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NEW YORK TIMES: Band of Outsiders: Fast Rise, Faster Fall

NEW YORK TIMES: Band of Outsiders: Fast Rise, Faster Fall

STEPHEN KURUTZ | NEW YORK TIMES At a private dinner in Los Angeles last fall to mark its 10th anniversary, Band of Outsiders and its founder and creative force, Scott Sternberg, showed off the sensibility that GQ once called a “whimsical mix of Wes Anderson chic and California cool.”

NEW YORK TIMES: Fur Is Back in Fashion and Debate

NEW YORK TIMES: Fur Is Back in Fashion and Debate

ALEX WILLIAMS | NEW YORK TIMES Even by the standards of Fendi, the Roman house that once sent mink coats glistening with 24-karat gold down the runways, its upcoming “haute fourrure” show on Wednesday counts as a statement: the first fur-only extravaganza by a major design label during the Paris haute couture shows.

NEW YORK TIMES: Donna Karan Steps Down, in Major Shift for Fashion

NEW YORK TIMES: Donna Karan Steps Down, in Major Shift for Fashion

VANESSA FRIEDMAN AND JACOB BERNSTEIN | NEW YORK TIMES In a major shift for American fashion, Donna Karan, the 66-year-old founder and chief designer of Donna Karan International, a brand that defined the way American working women dressed for decades, announced on Tuesday that she was leaving the helm of the house that bears her name.

NYT: Wes Gordon Revives a Fashion Tradition

NYT: Wes Gordon Revives a Fashion Tradition

NEW YORK TIMES | RUTH LA FERLA Winnetka, Ill. — Wes Gordon stood at a discreet three or four feet from his client Jennifer Martay, running his fingers reflexively through his dense, wavy hair.

NEW YORK TIMES: Making his name his own

Reed Krakoff
Reed Krakoff

NEW YORK TIMES | RUTH LA FERLA

Dana Taylor, a model, stood straight as a maypole as Reed Krakoff circled, paused, then peered intently at his handiwork. Ms. Taylor was wearing Mr. Krakoff’s cobalt-blue sleeveless officer’s coat, a sample from the fall collection he will show on Wednesday, a piece stripped to its essentials: welted seams, slant pockets and a pair of outsize lapels its only embellishment.

Was it too much? Too little? Mr. Krakoff considered before snatching up a swatch of matching blue leather, attaching it briefly to a lapel, then rejecting that notion, slipping it beneath the coat like a T-shirt. He toyed with the neckline, gathering it in his fingers. Then something clicked. “I like the ruched effect,” he said. “And we might finish it with a little black tape on the top.”

Then again, maybe not. With just two weeks remaining before his runway presentation in Chelsea. Mr. Krakoff was in the fitting phase of his collection, the first he will show since buying his namesake business from Coach last year to introduce a label that was conceived at the outset to compete in the fashion world’s top echelon.

Bound to strike some industry insiders as an act of sheer chutzpah, Mr. Krakoff’s departure from the company that nurtured him and that he helped recast as a global megabrand, has, on the eve of New York Fashion Week, placed him under redoubled scrutiny.

“His timing took guts,” said Robert Burke, a New York retail consultant. “The expertise and the needs in luxury fashion require a different skill set.”

Was he feeling the pressure? Not much, Mr. Krakoff said the other day, though the designer, 50, was, in fact, striving quite visibly to affect an aura of masterly serenity. Pacing his temporary headquarters in the Coach building on West 34th Street, his office a soothing medley of springy gray carpet and gray felt-covered furniture, he pondered a collection that, like Mr. Krakoff himself, is in continual flux.

Inevitably at this juncture, “nothing looks good,” Mr. Krakoff said flatly. “Then something goes well and you’re happy again. Those moments of self-doubt in between are part of the process.”

That candor was unexpected, coming as it did from the former Coach executive creative director whose octopus reach extended into clothing and accessories, advertising, store design and merchandising, and who, during his 16-year tenure at the company’s creative helm, sold handbags, fragrances, jewelry raincoats, shoes and ready-to-wear, elevating the $500 million brand into a retail behemoth with revenues of more than $4 billion.

It was, after all, Mr. Krakoff who, in a New Yorker interview after the debut four years ago of his first high-end collection at Coach, told the writer Ariel Levy, “It’s not that I have the best answer, but I have the right answer.” Indeed, Mr. Krakoff seemed fixed at the time on presenting himself, from his stern black-rimmed glasses to the elongated tips of his John Lobb shoes, as a man with a plan.

But the other day, it was a strikingly low-key, soft-spoken Mr. Krakoff who stood sliding a length of rubber-dotted lace inside a black-and-white shearling aviator coat. “Nothing I do is planful,” he said, making free with the language, as is his wont. “You are always kind of schmooshing things together to see how they feel.

“I don’t think much happens creatively if you are too much in control.”

Letting go, he said, repeatedly, has become integral to his learning curve, his method a developing process of trial and error. “Fashion is a dialogue with your customer,” he said. “You want for people to respond to your work.”

Those who have include Julianna Margulies, who wore a modestly embellished Reed Krakoff gown to the Golden Globes last month; the models Stella Tennant and Laetitia Casta, who have featured prominently in Mr. Krakoff’s advertising campaigns; and most influentially, Michelle Obama, who wore Reed Krakoff on inauguration day in 21012 and, again, for her official portrait last year.

They were clients he has never had to chase, Mr. Krakoff all but boasted the other day. When Julianne Moore, like Mr. Krakoff, an aficionado of midcentury and contemporary design, first approached him, “we found we had a lot in common,” he said. “On an aesthetic level, we really connected.”

