Features: Conversation With...

May
2008

To The Nines

Nine West Creative Director Fred Allard Pumps New Life Into a Timeless Favorite



You can feel the energy when he walks into the room. Fred Allard, the new (well sort of, he came on board late in 2006) creative director of Nine West enters his office with a smile and a gleam in his eyes. Fresh from an earlier meeting, he seems none the worse for wear and is eager to discuss the resurgence of the Nine West brand and the 10th anniversary of their eyewear partnership with Sàfilo USA.

Allard is no stranger to the brand having designed for Nine West 12 years prior to taking on his most-recent role. Born and bred in the South of France, he was also the creative force behind luxury powerhouses Stephane Kélian and Castañer, which is where he was right before his Nine West return.

But his homecoming has been marked less by nostalgia and more by renaissance. Immediately, Allard’s missive was to get all sides of the accessory company working together to elevate the brand to a new level. 

“The idea was to really make the brand broader,” he explains. “Sometimes big companies evolve to a point where they’re creating little towers of business around themselves but nothing is linked together. I wanted to bring all these little towers on the production/creation level to work together. I had a new idea to merchandise the product in the store from head to toe. We do handbags, sunglasses, cold weather accessories, jewelry but none of it seemed to be coordinated together or to be working together in our retail stores.”

Allard gathered his design troops including the licensees into one room to exchange ideas. “None of them knew each other,” he notes. “For example, the handbag team was on one side of the floor and the jewelry team was on the other side of the floor. They never worked together. Then you had the licensees on the outside. The main thing was we
needed to get them all together. It was taking a risk but it was an easy risk.”

The hour meeting blossomed into an entire afternoon, all sides exchanging ideas. A trend room was created; the design teams were
situated around one another, with Allard in the center, encouraging all to share their ideas. Immediately the new team set to work on a capsule collection called Mercury. “It was all about white and silver,” he says. “We built a collection putting the lifestyle idea around the white and silver of the season. I showed it to our retail stores and wholesalers and tried to impress on them the new idea of Nine West. Nine West was not just Nine West shoes, Nine West handbags and Nine West sunglasses. It was: Nine West.”

The color story was tied into all products—the footwear, the sunwear, the handbags, the jewelry. And it was imperative to get
the collection out on the market ASAP. “It was a tough project,” says Allard. “There was a short window of time to create all
these things. But they were able to do it in that very short time frame. We were able to have the warehouse ship everything
to the stores at the same time. It was challenging for everyone.”


Success! For the first time Nine West was able to sell a handbag for $120. Normally the bags sell in the $65 range. In addition, many of the items in the collection sold out in a week or two. “It was to show that today in fashion you need to move quickly,” says Allard. “We proved a lot with that collection. It could have been a failure because it was asking a lot of people to work on a lot of things in a very short period of time. But, knock on wood, it worked.”

Satisfaction: “The licensees were really hungry to continue, to work together to get more information. And that’s how it started. Now we’re on cruise control. It’s really working very well.”

One of the things that continues to work very well, is Nine West’s relationship with Sàfilo. “We approached them because they are one of the best,” explains Allard. “I would say they are the best one. If you go to a licensee you’re going to work with a professional who knows the business and knows the market. They know where they need to be. I need to get their perspective. It’s not like one dictating to the other one. It’s all about working together. I am not an eyewear expert. What I know, along with my team, is where we need to go with the brand and where we want to bring fashion to our customer and how we want to bring fashion to our customer.”

Allard acknowledges eyewear and sunwear as an integral part of the brand’s product mix. “Every accessory, everything women wear is an extension of who they want to be or who they want to show they are,” he says. “Handbags, sunglasses and shoes are the three perfect accessories to help women show the world who they are. I do believe sunglasses are a key today in fashion. For a brand it’s a key thing.”

While Nine West is celebrating 10 years with the eyewear license, the brand itself is celebrating 30 years. How does an established brand keep forging ahead while ensuring its longevity?

“Creativity is the only way you can move further in the future,” maintains Allard. “If you focus too much on what you succeeded with in the past, it’s the worst thing that can happen to a brand. You can’t stick too much. A lot of brands do that; they stick too much and should be thinking about a new format. They need to change themselves constantly. It’s an investment. You invest in new designers. You invest in remodeling the stores.”

Allard cites the Nine West fashion show, once a somewhat staid affair. “In the past we presented the line in the showroom here, which was very corporate,” he says. “We decided we needed to go to a hotel or a gallery—something different, something cool, something fashionable, something trendy.”

The first fashion show under Allard’s direction was held at the penthouse of the Gramercy Park Hotel in Manhattan. “They were blown away by the collection,” he notes. “They were blown away by the way a big corporation was taking the risk of showing the line in a different environment. The feedback was incredible. And it is part of the challenge of moving—for us to think forward and not backward. Not to be stuck.”

Not being stuck is one reason Allard does not define the Nine West customer. “I don’t like to do that,” he says, “because socially we are in a very youthful society. You are cementing people if you say, ‘Oh I want to get the 30-year-old customer’ or ‘I want to get the 40-year-old customer.’ I think this is over. Some of the fashion items we do at times we think may be very limited and can be only for a young customer. Guess what?” And here comes that gleam again. “We have the wedge in our stores in multi-snake, in leather, that shoe sold out everywhere and that’s telling us that it’s not only a young customer buying it. Yes, we need to put a frame around the brand where we want to go, but you can’t put today’s customer in a limited niche. It needs to be broad and it’s a lot broader than you think.”

While there is still work to be done, the future looks bright. “We have a long road still,” admits Allard. “We still have a lot of work to finalize our retail approach. We need to keep working on our retail stores, to finesse them.”

There are other venues Allard would like the brand to explore. But he doesn’t want to enter different markets just for the sake of expansion. “I think the potential outside of the States is amazing,” he says. “Our image outside of the States is very, very strong. I think there are niche markets we’ve yet to explore like Nine West Men’s. Why not? Possibly fragrance. But we don’t want to go for it just to go for it.”

And here Allard begins to speak about the fragrance industry, what has worked and what hasn’t worked and the branding world in general. It is clear he is knowledgeable and passionate about Nine West and the industry as a whole. He is not going to tread lightly but he is also not going to move ahead blindly.

“I think we have to be careful the way that we do things,” he says. “There is a way of doing it but we need to do it right. So if, for example, we make a fragrance we want people to say: Wow. They make shoes but their fragrance is cool.” Cool like Nine West and cool like the man with the gleam in his eyes.

 

|