Karolina Zmarlak | Transformational value

The ever-morphing Barcelona dress, courtesy of Karolina Zmarlak

The ever-morphing Barcelona dress, courtesy of Karolina Zmarlak

NEW YORK, United States As global economic woes continue to wear on consumer spending, some fashion and luxury companies are teetering on the brink. Blue chip brands are halting expansion plans in order to focus on survival tactics, while smaller labels with limited resources are faced with the reality of sudden annihilation. It may not seem to be the ideal time to start a new label, but New York-based womenswear designer Karolina Zmarlak remains unfazed.

“All ventures in the business of fashion are daunting because it is an industry that is constantly moving, contradictory, and revenue-challenged,” she argues. “But it would be tragic to not face the demons and complexities by attempting to ‘wait it out.’” Rather than sitting on the sidelines, Zmarlak has jumped into the fashion game with an eponymous Autumn/Winter 2009 collection of directional and versatile clothes that bravely tackles womens’ shifting perception of real fashion value.

Faced with tight personal credit, consumers want more bang for their hard-to-part-with bucks. “We have taken this deeply to heart by enabling each piece to be worn in various, truly distinct ways,” notes Zmarlak’s business partner, Jesse Keyes, adding: “Just as the Parisian woman is famously able to style the same garment in a myriad of ways with accessories, our pieces can be accessorized within their own structure.”

Zmarlak’s current offering consists of well thought out and superbly executed designs that give a whole new meaning to value shopping. There are two-toned, silk Georgette tops with contrasting hues that can transform into a short, architectural dress, a Samurai-like wrap blouse and even a bulbous, Lanvin-like top. Trousers are made with active wear material to structurally resemble leggings, but are cut high for a slimming effect around the waist. Zmarlak’s gowns also offer the same transformational value, and thanks to their innovative execution, are designed to fit any size.

And the versatility doesn’t end there: almost all of the pieces can be worn inside out and are infused with enough Lycra that you can literally throw them into your luggage without worrying about wrinkles. “We hope [the clothes] will be seen as investment pieces for the woman’s closet,” Zmarlak says. “Our design is not trend-driven, but rather can be considered to hold to certain classic basics, while being forward in their expression, fabrication and quality.”

The line is aesthetically well considered, but Zmarlak ups the irresistibility factor further with an accommodating and functional price point too. “We wanted to offer a price range that would be realistic for the modern woman. Though we are in the high-end, ready-to-wear category, we offer foundation pieces that fall within the $200-$400 retail range. While a woman may only buy one $1400 dress or a $2,000 coatwhich become her investment piecesshe can undergird and layer her entire wardrobe with our design-driven foundations,” insists Keyes.

When asked how she feels about starting a line amidst the economic maelstrom, Zmarlak reamains undaunted: “Now is the time to show strength, build identity and be confident that we will find our customer and vice versa.”

With conviction like that, who’s to argue against it? Takashimaya certainly didn’t. The influential Japanese department store just bought the rookie womenswear line.

Robert Cordero is a Contributing Editor of The Business of Fashion.