Designer and actress cemented their friendship in the late 1990s, after he photographed her for a Coach campaign. These days she counts among her go-to pieces a leather “track bag,” an understated tote with a stark white stripe down the side, and a leather-piped black cashmere coat. “They are clean, not tricky, and they have a lot of integrity,” Ms. Moore said. “As a designer, he gets better all the time.”

But his true aesthetic beacon has been Delphine Krakoff, his wife. “Her style,” he said, “is the ultimate expression of my brand.” A gamine figure sheathed in orange or white, according to the season, Ms. Krakoff greets guests at her husband’s shows, and stands beaming her approval as the models saunter along the runway.

“Everything she does is considered, and at the same time everything feels natural,” he said. “We’re both purists.” Mr. Krakoff may consult with her by phone six times a day. “She will tell me what she likes and what she doesn’t like, and why.”

He is otherwise learning to silence the cacophony of critical voices in his head. “To me, it’s the hardest thing in the creative process,” he said. “You have to learn how to trust yourself.”

His confidence, fragile at first, has firmed by degrees. The debut in 2010 of the first Reed Krakoff collection, designed while he was still at Coach, freed him, part of the time, to stop chasing mass appeal and play, rather showily, to a more discerning, moneyed crowd.

There were flaring leather military coats, shearling jackets and belted and buckled frocks, their lines influenced obliquely by Modernists like Alexander Calder and Jean Arp, whose pieces are displayed in his townhouse on the Upper East Side. Still others seemed indebted to Helmut Lang and Phoebe Philo of Céline and industrial designers like Marc Newson, whose work has long been a touchstone and is captured on Mr. Krakoff’s Instagram account.

In all, Mr. Krakoff has positioned himself as a man of protean talents, his multiple passions moving him to create chairs and lamps and a body of black-and-white photography. Portraits of models, boxers and, most glamorously, his wife are hung from a picture rail over his desk.

“I don’t see myself as a fashion designer,” he said, explaining his restless pursuit of things streamlined and austere. “I see myself as a person in design.”

Elements of the art, architecture and furniture design that Mr. Krakoff so visibly champions have found their way into his fashions as well, the sensuous curves of an Arp table filtering onto his runway, and the hand-drawn Sharpie lines reproduced on his new porcelain collection meandering onto a shirt for fall.

That visible cross-pollination, and an adamantine refusal to be categorized, represents “a new way of doing things,” Mr. Krakoff said. So new to some that his earliest collections were greeted with skepticism or dismissed outright as starchy, pretentious and, most damningly, unwearable.

“Krakoff has a way to go,” Women’s Wear Daily wrote of his inaugural collection. “Cut from thick-looking leather, long skirts and wide pants read heavy. More significantly, often they felt like cover for a clear point of view.”

In assembling a creative team that included Valérie Hermann, formerly the president and chief executive of Yves Saint Laurent, Mr. Krakoff invited complaints of dilettantism. As Cathy Horyn put it in a review in The New York Times, Ms. Hermann “will leave her dream job to run the vanity label of Reed Krakoff, the creative director of Coach, whose one dream is apparently to be successful.”

The comments stung. They were reflected in what was widely considered a poor retail performance. Coach declined to provide sales figures. Looking back, Mr. Krakoff acknowledged that he flailed at first. “Those earlier collections were just me, trying a lot of things,” he said. “Sometimes they became too forced.”

There are signs, though, that Mr. Krakoff is loosening up. His spring 2014 collection was compelling, said Mr. Burke, the retail consultant. “There were plenty of luxurious silks, cashmeres and leathers that were sophisticated and modern, but not stiff,” he said.

Milton Pedraza, the chief executive of the Luxury Institute, a brand consulting firm, chalked up Mr. Krakoff’s bumpy ride to growing pains. “The experience of having some pushback is part of a designer’s maturation process,” he said. “I don’t think he’s been damaged by any of this.”

Certainly, Mr. Krakoff has toughened. “To get on this business,” he allowed the other day, “you need a really thick skin.”

“You need to think it doesn’t matter what other people think,” he continued, “to believe that you can invent something that’s nonnegotiable.”

And then, like a gridiron hero, to run with it.

NEW YORK TIMES: First on the List, a Blank

NEW YORK TIMES | ELIZABETH A. HARRIS

All of a sudden, Ugg boots were everywhere. Knee-high Hunter rain boots also seemed to sprout from the ground directly onto millions of American feet. And last year, denim in the colors of Skittles candies, like green and red, were inescapable.

So what is the must-have item in apparel this year that beckons last-minute gift shoppers, the trend that is hotter than all others?

Unfortunately for retailers, there isn’t one.

“Every year there seems to be something, but I would say, this year, there’s not one standout thing,” said Eva Chen, editor in chief of Lucky magazine. “It’s the culmination of an entire year of personalization and smaller microtrends.”

Retailers have been girding for a difficult holiday shopping season this year, with wages stagnant and consumers wary. A major fashion trend can offer companies a traffic boost and can draw attention to their clothes.

But so far, no such luck. Perhaps it’s a marketing miss or overall consumer apathy. Some even suggest that the ubiquity of gift and fashion showcases on the Internet makes it difficult for one item to shine.

“Periodically you’ll see it with a particular demographic, like teens, but I can’t remember a time when it was quite this clear-cut, and quite so much across the board,” said John D. Morris, an analyst at BMO Capital Markets. “Merchants would say you can’t know when it starts, when it ends, or how long it lasts,” he said of major trends, “but you know it when you’re in it — or when you’re not.”

