Saturday, January 29, 2011

Balenciaga exhibit in New York at the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute

Yesterday I went to see the Balenciaga exhibit curated by Hamish Bowles here in New York.  It's at the Queen Sofia Spanish Institute on 68th and Park.  The exhibit is only up for a few more weeks so I decided to catch it while I could.  If you want to catch it, here is info on the hours and admission.

Gallery Hours: Mon. - Thurs.: 10 a.m. - 6 p.m. ; Fri.: 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. ; Sat.: 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.
Admission: $15 for adults; $10 for students, seniors, and Institute members.

The exhibit consists of two large exhibition rooms displaying garments and hats, plus a third room that shows a video of models walking around wearing different outfits.  The pieces were curated through the lens of their relation to Spanish history and culture.  For instance, for each garment displayed on the ground floor, the corresponding placard showed a painting that would have inspired the piece.  On the second floor, there were references made to flamenco dancers, bullfighters, and religious garb. 

I'm a big Balenciaga fan, and it was just amazing to see so many of his garments displayed.  You could see the details and the way they were cut up close, and it was inspiring to see the work of someone so dedicated to his craft.  It reminded me that although it's easy to get caught up in all the hoopla surrounding fashion, what's really important is to develop work that's worth getting excited about.
This piece was probably my favorite in the exhibition.  I want to figure out how he draped that crazy sleeve.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Interesting article on the state of the luxury fashion business

Business of Fashion has a great article written by Pierre Mallevays, Founder and Managing Partner of Savigny Partners, a boutique advisory firm focusing on specialty retail and aspirational brands.

You can read the whole article here:

Some snippets:

How a designer label makes money:
The traditional designer brand business model is not for the faint-hearted. Typically, a design-rich but loss-making main line is invested in with the aim of capitalising on its cachet through a cash-generative diffusion line and, eventually through lucrative licensing deals. This model not only takes years to generate returns, but the ride is also a bumpy one with no guarantee of success. Christian Lacroix is a prime example of a label which, despite heavy investment in its main line/couture business, never saw the more commercial side of its activities take off sufficiently.

Pre-collections, cruise/resort, pre-fall, holiday...
These inter-seasonal collections tend to contain more commercial pieces than the main collections, often have more accessible price points and now account for the bulk of sales of a fashion brand. This is also music to retailers’ ears whose aim it is to get fresh stock into stores, so as to give customers a reason to come back, and shift the stock as quickly as possible.
On the importance of merchandising...
There the model was clearly in need of an urgent fix, but on an ongoing basis the role of the merchandising team, working with the design and product teams on one hand and the marketing and sales teams on the other, harnessing the creative talent and editing down the creative output to what will work or generally help the band, is absolutely critical. This helps to ensure that the market reception of the collection will be as good as possible, but is also true — and increasingly importantly so — in a world where the number of deliveries has increased and where efficient re-ordering and replenishment is where the real money is made.
On how developing a retail business increases the bottom line
Beyond this point, retail presence offers a number of advantages. First and foremost the ability to capture the retail margin – a fully-integrated fashion retail business can generate gross margins up to 80 percent (and sometimes more!), as compared with a wholesale business margin of 40 to 50 percent. Retail presence also allows for more control of the brand image and presentation. This is particularly important as a brand evolves as it can often get stuck in a time warp, with retail buyers ordering variations on what sold well in the last season instead of following with new products/designs, often seen as more risky.


White elephants such as this previous Jil Sander store never made good retail propositions, but you could understand why some management teams were keen on them: retail really helps drive wholesale. Department store managers will never own up to it, and we are sure Barneys and Bergdorf top brass were horrified when Lanvin announced the opening of its Madison Avenue store in the summer last year, but over time (and more quickly than people think), whatever turnover is temporarily lost for the neighbouring department stores will be made up and more, as the brand benefits from increased awareness, more prestige and a stronger, more complete image as a result of its own retail presentation.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Blue is my favorite color.  Here is another song I wrote, sung by my friend Allison Moll. (For the first 10 seconds there is no video.)

