Answer: the J.C. Penney line, called I Heart Ronson, is on the left). WWD reports today that Penney's stock has been upgraded, largely on the strength of their direct sourcing and private-label lines – including I Heart Ronson, no doubt.

Update 7/8/09: In a new survey, J.C. Penney ranked second, after Old Navy, among mall stores visited most by teens. Go, Charlotte, go!

June 24, 2009

The new face of retail: Personalized service for all

Business as usual just doesn't cut it anymore. The recession has proved to be fertile ground for innovation as lackluster business shift their strategies to keep up with our fast-changing world. According to a recent article in the NY Times, even super-sized Wal-Mart stores is cutting brands and streamlining inventory, while moribund department stores Sears and JC Penney are entering the 20th century by copying Barnes & Noble's longtime innovation of offering in-store customers the use of computers linked to the store's inventory system. If something they're looking for is out of stock, they can place an order right away.

Meanwhile, Macy's has introduced "My Macy's," a system of merchandising that customizes the selection for each individual store by getting input from the people who know best: the sales staff, who know, for example, if strapless dresses are too modest for Salt Lake City's clientele. Saks is going even more custom by installing software that gives salespeople easy access to a database of clients' preferences and earlier purchases, so returning customers can be welcomed with tailor-made service.

Another way to cater to client preferences has been through the internet, where Facebook and Twitter are fast becoming the preferred way for designers and retailers to interact with their clientele, according to a new WWD article. Designers such as Charlotte Ronson and Rachel Roy tweet sales as well as tidbits from their personal lives, putting a more human face on their brands, while the more established Oscar de la Renta and Donna Karan have Twitter feeds written by their PR girls.

News flash: High-end copycats?

And the copycat saga continues... In an especially egregious copycat case, CFDA president and prominent anti-copying advocate Diane von Furstenberg voluntarily settled out of court with under-the-radar Canadian label Mercy after a newspaper columnist accused her of copying a floral-print jacket, above right. Mercy co-designer Jennifer Halchuk explained to the National Post that the jacket pattern was entirely unique, having been custom-made to fit their idea of a vintage bed jacket, and pointed out that DVF's version (at left above, and worn by Jessica Alba on the cover of Elle) copied nearly every detail – the asymmetrical bias neck bow, an interior drawstring, elasticated sleeve cuffs – except the copyrighted fabric.

Meanwhile, at Balenciaga, influential designer Nicolas Ghesquière has been known to draw his inspiration from the house's archives as well as from other vintage sources. Most recently, a Resort 2009 leather jacket featured distinctive curved seams nearly identical to those on the Parrot jacket by defunct San Francisco label East West Musical Instruments. Given that the brand is no longer in operation, an homage seems reasonable, but it does beg the question: How close should a garment be to its inspiration, and where do we draw the line between inspiration and imitation?

Photo via National Post

June 16, 2009

Designers to Watch: Beth Ditto for Evans (London)

A proud size 28, singer Beth Ditto is an unlikely fashion icon -- but icon she is, having played Fendi's after-party in a custom-designed (by Karl himself!) costume, which she proceeded to strip off, and gracing the cover of Love magazine's first issue with her ample curves. As the frontwoman for Gossip, a West Coast punk band, she made a splash by talking openly about her weight and homosexuality, and has lately evolved into a pundit on fashion issues for "women of size." Most recently, the British plus-size chain Evans, not known for its fashion-forward wares, has hired her to create a capsule collection, which promises loud patterns, fitted jackets, jumpsuits, and other garments rarely seen on larger women. Stateside, the chain Torrid has been a huge hit in the malls with its sexier clothing for bigger girls; perhaps Evans can find similar success as Ditto follows in the footsteps of her new BFF Kate Moss.

June 10, 2009

Going green: YSL New Vintage comes and goes in a single day

Maybe it's the continuing appeal of limited-edition wares, or perhaps a sign that it really is time for luxury houses to go green, as the NY Times's Cathy Horyn so elegantly put it at her talk last Saturday. No matter how you explain it, though, the much-anticipated 60-piece YSL New Vintage collection had mostly sold out by the midpoint of its opening reception, reports WWD

Made from "vintage" fabrics left over from YSL collections of the past 10 years, the pieces were designed by Stefano Pilati according to his latest manifesto, in which he called the line 

“a general attempt to give a sensibility and an education to our public so that it can act consciously toward its environment,” and a way to “start a dialogue with the market using known codes and a common language that are reassuring and familiar.”

“New Vintage is my way to reflect our social and economic state by capitalizing on existing resources to translate sustainable ‘values’ into ‘forms,’” he added.