Plenty of items are fashionable and trendy. Leather is very popular, for example, and even Uggs are still plentiful in stores. Macy’s, which announced strong earnings for its third quarter this year, says its shoppers have spread their interest across a variety of categories, including sweaters, boots, coats and fragrances.

While there are many smaller trends, retail analysts and fashion experts say that a truly dominant trend, available across a spectrum of prices and appealing to various demographic groups, is something different.

“It makes it easier to buy, to market, and to sell when there’s a very defined theme or trend, and even easier when there is a must-have item,” said Robert Burke, a former fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman and a prominent industry consultant.

Analysts and fashion editors say that traffic and sales can get a modest boost when an item catches fire, as skinny jeans did for men some years ago, perhaps because there is more excitement in the air, or because consumers don’t have to spend as much time trying to figure out what they want to buy.

In some cases, a powerful trend can be even be like the tide that lifts all boats. Richard E. Jaffe, an analyst at Stifel, said the brightly colored denim trend had a “pervasive effect” on apparel last year and the year before.

“If you had bright jeans, you couldn’t wear the same top in muted earth tones,” he said. “And the reality is you need two tops for every bottom, and if you’re wearing skinny jeans you need new shoes.”

“Now, that doesn’t exist,” Mr. Jaffe said. “So what’s on the top of the gift list for your family and friends? Chocolate?”

Mr. Burke said the “billion dollar question” was why some trends raced to the head of the pack, while others just puttered along.

“As much as you want to push trends and push a must-have item, they tend to have a life of their own,” he said.

Mr. Morris of BMO Capital Markets said the lack of a cohesive trend this year might be traceable to the economy. Making a big bet on a particular item entails some risk, and in a shaky economy retailers are often unwilling to do so. Some in the fashion world say consumers have been gravitating toward more individual style this year, like monogrammed items, for example, which is a trend in itself.

Others point instead to the Internet.

Today, a trend can zip around the world on the back of blog posts or a Twitter message, so items can flare up and spread — and burn out, some say — far more quickly than in the past.

Melissa Davis, the general manager of ShopStyle.com, said that the Internet had also made the message of what’s hot much more diffuse, so it is more difficult for one item to stand out.

“Traditionally, you would open up a magazine or walk into a well-merchandised store and you knew what the hot item was,” Ms. Davis said. Now, instead of a handful of publications and a few personalities, people can find fashion on countless blogs, and even sites like Pinterest.com. “Discovery is everywhere,” she said.

Not everybody in fashion agrees that “there is no hit-you-over-the-head item,” as Mr. Burke put it. Ken Downing, fashion director at Neiman Marcus, said biker jackets had been a huge seller this year. Joyann King, digital director at Harper’s Bazaar, said that leather leggings, both real and fake, were the item of the moment.

“There’s always got to be one,” Ms. King said. “Even if people disagree.”

There have also been memorable duds. “Retailers have been trying to jump-start corduroys” for years, said Mr. Morris of BMO Capital Markets. “They haven’t.”

Erika Serow, who will take over as head of Bain & Company’s North America retail practice, cautioned that the lack of one unforgettable item this year doesn’t prophesy a long-term trend. And not everyone is discontented by the absence of a hit.

“When there’s one big thing, people are a little bit on autopilot,” said Ms. Chen of Lucky magazine. “Isn’t it better to get what you want, and not what everybody wants?”

NEW YORK TIMES: Pattern, the Subtle Way to Brand

NEW YORK TIMES | ELISE ANNISS

Where it once was mostly about logos and iconic hardware, these days luxury labels — accessories, in particular — are increasingly enveloping their pieces in house checks, patterns and prints that gently signify, rather than shout, their origins.

It is a shift that Robert Burke, head of the New York-based luxury consulting firm Robert Burke Associates, believes is at least partly due to the developing sophistication of consumers in the BRIC market — Brazil, Russia, India and China.

“In China and in Russia, customers are starting to mature and don’t want to be known as the people that carry around bags with logos on them anymore,” Mr. Burke explains. “In my experience, as the consumer becomes more sophisticated and educated, the less they are interested in overt logos.

“Patterns or prints are a bit of an insiders’ club, but if you are part of that ‘club,’ then the print as signifier is more than enough.”

Proenza Schouler, the label behind the design duo of Jack McCollough and Lazaro Hernandez, has one of the newest examples.

A repeating two-toned triangle pattern in primary color combinations, like black/white, red/black and electric blue/black, appeared on scarves, bags and shoes in the label’s spring 2013 collection.

The design, which started out as an architectural motif on the gate and back wall of the Madison Avenue flagship store that opened in July 2012, is going to be the lining pattern for all Proenza Schouler handbags. It also appeared on Precollection Winter 2013 items like small leather goods and ballet flats.

All but echoing Mr. Burke’s observations, the label’s chief executive, Shirley Cook, said, “The Proenza Schouler branding is quite subtle and discreet. But our signatures are recognizable to those who know them.”

In a brand’s early days, recognizable products can trigger brand awareness, says Jacques-Franck Dossin, former head of luxury goods research at Goldman Sachs and now the principal at Dossin Advisory.

As an alternative, a pattern “does not stick out of the product but instead is embedded in it,” he says, adding that it actually may retain the customers who would be lost to a more blatant effort.

A number of French luxury labels have turned to such less obvious branding.

Pierre Hardy is a case in point. Since using a cube motif to introduce small leather goods in 2010, the pattern has been used on man bags and high-heeled espadrilles and is echoed in jewelry, including a gold-plated cuff.

“The response has been very balanced in all our global markets and from both women’s and men’s retailers,” Mr. Hardy says, adding that he never set out to look for a pattern. “If we were to highlight a couple markets that enthusiastically embraced the print from the first season, it would be Europe, particularly France, Italy and England, and with our clients in Asian capitals such as Hong Kong, Seoul and Tokyo.”

