Warp and Weft: Joan Vass & Chico’s Designer Collaboration

Above Photo: Joan Vass. Photo credit Patrick McMullan

Hello my friends.  As today is my birthday, I decided to focus on a birthday wish of my own- the return of the genius knitwear brand, Joan Vass.  Although the game-changing designer passed away earlier this month, her legacy is one of outspoken style.  Although quite an eccentric and loud woman, her design ethos was decidedly the opposite- favoring understated, simple and enduring designs able to stand the test of time.  Joan, together with her husband, artist Gene Vass, formed part of the influential crowd of artists, intellectuals and actors that were among the first to convert factory lofts into apartments and fashion offices in the area now commonly known as Soho, NYC.  In fact, her first fashion show was held in her home- a loft on the top floor of a building on Mercer Street, accessible only through the use of a freight elevator (at least the ceiling didn’t cave in during the show as was the bad fortune for one Mr. Michael Kors in 1993).

After a successful launch at Henri Bendel in the early 1970’s, winning the Coty Award and bowling over fashion and Hollywood heavyweights like Farah Fawcett and Candice Bergen with her chic and simple clothes, Joan signed with a major league manufacturer, Signal Apparel, a savvy decision as it granted her the ability to extend her distribution nationwide; a move that lead to sales upwards of $25 million.  Fast forward to 2006, Joan retired and sold her company to Global Sourcing and Design, a licensee that now produces and distributes the brand to retailers including Neiman Marcus and Zappos.com.

Much like the case of Vionnet mentioned last week, the original design ethos of Joan Vass lives on through reference by Sonia Rykiel and Eileen Fischer (although the later sometimes takes simplicity over the border into dullsville). However strong a reference may be, it will never be as great as the original. Hence what I really hope for is a resurrection of the brand which in order to happen, requires two things.  The first is brand equity- the Joan Vass name  must have a leveragable value. Second, the right designer needs to be identified, one who has the ability to take her basic tenants and shape them into something new and relevant to today’s woman.  Finally, a  strategic partnership with a fashion brand/retailer that boasts a defined and loyal customer base and is in need of upping its fashion ante would help build awareness.  Only one name comes to mind: Chico’s.

Photo courtesy of Mac Arther Shopping Center

Chico’s, a specialty retailer based in Ft. Meyers, Florida is perfect for a few reasons.  Primarily, it is widely known for and adored by its very loyal customer base (females ages 35- 60, middle to middle-upper class) for its chic patterns, artisan jackets and wrinkle- free Travelers collection. This is a company that should be used in a benchmark study for how to successfully know a customer not only on a demographic level (who they are, where they are, physical attributes, etc), but also on a psychographic level (why and how they buy).

Secondly, the retailer has spent the past couple of years focusing on increasing its fashion quotient by bringing on the magpie of all magpies, Lauren Hutton, as the face of the brand. They have also gone younger and fresher with the aesthetic and styling of its collections.  Here are a few of the better pieces currently offered:

So seriously, I know a lot of women who would wear these outfits- they are on trend with prints (especially the ikat) and color (blue white and orange) and frankly, the silhouettes are quite slimming and very easy to wear.  For the Chico’s customer, this is batting at 100%.  However, some of the more basic items such as the following knits could really use some spiffying up, and this is where the collaboration with Vass makes total sense:

A mean really, I think Chico’s can do better knitwear than this. Save for the chunky jewelry (which really is outstanding and taking some of the wind out of Banana Republic and J.Crew’s successful accessories program), these outfits just don’t work. The sweaters really could be much chicer.  I just think if you are going to go basic- go basic.  Don’t try to do a basic block sweater and then add in design elements to the knitting- it just looks matronly.   I mean, why let Ann Taylor or Talbots steal market share when a well thought out and executed association with a respected designer brand could really differentiate the Chico’s brand from its competition!  Oh, and just so we can all agree on how fantastic Lauren Hutton is, take a look at this:

Oh yes, I adore her. I challenge you to negate the fact that this cover could easily be an ad campaign for Lauren by Ralph Lauren.  However, one must ask if Chico’s did the right thing by featuring Hutton after J.Crew did and released this cover of its own catalog:

Photo courtesy of J.Crew

If you go after, you have to be better than the original (at least that is what J.Lo repeated on American Idol last night every time someone auditioned with her song). Alas, back to my original point, I think there is a great opportunity for Chico’s to go after an under served consumer demographic- the stylish over 40 year -old woman who is aware of fashion trends and wants to see them seamlessly incorporated into simple and quality clothing (specifically knitwear).   So, now that has all been said, let me provide the intro: Joan Vass, meet Chico’s; Chico’s meet Joan Vass.  I shall leave you two to discuss how to make my birthday wish come true.

*All photos not credited above are courtesy of Chicos.com

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One response to “Warp and Weft: Joan Vass & Chico’s Designer Collaboration

  1. I agree! Vass is a perfect candidate! Happy Birthday, by the way!

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