PARIS, France — After a rocky split with Sonia Rykiel in March, Julie de Libran is starting a new chapter in her career. On the first day of Paris couture week, the designer will present a new collection of 20 dresses at her home on the Left Bank.
“I've always loved dresses. It’s one piece, it’s timeless and it’s creatively unlimited,” said the designer, whose resume includes stints at Versace, Prada, Louis Vuitton and, most recently, the house of Rykiel, where she was named creative director in 2014.
De Libran's new venture has no external backing. “When a designer starts with a collection and assets, it creates value for the brand,” she said. “The business people can be very quickly hungry to take over 50 percent. I would like to keep control.”
The designer's experience with the business side of the industry has not always been rosy. Five years after joining Rykiel, the French label known best for its stripey knitwear, she exited after a dispute with its owner, the Li & Fung-backed First Heritage Brands, claiming they were in breach of contract. Just weeks later, the brand sought bankruptcy protection in France and liquidated its assets in the US.
For her first go as an entrepreneur, De Libran is starting small, with the help of friends and her London-based sister, using deadstock materials from a silk supplier in Italy and an embroiderer in Switzerland. She is also drafting her first business plan ever.
“I am learning the business side. I was looking at it from afar when I worked in houses but I always looked at the sales charts,” she said. “It's a small structure; it's different from a big house.”
Like many young upstarts, De Libran aims to grow direct sales via Juliedelibran.com, but an exclusive wholesale partnership with luxury e-commerce player MatchesFashion.com will likely shift more units.
“I’m always drawn to designers that really understand their customer and Julie epitomises just that,” said MatchesFashion Fashion Buying Director Natalie Kingham. “She understands her woman’s lifestyle and what they need from their clothes and how to make them feel empowered. Each dress in this collection has its unique story, as they are limited edition, made in sustainable fabrics and effortlessly glamourous.”
As a teaser, De Libran posted a photo of herself on Instagram wearing a white, black and gold sequined-tulle organza dress dubbed the Gilda. “I think people dress more casual in the daytime, but they can invest in a beautiful piece for the evening,” she said.
Each dress will be numbered. Prices range from €1,200 to €1,800 for short silk and jacquard dresses such as the “Eve” to €20,000 to €30,000 for made-to-measure dresses like the “Gilda.” She aims to break even by 2021, if not 2020.
De Libran is among a group of career fashion designers who have found themselves seeking new opportunity in uncharted waters.
“When you're a creative person, you need to do something,” she said, quoting Karl Lagerfeld. “I design like I breathe. You don’t ask to breath. It just happens.”
Meanwhile, the fate of Sonia Rykiel will be decided by a French commercial court in July.