Today, his best-selling piece is Pouch L in a classic black and white cube print with a black leather trim that retails for €170, or $223.

Even houses whose prints helped make them famous are revisiting, reworking and celebrating their patterns.

Take Louis Vuitton, whose women’s spring 2013 collection was influenced by the conceptual artist Daniel Buren and the house’s heritage Damier print, first created in 1888.

Interestingly, it was not Marc Jacobs but Kim Jones, Louis Vuitton’s men’s style director, who first turned to Damier, for the spring 2012 collection. “It is easy and perfect to work with,” Mr. Jones says, “a universal language that could be used in so many ways on ready-to-wear, leather goods, shoes or textiles.”

At Roger Vivier, there is Prismick, a pattern based on a prism with its edges deftly stitched together. It was introduced in spring 2012 and can now be seen on a collection of handbags, shoes, accessories and jewelry.

“I never stop doing new designs with this pattern,” enthuses Bruno Frisoni, the brand’s creative director, explaining how Prismick grew out of a single couture 3-D clutch, called Navette, which first appeared in 2008. “Every season there was a reinterpretation, so we realized that there was something here that could become a signature.”

The latest Prismick incarnations are from the limited edition Rendez-Vous collection: a vivid pink mink bag (€3,900) with matching shoes sporting the brand’s comma heel (€3,500) that is to arrive in stores by September 2013.

The French heritage brand Goyard is known for its handcrafted Goyard canvas, a repeated chevron pattern with a hand-painted quality. Its Saint Louis tote now is available in 11 colors — but the house’s owner, Jean-Michel Signoles, says that increasing the canvas’s color range was driven by a desire to celebrate Goyard’s handcraft, not an exercise in branding.

“When I bought Goyard in 1998, I wished to resuscitate this iconic canvas,” he says, noting that its production had ceased shortly after World War II.

“But it wasn’t my agenda at all to try and capitalize upon a trend, or come up with an easily identifiable signature,” he continues. “I simply wished to be faithful to Goyard’s history and identity, recapture its glorious past and ensure its continuity.”

NEW YORK TIMES: An American in Paris, Again

NEW YORK TIMES | ERIC WILSON

ALEXANDER WANG may be the savviest designer of his generation.

At 28, he is the rising star who built a global multimillion-dollar business in less than a decade, opened his own stores in New York and Beijing and, last week, landed a plum job at a prestigious label in Paris, when he was named the creative director of Balenciaga. Some see Mr. Wang’s appointment as symbolic of the triumph of youth; others see the demise of fashion.

“It was a coup for Alex, and a coup for American fashion,” said Diane von Furstenberg. But, she added, “he’s going to need some mentoring in Paris.”

In a way, it is fitting that Mr. Wang should become the first American designer to take on a big, historic European design house since Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors and Narciso Rodriguez went to Paris in the late 1990s. (Only Mr. Jacobs, with his role at Louis Vuitton, remains there.) While other young designers have occasionally been proposed for such lofty jobs, it is Mr. Wang who most perfectly represents his generation’s more accessible and business-minded approach to fashion. He also reflects the growing prominence of designers of Asian descent who are making their mark on the global stage.

He is young, energetic, engaged, streetwise and generally adorable. And like all great (meaning successful) designers, he recognized a crucial shift in the market well before its impact had been fully realized, in this case how the democratization of fashion would also lead to a gradual devaluation of the concept of luxury. He created a business with estimated sales of more than $60 million by making contemporary T-shirts, sweatshirts and shorts that look remarkably like high fashion. (His company does not release numbers.) Early in his career, when critics said he was too commercial, Mr. Wang said: “I don’t see that as a negative thing. It is something I actually enjoy.”

But it is for the same reasons that his appointment at Balenciaga — nearly a century-old fashion house that was thoroughly modernized over the last 15 years under the considered eye of Nicolas Ghesquière — bothers so many people, or at least the fashion purists. Some established designers, grumbling privately because they did not want to be seen as meanies, see the change as symbolic of a broader watering-down of creativity in fashion.

“They’re not fashion designers,” one New York designer said. “They’re fashion curators. They’re sitting at a computer copying other peoples’ ideas.” Even on Balenciaga’s Facebook page, alongside the many positive comments about Mr. Wang, one fan sniped, with Ghesquière gone, “who will Wang rip-off now?”

Their fear is that PPR, the luxury group that owns Balenciaga, as well as Gucci, Saint Laurent and Bottega Veneta, plans to take the label in a more commercial direction, or that the choice of Mr. Wang, as an Asian-American, was somehow an opportunistic play for the emerging luxury market in China.

Mr. Wang’s command of the Chinese market and his fluency in Mandarin were not overlooked by executives at Balenciaga, but François-Henri Pinault, the chief executive of PPR, said that they were not considered criteria for his recruitment. He nevertheless described Mr. Wang’s heritage as “an extra value,” noting that he will bring more exposure to the brand worldwide.

Responding to the question of handing the keys to one of the most famous names in fashion to a designer so young, Mr. Pinault argued that, when Mr. Ghesquière began designing Balenciaga in the mid-1990s, “he was designing uniforms for Air France, and who would have said that Nicolas would become such a great talent?”

Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue, who championed Mr. Wang for the job, also scoffed at concerns about his age.

“Oh, please, come on,” she said. “How great is it to be young? That is when designers are at their most fearless. That is when you do your most creative work.”

When Mr. Ghesquière was named chief designer there, in 1997, he was just 25.