How my line started killing me

I came across a quote recently on Business of Fashion, which sums up how I've been feeling quite well:
At Cloak I was doing production, I was doing business, I was doing financing. It kind of killed me, actually. I was doing very little designing. The key thing at Versace was that I just got to design; it got the juices flowing again. Now, with my own collection, I get to design more, which is what I want to do. I don’t pretend to be a businessman. You have to be to a certain extent, but I also want to work with people who know what they are doing.
Alexandre Plokhov, speaking to BoF about shutting down his celebrated cult menswear label Cloak, moving on to design for Versace, and then launching a new, eponymous label, one of the best new collections for A/W 2011 as featured in this short, sharp fashion film by Douglas Keeve.

Writing about the tough times in developing my line is difficult, mainly because it's hard to air what feels like failures in public.  If I put things in perspective, there were a couple of factors working against me:

- The recession made business difficult for everyone.  In fashion blogs, in the past year or two, I read constantly about labels and boutiques folding.  Buyers became conservative, sticking with established designers (like Marc Jacobs) over lesser known labels.  And consumers were just not buying things, or buying when things were heavily discounted.

- Like Plokhov, I was juggling all aspects of the business myself, in addition to trying to support myself through other means.  It was exhausting, both physically and emotionally, and when you're trying to do many things simultaneously, it's hard to do each thing well.

- Startups by nature are destined to fail.  I think the statistic is a 2% survival rate, and I imagine the number could be smaller in fashion, where luck plays a bigger part than in other industries.  

In short, the line, "It kind of killed me" really resonates with me.  I felt like I wasn't doing anything particularly well, be it designing, or running my business, or just living my life.  I felt guilty about hanging out with friends instead of working and was constantly worrying about how I was going to pay my rent and other expenses.  My parents were worried about my future.  I would go through bouts of depression and question what I was doing.  The instability of my lifestyle was killing me, and I also realized I thrive in structured environments, which I couldn't provide for myself.  I also felt that I was running my business in survival mode rather than in a planned and organized way, and it didn't feel sustainable.

On a side note, my music "career" benefited as a result.  I found myself drawn into the music scene because long before I was really involved with fashion, I had been playing violin (since I was seven) and was friends with musicians who asked me to play with them on shows.  Through this I eventually started writing my own music and started recording and playing it.  The great thing about music for me was that it was a creative outlet where I felt less pressure to succeed and was able to be involved in and feel like I was making progress with not too much effort.  The bad thing was that it served as a distraction from fashion, kind of how sometimes people cheat on their significant others when their relationships aren't going well.

I didn't want to give up on my line, but I felt that I needed to take time and figure out a better way to do things.  I started figuring out my next move.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Selling dresses in a recession

It's been a while since I last wrote a post documenting my efforts with my brand, Graey.

When I last left off, I had decided to do a small production run with my Fall 2009 collection even though the trunk show with Henri Bendel had fallen through, on the blind faith that I could sell the pieces through consignment at a few boutiques.

In retrospect, I'm not sure why I thought this was a good idea.  Had I paid closer attention to financial forecasts, I probably would have realized that things were going to get worse before they got better, and there was probably a good reason that Bendel's laid off their entire clothing buying staff, but hindsight is 20/20 right?

I sold consignment through a few boutiques and a small online retailer, with mixed results.  A couple of the boutiques and the online boutique (a great one called Sunday Brunch) were able to sell a few pieces here and there.  The best performer was the least expensive piece, the kimono dress.  I learned the hard way that in this recession, consumers were a) not buying as much b) only buying at heavy discounts c) sticking to designers they'd heard of rather than trying out smaller lesser known labels.

Also, I might have mentioned this before, but it bears repeating.  Consignment, although a great opportunity to get a buyer to try out your merchandise in their store, has its pitfalls.  It's hard to say how much of my lack of sales was because of the recession, but when buyers have your merchandise on consignment, they have less of an incentive to sell your goods because if it doesn't sell, they can just return it to you, whereas they bear the burden when they buy the merchandise. 

In sum, although I was able to sell some pieces through retailers, we didn't sell as much as I had hoped.  I also tried to sell pieces directly through other methods.

GenArt which recently folded due to - surprise! - financial troubles (but apparently is relaunching) was an organization that championed up-and-coming designers.  Twice a year, they held a SHOP NYC event, which was a big bazaar with alcohol and other sponsors, and a DJ spinning.  Although I did manage to sell pieces at this event, they were mainly my less expensive knits, and I barely broke even on the entry fee.

