While in New York this past February for Fashion week, we had the chance to catch up with our friends at 424 Fifth.
424 Fifth is the private label available at Lord & Taylor in the US and The Hudson’s Bay in Canada. We were invited to visit the team at their New York offices located at Lord & Taylor on 5th Ave (424 Fifth Avenue to be exact.)
We sat down with Chief Creative Officer, Marie Holman Rao, along with Colour and Concept Director Jessica Richards, and Senior Fabric Manager, Amy Rauen. They were getting ready to launch the Spring collection, which will be the third season for the brand. This beautiful collection is now in stores, and our wish list of these beautiful feminine pieces is far too long!
Style Calling: Who do you have in mind when you design the 424 Fifth collection?
Marie: From our first season to now, we have the same person in mind. She is a woman who needs a lot of clothing for her lifestyle. She’s constantly on the go with a 24 7 lifestyle. We design for any age group, and for anyone who loves fashion. Our collection is about the basics that you need every day, and items that will surprise and delight you.
Every season we think about what ideally do we all want to design. The collection is a combination of all of us on the team. We think about a true need, a basic need, and what trends we want to incorporate from the runway.
We don’t have one formal meeting to talk about the direction of the collection. We are just constantly talking about it. We talk about what will surprise and delight her, what is on trend, and what trends will she will actually want to wear. We want this to be a lifestyle collection, and for the customer to view it that way.
After a year of doing this collection (we had a Spring season and a Fall season) we’re finding out more about who our customer is. Then, the numbers come out and we can see who she really is, and what items she is reacting to. One thing we found out over the last two seasons is that she is very feminine.Every week we get the Canadian and US selling numbers, and we are often surprised at what end up being our best sellers. Often, what sells well in Canada is the opposite in the US. We analyze down to the colour, the units and the markdowns. This is an integral part of the process to look at this every week. We need to know what truly are the best sellers. This will tell us what our customer really wants, and we can make adjustments to the collection we are designing.
Where do you start with a new season?
Marie: It all starts with the fabric. Amy is our director of fabric research who develops all the fabrics for the 424 Fifth Collection.
Amy: Each season, Jessica and I work very closely together. Jessica pulls together a beautiful colour palette and inspiration boards for the team. In addition to working with her concepts, I’m researching and developing what are the newest and most innovative fabrics available to us. We want to separate ourselves from the other designers on the floor, and offer our customers something new and innovative.
This season, I travelled to Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, India, and then ended up in Paris for Premier Vision to find out what is the next best thing. During this process I also learn how textiles are made, so I can figure out how to problem solve when I get back to the studio. For example, Jessica had this beautiful piece of artwork in Europe. It was black organza with a hand painted flower on it in white. When she asked me ‘How can we re-create this on fabric?’ I thought long and hard about how we were going to create it to be commercially viable.
We came up with this sheer organza. We print the pattern on the fabric and then burn out the black portion to create the motif. Its very delicate, fragile and completely unique for our brand. Jessica purchases the rights to all the artwork she sources, so the final fabric is completely 424 Fifth’s.
Jessica: We’re realizing that our customer comes to us for our print sensibility. We have this one blouse and it came in white, soft pink and a black and white speckle print. The print is outselling both of the colours together!
Marie: Since we are a private brand, and exclusive to Lord & Taylor in the US and Hudson’s Bay in Canada, we try to make every item unique in some way. Focusing on the fit is so important. We ensure we try the items on many different people to make sure the fit is perfect. We want out customer to come back each season and know the pieces she loves will fit her well.
What was the inspiration for this season?
Marie: We had quite a few inspirations for this collection. We wanted to register a tropical feeling, black and white, along with items that were very pretty. There was a lot of uniform influence with dark green in the collection, which we offset by using pink.
There are 18 people involved in the creation of the 424 Fifth Collection. Everybody has his or her area of specialization, and we all come together to create a cohesive collection.
Does Social Media influence your designs?
Jessica: In my concept boards I often have street style images from instagram. It’s not just about what’s happening on the runways, it’s how real people are putting clothes together. We are designing for a mass market customer, but there are so many aspirational items that people can wear in their real life.
Tell us more about the fabrics:
Marie: I’m so proud of our fabrics, because without the knowledge of someone like Amy, we could never create such luxury looking pieces and still be within our budget.
Amy: All our fabrics are designed specifically for our collection. Some of the fabric patterns may exist, but then we will colour it with our unique colour so you will not find it anywhere else. Another big part of what I do is to research what the trends are in fabric. Jessica is looking at the trends in colour and silhouette, and I’m looking at the textiles.
A big trend in fabrics is the use of natural fibres, but we need to make ours pretty. I found different fabrics that would work for our brand. I wanted to ensure we incorporated this into the Spring collection. So this is where you’ll see a lot of the natural colours and fabrics, but it’s still feminine.
Another big fabric trend is bonded mesh. We were early adopters of this trend. In order to evolve the fabric from last year, we created what we are calling a viscose bonded scuba. It’s 2 layers of fabric glued with a sponge in between. It’s really innovative and took a lot of trials to get it just right. We’re really excited about this fabric.
Jessica: When we went to the fabric shows in Paris, we started seeing the bonded mesh a lot. One of our proudest moments was when Amy and I were in Paris last September, looking at fabrics for Fall 2016. During a trends presentation, yardage from one of our dresses from Spring was used as an example of what to do for next year. It was a really great moment. We always talk about how our fabrics are what set us apart, and it was incredible that they chose ours to showcase.
The accessories are so chic! Do you design these too?
Marie: Yes, we design all the shoes and accessories to go with the clothing. I think the footwear buyers from the store really enjoy working with us because of the fact that it’s very tailored to go back to the clothes
Jessica: They are in the market buying national brands, so we can discuss with them what they don’t have, as they know what they’ve already covered. So, with the 424 Fifth shoes, we can really have a point of view.
Like the clothes, it’s very interesting to us to see how the shoes sell. The most popular ones were colour, outselling the classics three to one. Because of this, we will never create a basic black ballet flat, because that’s not what our customer is coming to us for. The shoes are all priced between $80 – $129
Marie: I’m not one for inexpensive shoes. When we were designing the collection and I knew what our budget was, and we were still able to do what we wanted to do within our price limit. This takes a lot of ingenuity, colour sense, and research. We do a couple fun accessories each season so go with the clothes, but we’re not positioning ourselves as an accessory brand.
What can we expect for next Season?
Marie: We’re having an exotic feeling to what we’re doing for Fall 2015. It’s not as pretty as prior collections, so we had to work on it to create an interpretation that our customer will respond to. It’s a texture heavy collection, rather than print and pattern.
The team seems to have an incredible synergy.
Amy: We really do! Everyone cares about the collection as a whole – not just their category. It’s so exciting to be apart of a team where everyone is on the same page. It’s such an empowering thing when everyone is proud of the work we’re creating.
Jessica: I was just interviewing an intern candidate this morning and she asked me what was my favourite part about working at 424 Fifth was. I had to say, to work in this industry is great, but to work for a brand that is mass market and to be so proud of the product you are making that you what to share it with everyone; that is very special.
Connect with 424 Fifth
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Images courtesy of 424 Fifth