ON Nov. 5, in a major surprise, Balenciaga announced that Mr. Ghesquière was leaving. His vision for the house, combining a reverence for the archives of Cristóbal Balenciaga with high-tech fabric treatments and elements inspired by science fiction, was so transformative that Style.com/Print recently described it as “the standard by which other big house revivals are judged.” The business grew to include 62 stores and, Mr. Pinault said, sales have expanded substantially since it was acquired by Gucci Group (as PPR was formerly known) in 2001. But Balenciaga is an expensive business to operate.

There were demands for more commercial styles and reissues of his earlier designs, leading to what retailers described as a confusing assortment in the stores, and, according to several colleagues of Mr. Ghesquière, the designer’s frustration.

Isabelle Guichot, the chief executive of Balenciaga since 2007, said in a telephone interview on Thursday that the role of a designer in today’s industry demands a quality that she called “creative realism.”

Last month, when the company began a search for its next designer, there was a short list of candidates. Christopher Kane, the young English designer who recently consulted on Versace’s Versus collection, was reportedly one of them. Mr. Wang, Ms. Guichot said, was the “top choice.” Mr. Pinault, who makes the final decision on the hiring of designers, approved.

“We’re not asking him to be an entrepreneur,” Ms. Guichot said. “But luxury fashion is a business with some rules, and he understood that very early in his career, without ever compromising the creativity.”

Among the observations made on the hiring of Mr. Wang, who has a strong accessories business, having astutely positioned his handbags at the lowest end of the luxury category, is that PPR was looking for its own version of what Mr. Jacobs brought to Louis Vuitton.

“There were some feelings after what happened with John Galliano at Dior that the brands were promoting the individual designers too much,” the veteran consultant Robert Burke said. “Now they’re thinking, what is it going to take to keep a brand relevant and alive?”

Linda Fargo, the fashion director for Bergdorf Goodman, said there are real “design chops” in Mr. Wang’s collections. Asked about the complaints that he copies, she said: “I hands-down do not agree with that. I think he’s incredibly original.”

MR. WANG grew up in California. His parents, who had emigrated from China, had a successful plastics manufacturing business that they later moved to Shanghai. Among his classmates at Drew in San Francisco was Victoria Traina, who now works in fashion in New York and was a big influence on Mr. Wang’s look, often described as “off-duty model” for its slouchy ease and street-wear feeling. Beginning in 2002, he attended Parsons the New School for Design for two years, while working as an intern at Vogue and for the designer Derek Lam.

Then, like many now-famous designers have done, he dropped out to start his own fashion label. With his sister-in-law, Aimie Wang, he started a line of sweaters: six pieces that were sold on consignment. The reaction was so strong that Mr. Wang had a full ready-to-wear collection by 2007, when he became one of the hottest names on the New York fashion calendar. His family remains involved in the privately controlled business, which now has about 140 employees. He will continue to design his own label.

And there was never really any question that it would be that way. Ms. Wintour recalled Mr. Wang’s appeal for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund award (a prize he won in 2008). “He was so articulate,” she said. “He said he wants to dress the girls of his age and his generation. That’s what you see in everything he does. He lives and breathes the Alex brand.”

Ms. von Furstenberg, who was assigned to mentor Mr. Wang after the competition, recalled walking into his showroom for the first time. “There wasn’t very much there, but it was all very clear,” she said. “His clarity is part of his talent. He knows who he is.”

Part of Mr. Wang’s appeal is his connection to the street. He associates with the cool photographers and provocative musicians, and despite showing at the beginning of each season, has his radar attuned to the models of the moment. These qualities were also attractive to Balenciaga. Mr. Ghesquière is one of the best designers at adapting the reality of the everyday life with a strong vision for modernity, and Mr. Pinault said he expects Mr. Wang to build upon that legacy.

Making it profitable will also be important. Tapping into emerging markets like China, India and Brazil will be crucial. In New York last week, while not going so far as to say Mr. Wang was hired because of his heritage, Mr. Pinault gave the impression that it was an advantage.

Increasing profits in countries where luxury is a mature business is very tough, Mr. Pinault said. But in China, where the potential is so strong that economic growth of 5 to 7 percent is seen as a bad year, the possibilities are endless. Making a profit there, he said, “is an easy job.”

NEW YORK TIMES: Introducing Jack Wills

NEW YORK TIMES | KATIE WEISMAN

Most Americans have not heard of Jack Wills, but that is something the British sportswear retailer intends to change.

Pete Williams, the London-based brand’s chief executive and co-founder, opened shops on the resort islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket this summer, and a 4,500-square-foot, or 420-square-meter, store is slated to debut in Boston early next month.

With the U.S. economy still teetering, it would seem like a dicey time for a foreign brand to tackle the U.S. retail market. But for a company like Jack Wills, “which has a very specific approach to a college-age clientele,” the timing should be just fine, says Robert Burke, founder of the luxury and fashion consultancy Robert Burke Associates in New York.

“The profile of the customer in these locations fits our brand, which is up market, premium and niche,” Mr. Williams says. “The brand story is all about life while at university, so Boston clearly works as a college town, and the resort towns are where our customer goes on holiday in the summer.”

Mr. Burke notes brands that tightly control their image and their collections, like Ralph Lauren — and Jack Wills — still are seeing sales gains.

For autumn, Jack Wills is stocking women’s wear like tweed riding jackets starting at $379, soft cotton Henley shirts and gathered skirts, while the men’s line ranges from flannel shirts starting at $69 to Fair Isle and fisherman sweaters. It also has home accessories, eyewear, fragrances and limited-edition items like an equestrian jacket selling at $449.

