LONDON, United Kingdom — She may have given up the boyfriend and lost the company, but Noelle Reno, the founder of Degrees of Freedom with ex-boyfriend Matthew Mellon, has retained her love of working in fashion. After a year hiatus in the wake of the separation (during which she filed suit against Mellon in Manhattan Superior Court), she's back in London and hard at work on her next fashion project—trying to grow Zandra Rhodes into a global lifestyle brand.
Rhodes' recent successful collaborations with Top Shop and Marks & Spencer convinced Reno that now is an opportune time to seize upon what she sees as the growing public interest in the Zandra Rhodes brand. "Zandra Rhodes is already a luxury, lifestyle brand and we are simply working on expanding product categories that offers quality and value," Reno said. "Zandra has enjoyed working on the collaborations with major retailers and in focusing again on her core business."
Rhodes does not currently make ready-to-wear under her own name, but she does make couture pieces for loyal customers and she has a fur license with Pologeorgis. Since 2000 she has been designing costumes for the San Diego opera, and traveling the globe giving talks on her role in fashion. "We met through one of the directors at Topshop who helped organize her collaborations three years ago," Reno said. "I adored her from the minute I met her—she's very humble and down to earth."
With fashion and luxury suffering the way it is, is this really the right time for a re-launch, no matter how worthy the designer? Reno says that Zandra's designs fit into remit of what luxury shoppers are looking for today: unique product that isn't novelty but will last a long time.
"It's the exact ‘lift' we are looking for in this dismal climate," Reno said. "Her dresses are multi-functional - they can go from day to evening to black-tie -offering consumers great potential value per wearing." Reno describes her business plan as realistic and is negotiations with several possible strategic investors and partners at the moment.
Watch this space.
Lauren Goldstein Crowe is co-author of the critically-aclaimed book, The Towering World of Jimmy Choo.