Photo via WWD

June 9, 2009

News flash: Department stores, up and down

Wal-mart shareholders just got out from their star-studded annual meeting, in which Ben Stiller, Miley Cyrus, and various company execs celebrated the mega-retailer's status as one of few chains with, um, not-so-terrible sales amid the recession. 

Meanwhile, in Germany, the department-store and catalogue group Arcandor has filed for bankruptcy in another American Apparel-like situation: Three days from now, a bank credit of €710 million comes due, and without a serious rescue and restructuring plan, they won't be able to cover the debt. This creates a looming spectre for Germany: What kind of impact will it have on the economy if a major department chain, the Arcandor-owned Karstadt, simply vanishes?

Back in the States, Neiman Marcus isn't disappearing entirely, but some of their opening hours are. After analyzing traffic patterns in their stores, they've decided to open some locations later, and close others earlier. A smart move, even if it hadn't been prompted by the recession: Why spend money to keep your store open if nobody's there?

A more drastic version of that scenario is playing out in New York as Virgin Megastores North America follows its UK brethren into oblivion. Founded by Virgin impresario Sir Richard Branson, the Stateside part of the chain of cavernous music and bookstores was purchased in 2007 by Vornado Realty Trust, which quickly determined that the stores' real estate would bring better profits than did the stores themselves. How the truth hurts…

Saks, meanwhile, is betting on a $30 million renovation to boost sales on its designer floor. Chanel will be front and center, joined by younger designers including Doo.Ri, Erdem, and Martin Grant. But they're not exactly putting all their eggs in the luxury-goods basket: Saks is actually planning to get designers to lower prices, dropping them from the "best" into "better" tier of clothing. Can it work? Will designers survive the narrowing of their already-slim price margins? With Jens Laugesen, Emma Cook, and Veronique Branquinho already folded, the recession will surely claim more casualties as it unfolds, both among small designers and giant retailers.

"The Fall of the Mall" illustration via NY Times

June 4, 2009

News flash: The high/low trend reaches new heights, er, lows.

Okay, okay, we know there's a recession on and that everyone should be grateful for the jobs they have. But perhaps designer Max Azria is overdoing it a bit? On top of reviving the Hervé Leger line – and with it the slinky bandage dress trend – running his lovely eponymous line, and the throw-all-the-trends-at-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks BCBG line, he's announced a new collabo with… Miley Cyrus? Yes, that's right. And at Wal-mart, yet, taking the high-low collaboration to its lowest common denominator. According to WWD, BCBG Max Azria Group now has a whopping 22 brands in its portfolio, ranging from under $20 for the new Wal-mart line to $3000 for Hervé Leger dresses.

This means Azria has beaten out multi-taskers extraordinaire Marc Jacobs (Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Marc by Marc) and Karl Lagerfeld (Chanel, Fendi, K Karl Lagerfeld) for the title of Designer with the Most Lines. Meanwhile, it seems poor Olivier Theyskens is still looking for any job at all...

Miley Cyrus photo via WWD

June 3, 2009

Join us on June 8 for a sustainability round-table!

Been thinking about going sustainable, but don't know where to start? Next Monday, we're gathering 8 panelists from the fashion, architecture, packaging, and events industries at our New York office, and we're inviting you to follow along online as they discuss the challenges and rewards of making your design-related business green. To register, click here and just follow the instructions! 

This will be the first in a series of round-table discussions about sustainability co-hosted by MBF and FIT textile design professor Susanne Goetz; the series will continue in a few months after a summer hiatus.

Going green: New York catches bicycling fever

Forget that nasty swine flu – New York has a fever, and it's a fever for bicycling! First came transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, who installed 180 miles of new bike lanes; then the David Byrne-led bike rack design competition; and now, a fashion contest at FIT to design fashionable biking clothes, judged by the North American head of LVMH. The winner, 21-year-old Jessica Velasquez, dreamed up an envelope backpack that holds a garment bag and an adjustable-length poncho with reflective piping, which will be made into prototypes by DKNY.

But it doesn't take a contest to rustle up fashionable biking apparel; local indie label Outlier makes performance-wear disguised as office-friendly basics, including wool trousers and a merino wool T-shirt, while London-based Rapha offers up sharp tweed bike caps and a very of-the-moment cropped-trouser suit engineered for bicycling. And fave fashion blog Refinery29 has just posted their picks for hip, bike-friendly clothes – as it happens, the current trends for mesh tops, bralettes and bike shorts fit right into the new biking frenzy! Finally, if you can't get enough bikewear, fashion blog Copenhagen Cycle Chic has your daily fix of stylish cyclists.

Photo via WWD
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