The Wills strategy of opening wholly owned stores also offers “an element of exclusivity,” Mr. Burke says. “If Jack Wills were to be a mall store, it would be much less appealing.” Besides, he adds, the down economy probably means the brand has been able to get the best locations with the lowest rents.

Rose Marie Bravo, the former Burberry executive who is advising the brand, says: “How can they take such a risk? They have a proven success record and have made money doing it this way.”

Last year, turnover at Jack Wills nearly doubled to £42 million, or about $65 million, and 2010 revenues are expected to reach £65 million.

The U.S. expansion has been fueled, in part, by the 2007 purchase of a minority stake in the company by the British private equity firm Inflexion. The investment, an undisclosed sum, also helped introduce the Aubin & Wills collection for customers who “graduate” from Jack Wills and brought Pete Saunders, the former chairman and chief executive at The Body Shop, on board as chairman.

Ms. Bravo describes the Jack Wills strategy as “beguiling and being contrary to all retail and branding principles we have gotten accustomed to.”

Rather than traditional advertising or marketing, the company uses social media to get the word out and has a group of international brand ambassadors it calls “Seasonnaires.”

The team, first deployed at the tony French ski resort of Val D’Isère in 2005, stages special events and gives out free items — like the plastic sunglasses with Jack Wills logos on their fluorescent pink or green arms that were so popular in Martha’s Vineyard this past summer — in exchange for customer information.

Olly Finding, Jack Wills’s international marketing manager, says the Seasonnaires have played a key role in establishing Jack Wills in the right U.S. audience. “When those students get our news via e-mail during the school year, they’ll remember us,” he says.

Rachel Romanowky is one of the Seasonnaires recruited during a 2009 Jack Wills tour at Trinity College in Connecticut, where the 23-year-old is a senior majoring in studio art.

“Trinity is known for being a preppy school, so if students saw the pink and blue Land Rover driving around, passing out free underwear, it immediately piqued interest,” she says.

There are the inevitable comparisons to Abercrombie & Fitch, something the Jack Wills executives loathe — and some industry experts dispute.

“My colleague describes an Abercrombie & Fitch store as ‘teenage angst all bottled up.’ It shows you all the things you aspire to and immediately tells you what you are not,” says Manfred Abraham, the strategy director for the London branding consultancy Interbrand. “Jack Wills is not like that. It invites you to join in the fun.”

NEW YORK TIMES: 'Affordable Luxury' Bucks the Crisis

NEW YORK TIMES | KATIE WEISMAN NEW YORK — Tommy Hilfiger just opened a 22,000-square-foot store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, a move that, in this economy, some might call insane.

But the Hilfiger line, like many midrange designer brands, is growing, while other labels, notably at the high end, are struggling to hang on to market share.

“We are positioned very well with accessible, affordable luxury and this is something we have been doing for 25 years,” the designer said last month during New York Fashion Week.

Very well indeed. Sales of the Tommy Hilfiger Group, a unit of Apax Partners, a private equity investment group, rose 21 percent, to $1.6 billion, for the financial year that ended March 31, according to Fred Ghering, Hilfiger’s chief executive officer. Hilfiger sales for this financial year are expected to rise in the single digits, much less than in previous years, but they will still grow in a stagnant market. For the record, a Hilfiger cocktail dress sells for $450 and a camel hair coat goes for about $750.

Brands like Tommy Hilfiger, D&G from Dolce & Gabbana, or Tory Burch, all selling below the luxury designer category, are growing now because they expanded or reorganized, repositioned collections or introduced new lucrative lines before the first signs of the recession.

“There is this white space between major designer collections and contemporary lines,” said Robert Burke of Robert Burke Associates, the New York luxury consulting company. “Designers like Tory Burch, Phillip Lim and Alexander Wang are filling that gap. These collections provide their own great creativity at a great value.”

This “white space” has, until now, been filled with what the American apparel industry calls “bridge collections,” where retail prices for a skirt range from about $250 to $400, and pants cost $175 to $250, Mr. Burke said. Brands have been moving in and out of this category as well as the “contemporary designer” range priced slightly higher, by either changing their price points or going out of business. This dynamic has created opportunities for creative international labels to move in and grab market share.

D&G, the younger Dolce & Gabbana collection, is a great example of this market’s momentum, according to Karen Katz, president and chief executive of Neiman Marcus department stores, adding that it “has the creative DNA of Dolce & Gabbana” and good pricing.

In 2006, the Dolce & Gabbana group brought the collection’s production inhouse, ending a license arrangement with Ittierre group of Italy. Since then, the collection has had average sales growth of more than 8 percent a year, reflecting its more sophisticated styling and fabrications. For the financial year that ended March 31, D&G sales were €706 million, or $1.04 billion, roughly 44 percent of the group’s revenue.

As Mr. Burke noted, the Tory Burch line, founded by the New York socialite in 2004, also is succeeding because it has found its niche.

“When I was researching my business plan, I came up with the idea of what was missing from the market. I wanted beautifully made but accessibly priced clothing,” Ms. Burch said. “Since I had worked in the business, I knew what kind of margins and markups were being made. I new that price was going to be a challenge.”

One of her first steps was to hire Fiona Kotur Marin, who had helped start Old Navy and is an expert on producing in China. The Tory Burch collection is now produced through a group of factories, most of which are in China, a top factor in the collection’s prices. The average retail price of dresses from her fall 2009 collection is about $365, excluding two more elaborate evening gowns that were $1,250 and $1,695, respectively.

The privately owned company will not disclose its revenue, but sales are expected to rise modestly this year to $200 million, thanks in part to increased wholesaling outside the United States.