Some friends and family also bought pieces.

I also held a couple of independent sales at a storefront I found in the East Village, with mixed results.  The location was probably not ideal in terms of traffic and the kind of customer who shops in the area, as my dresses were mainly targeted at the type of clientele that shops at more chic West Village boutiques.

Additionally, I got in contact with someone who held sales at Chelsea Market and was able to sell some of my knits inventory at one of his sales.

A while ago, on a friend's suggestion, I opened up a shop on Supermarket, which is kind of like Etsy but curated so that the selection is not quite as extensive so that the chances of someone buying your product is higher.  After putting my products on the site, I didn't really pay much attention to it, but every once in a while I got a sale, even from a customer in Austria. 

I probably won't be doing any production runs without guaranteed (well, as guaranteed as they can be) buyers for a while.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Magic Mirror

This song is kind of about struggling with anxiety and depression while pursuing my dreams...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

knitting machine!

A while ago I bought the Ultimate Sweater Machine.  I've always wanted to get a knitting machine but real ones are fairly pricey, I was able to find this one on eBay for around $60, so I thought it would be a good intermediary machine.

It was lying around my apartment for a while, when I decided to make a scarf for my friend Pooja's birthday.  If you recall, she bought this Jitterbug coat during our trip to Maine: 

I figured it would be hard to find a matching scarf so I decided to knit one.  I tried to pick colors that would match the coat, although without the coat on hand I wasn't 100% accurate.

The knitting is done by moving the carriage back and forth across the metal needles.  It's very satisfying because you can do the knitting in a fraction of the time it would ordinarily take.  I think this took me around 4 hours to do in total? 

The finished product.  I followed the instructions that came with the book, which told me to undo every other stitch for a more loosely knit scarf.  I tied the yellow tassels by hand at the end.  I am looking forward to playing around more with the machine.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Some inspiration

Happy new year!

The reason I started this blog was to provide insight to other aspiring fashion designers.  A little over a year ago, I got an email from a fashion student asking to interview me for a paper she was writing for school. 

A couple of days ago, I got an email from her:

I know this is super random, but I thought I'd update you on what that paper I did on you (over a year ago) has inspired me to do. I'm going to France!
After what feels like a billion scholarship applications and competitions I finally won the Blanche Payne Award for my design work and it has helped finance my trip to Paris.
I'll be studying French for a semester at the Sorbonne and then fashion at Paris American Academy during the summer with hopefully an internship throughout.
Anyway, I just wanted to say thank you for being an inspiration, and someone I look up to in garnering the courage for my adventures. I know going to Europe's not that big a deal to some people, but for someone like me (a broke college student with no financial support from anyone) it's monumental and hopefully will be life changing.

Best Regards,

Calli Roche

P.S. Any 'must sees' you can recommend while I'm in Paris?

It seems she's already gotten some press of her own, and it was really inspiring to hear about how she worked hard to make her dream of going to Paris come true.

To answer her question, some of my favorite things to do in Paris:
1) Musee d'Orsay - I love Van Gogh and Impressionist paintings, and they've got many great ones here.  Also, unlike the Louvre, the museum is a manageable size, and you can pretty much see the whole thing in a couple of hours.

2) Boutique visits - I love checking out boutiques. 
- If you go to the 8th arrondissement (around av. Montaigne), you can visit the flagship boutiques of most of the luxury French brands.

- Rue St. Honore in the 1st arr is another destination for chic boutiques, including probably the best one in Paris, Colette.

- I also enjoy walking around the Marais, which has cool boutiques, cafes, and bars.

3) I used to live on Ile St. Louis (connected to Ile de la Cite), where there are cute little gourmet food shops and some nice restaurants as well.

4) Another cool place to hang out is in the 10th, near the Canal St. Martin.  There are a couple of bars along the water which are cool to hang out at.

Paris is such a beautiful city.  It's fun to just walk around, explore, and find a cafe or bar to relax at and people watch.  It's also hard to go wrong with food, whether it's just walking into a restaurant or going into a boulangerie and buying yourself some treats.  Paris me manque!