the Insiders


June 22, 2010 12:10 AM

Fashion, Retail

What? No Resort?

Not all designers are obsessed with resort. Some can’t afford to be....

Not all designers are obsessed with resort. Some can’t afford to be. They’re too busy doing double-time as their own production managers.

Lyn Devon and Prabal Gurung reside in that camp. Both preside over tiny, self-financed companies, though with three full-time employees to Devon’s two, Gurung’s staff is 50 percent larger. Both designers expect to add resort next year.

Devon had every intention of doing so for the current season. Neiman Marcus had inquired about resort, as had numerous of her tony private clients who, she says, “go skiing; they go on yachts.” They also fund a considerable chunk of her business. “It’s something they were asking me for, and I really wanted to fulfill.”

But a happy problem arose: larger-than-anticipated fall orders. And when the going gets good, the good brings baggage.

Since Devon oversees production, she had a choice to make. “Better to produce and deliver a perfect fall ’10 and design spring ’11,” she concluded. “The idea of designing and producing resort along with those two seemed nutty, too much of a risk.”

To keep overhead low and thus “remain self-sustaining” — she broke even last year — Devon had cut back on staff when the recession hit. For now, a production manager — “they make $150,000, much more at larger companies” — is out of the question.

Instead, Devon is all about DIY, even if it has meant learning as you go, and making ample mistakes along the way. As the Brown classics/art history major with two intense summers at Parsons The New School for Design puts it, “I’m underschooled and over-worked.” But she knows a good teacher when she encounters one, and has more or less forced experts in various points of production to mentor her. Her request: “Talk to me like an idiot.”

Devon had been de facto mentored by “Alex at Accurate Grading, Mr. Kim at YEB Fashion Corp. (her factory), even Noemi at Migo Trucking Corp.” She’s learned much along the way, whether specifics — cutting sleeves of different sizes, as opposed to the same size, at once may save fabric — to the perhaps obvious lesson that hastening through one step in the production process may cause major problems down the line. “When you’ve experienced each crisis once, you’re scared to death of it, so you won’t skip or rush that step again,” she offers. “It’s trial and error.”

Now, she boasts, “I’ll go talk to the grader, I’ll walk around the Garment Center and I know everybody, I know all the guys on the street, the vendors, it’s my turf. I consider myself a garmento.”

Gurung came to the business with more practical experience, having spent five years at Bill Blass preceded by two at Cynthia Rowley, where he volunteered for an open production manager’s slot. He already had plans for his own house, “and wanted to be prepared.” Jump to this season, and though he passed on resort, he’s ahead of schedule with fall production. “We gave them July 1 through, like August,” he says. “But we’ll be done way, way before August.”

Since his show, Gurung also found time to hit the road for Neiman’s, personally making three trunk show appearances, in Detroit, Dallas and Fort Worth. (His sales manager did three more.)

Still, his primary focus has been on securing an impeccable production run, and rushing into resort seemed detrimental to that goal. “I didn’t want to take on anything extra that I maybe couldn’t handle,” he explains. “Right now, we are in 24 stores internationally. At this crucial point, I wanted to make sure everything was done right, and delivered on time. Because then [the clothes] will sell through. I want to build it really carefully and slowly and steadily.” When so much of the process falls literally in his hands to complete, he has no choice.

Devon sums it up. “I didn’t intend to become a production manager,” she says. “I didn’t intend to become a sales manager. I didn’t intend to be the one who unclogs the toilet in the studio. But it just comes with running a business.” If resort gets pushed back along the way, so be it.

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