There also are companies that do not appear to be doing anything special, like Isabel Marant of France, and yet are growing at a healthy rate — more than 20 percent a year, according to Isabel Marant’s chief executive officer, Sophie Duruflé. Wholesale revenue for Isabel Marant and its secondary collection, Etoile, rose 29 percent last year, to €25 million, and they are expected to increase 35 percent this year, said Ms. Duruflé. Isabel Marant plans to open a store in New York’s SoHo area next year. The company owns three stores in Paris and two in Hong Kong with a local partner.

Isabel Marant’s two collections are successful because they espouse Isabel Marant’s signature Parisian chic, are priced well and exude value, said Christine Chapellu, the women’s buying director for Le Bon Marché in Paris. The average retail price for an Isabel Marant dress is €390, and €200 at Etoile.

Buyers are particularly vocal in their praise for such midrange lines.

At Harvey Nichols in London, U.S. labels like Milly, Rebecca Taylor and Tory Burch have “performed really well” this fall, said Suzanne Pendlebury, the womenswear buyer. She noted that separates from brands like Vanessa Bruno from France, Diane Von Furstenberg, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Anglomania and the Danish labels Bruuns Bazaar and Malene Birger are seeing strong growth because “with these labels, rather than buying one expensive designer piece, you can afford to buy a few items that work together and produce different looks.”

At Bon Marché, Ms. Chapellu said that contemporary labels like the Marant collections, Vanessa Bruno, Marni, Marni’s Summer and Winter Edition and Marc by Marc Jacobs have all sold well this fall.

However, Ms. Chapellu stressed, price is not the sole driver for success. “You need the whole equation,” she said.

Printemps, another iconic department store in Paris, is planning to shift more of its spending from luxury designer lines to these contemporary and bridge collections for the spring season, said Tancrède de Lalun, the general merchandise manager for womenswear and menswear. He did not disclose which brands would be favored.

NEW YORK TIMES: When a Bottom Line Isn't Just About Profit

NEW YORK TIMES | ELISE ANNISS

As the fashion industry struggles with a global economic downturn and a rapidly changing consumer landscape, qualities that are at the heart of family and owner/founder businesses, like a consistent vision and a long-term approach, seem to be helping those companies ride out the storm.

Among the mid-range businesses that match this description is FJ Benjamin, a franchise specialist in Singapore. And there are the founders who hope they are nurturing family businesses in the making, like David Reiss, head of the British chain Reiss.

“The advantage of these family-owned businesses is that they are nimble, close to their business and the end consumer, and are able to move quickly compared with some larger companies,” said Robert Burke, president and chief executive of the consultancy Robert Burke Associates in New York, whose clients range from international fashion and retail brands to luxury resorts. “Also, they are not as tempted to over leverage themselves, which has been one of the downsides for some larger businesses in this present crisis.”

His opinion is echoed in the report “In Safe Hands,” which was published in March by Barclays Wealth and the Economist Intelligence Unit. It concludes that family businesses have certain characteristics — they are risk averse, less burdened by debt, and agile because ownership and management are closely aligned — that can stand them in good stead during difficult times.

“I think having the owners being involved is comforting because we own a stake in the business so we will do whatever we can to make it perform as well as possible in the long term,” said Douglas Benjamin, chief executive of FJ Benjamin Singapore.

His father, Frank Benjamin, founded the company in 1959 and still acts as its chairman. His uncle is chief executive of the parent company, FJ Holdings, which is listed on the Singapore stock exchange. With his brothers and other family members, he retains a 28 percent stake in the company, which notched up sales of $200 million for the year ended June 30. “We also take a long-term approach to risk, which is a different way of looking at something compared with someone who is incentivized to act in a short-term way,” Mr. Benjamin said.

The company initially ran the local operations of such major fashion brands as Gucci, Lanvin and Fendi, until those companies got excited about emerging markets and took back control. But retail franchising is still an important component of the business — it operates Celine’s business in Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand, and for three years it has been responsible for GAP and Banana Republic’s 30 stores in Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesian.

Focusing on the long term, Douglas Benjamin said he was going international with the company’s brand, Raoul. The label, which began as a men’s shirt line in 2002, now sells men’s and women’s clothing through a network of Raoul stores in South East Asia and Dubai.

And he is being cautious — the brand will go wholesale first, rather than retail, a route that Mr. Benjamin is more familiar with but is the riskier path.

Raoul opened a New York showroom in July and made its European debut as part of the Vendôme Luxury Trade Show that was showing at Le Meurice through Tuesday as part of Paris Fashion Week.

David Reiss still heads the privately owned chain that bears his name, which is valued at £90 million, or about $143 million. Reiss. Started in 1971, it has grown to 90 stores on both sides of the Atlantic as well as in China and the Middle East.

“When the whole world was crashing in 2008, I decided that 2009 would become a year of consolidation,” Mr. Reiss said. “I took stock of exactly where we sit in the market and re-sowed the seeds for brand evolution.”

Mr. Reiss has hired from the luxury sector — the new brand director is Andy Rogers, who joined Reiss from Stella McCartney, where he was store planning and visual director — and introduced the edgier men’s and women’s 1971 collection for autumn (celebrated at the start of London Fashion Week last month). But Mr. Reiss said that, at its core, company values have not changed.

“1971 is an extension of the Reiss brand and we’ve been careful not to alienate the core customer with it,” he said, explaining that he wanted to complement the existing, dressy collections with a casual sub-brand that also might appeal to a new, younger customer. The collection includes items like a short leather jacket at £195 and jeans with different fits and finishes, ranging from £79 to £89.

“I think that from the perspective of third parties, like employees and suppliers, companies such as these provide secure relationships that are longstanding,” said George Wallace, chief executive of MHE Retail, a strategy firm.

“With these people there’s a sense of ownership that you just can’t recreate with someone on a salary and a bonus,” he said. “They have a drive and commitment that goes beyond doing the job. After all, they won’t jump ship when the going gets tough.”

NEW YORK TIMES: Youth Market Gets Suited Up

NEW YORK TIMES | KATE WEISMAN

NEW YORK — Moms of the world, rejoice! The men's suit is on a roll. While your 20-something son might be giving up his disheveled look, he will likely need to be bankrolled because it is this younger consumer, 25 to 40 years old, who is driving the designer and luxury suit market, fashion executives say.

At the Dior Homme flagship boutique on Avenue Montaigne in Paris, teenagers sometimes swing by with their fathers. Buying a €1,300, or $2,000, suit for a special occasion is not uncommon, notes Sidney Toledano, Dior's president.

The teens that Toledano refers to make up a minority of luxury suit sales. But they are part of the new and young male suit customer who arrived on the scene about five years ago, at the same time that the new suit styles did.

These consumers had never been obliged to, or felt the need to, wear suits. Either they were still pursuing their studies or perhaps they worked in creative professions like advertising, architecture, design or dot-coms, which, until recently, favored casual dressing. Now, they are looking for a fashion statement and enjoying dressing up.

"It's that post-'metrosexual' generation. They read Men's Vogue or Details, and it's not considered 'gay' to be interested in fashion," said Michael Macko, vice president and men's fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue. "Going shopping with a girlfriend is an activity like going to the movies."

Executives say this group's interest in suits is due largely to the media's focus on fashion. With fashion everywhere from newspapers to YouTube, young men are exposed at a younger age and more frequently to fashion information.

But they are not interested in the suits that their fathers wear. They know about and want the suits with the shorter, more tightly fitting jackets; narrower lapels and skinnier pants without pleats, a style pioneered by the New York designer Thom Browne, who shocked the fashion world in 2004 with a ready-to-wear collection featuring shrunken men's jackets and high-waisted nonpleat pants that fell to the ankle.

They also know about Dior Homme's lean, slim suit silhouette introduced by its former creative director, Hedi Slimane. The new consumer sees male starts like Brad Pitt, Jude Law or Justin Timberlake sporting these fine-tuned threads on the red carpet.

This new interest in fashion, and in suits in particular, translates to more action on the sales floor.

"We will see a increase in suit sales, as younger men with expendable income are beginning to appreciate the elegance of a suit," said Ben Curry, an assistant buyer in men's tailoring at Harrod's in London.

While there still remain endless racks of grey suits in stores, there have also been new, exciting entrants into the men's suit market. Tom Ford introduced his signature collection this past spring, created in partnership with Zegna. Hickey Freeman launched a younger, snazzier collection of suits and sportswear, Hickey, two years ago. At Dior Homme, the new creative director, Kris Van Assche, will show his first full collection on Sunday in Paris. And Brooks Brothers signed Browne for a capsule collection of men's and women's wear, Black Fleece, which debuted last fall.

These new brands and styles are revving up a fashion category that has been slow to change, notes Gildo Zegna, chairman of the Ermenegildo Zegna Group. Zegna and other suit vendors are actively catering to this young, savvy male with style but also with great price points.

Zegna introduced the younger Z Zegna brand for spring-summer 2004 and suits retail for about €900, or $1,330. Zegna, a privately held family company, has not released 2007 figures yet but, in 2006, profits rose 20.3 percent, to €63.3 million, on sales of €779.4 million, which was up 9.4 percent from 2005. The company does not break out figures for Z Zegna, but Gildo Zegna said the collection's sales had "exceeded expectations."

Z Zegna's price points reflect a trend in demand for the "under $1,000" or "under €1,000" suits, executives say.

About three years ago Brooks Brothers introduced the 1818 Collection of suits, which retail for less than $1,000. The range has three styles, two of which are more fashion-forward - the Regent, with its more European-inspired fit, and the Fitzgerald, which recalls the suits that John F. Kennedy bought when he was a client of Brooks Brothers.

1818 is now the fastest growing collection of suits for Brooks Brothers, representing 60 percent of the company's suit business, up from 25 percent from three years ago, says Louis Amendola, the brand's chief merchandising officer.

Six months ago, Brooks Brothers introduced "Suiting Essentials," a semi-custom-made suit range whose prices start at $580. Amendola said that this collection also is aimed at the new, young suit customer "who never thought he could afford a custom suit."

Brooks Brothers is privately held and does not disclose financial figures but, based on press reports, 2007 sales may have reached $875 million.

The uncertainty of the American economy makes vendors and retailers cautious about sales for the overall suit sector in coming months.

Yet Toledano believes that the Dior Homme business can grow in the United States, even in a potential downturn, by taking market share from traditional suit brands.

Last year, sales for Dior Homme achieved "very strong double-digit growth," said Toledano, without disclosing specific figures. Dior plans to open 10 more wholly owned stores this year, for a total of about 40 shops worldwide. Dior Homme is part of Christian Dior Couture, whose sales for the first half of 2007 grew 16 percent, to €368 million, and whose operating profits more than tripled to €28 million, compared with the first half of 2006.

And other fast-growing markets like Asia or Eastern Europe can help offset a downturn in the United States, executives say. Moreover, many say that the designer or luxury suit market will be relatively immune to jitters.

"At the high-end level, there continues to be a consumer who will spend significant amounts of money on clothes," said Robert Burke, a luxury-goods consultant and founder of Robert Burke Associates in New York. If this consumer does change his habits, he will still spend money, just on fewer items, Burke said.