Thu, Jul 26, 2007 - Page 13 News List

Couture designers take on knockoff artists

Designers of the moment are trying to beat the knock-off artists to the punch with affordable lines at stores including Target, H&M and JC Penney

By SANDRA BARRERA  /  NY TIMES NEWS SERVICE , LOS ANGELES

Kylie Minogue, for H&M and Kate Moss for Topshop, bottom left, to design one-off lines.

PHOTOS: AGENCIES

Vera Wang is doing it. And Stella McCartney, Karl Lagerfeld and Proenza Schouler all did it while some in the rarefied fashion world gasped.

Now Libertine, Chip & Pepper and Roberto Cavalli are adding their names to the growing roster of high-end designers out to beat knockoff artists to the punch with budget lines for the fashion-starved masses.

"It's very exciting to think a million pieces of our product are going to be out across America," says LA-based designer Johnson Hartig, whose red-hot Libertine line recently became the seventh sought-after designer label in rotation as part of Target's Go International Flights of Fashion campaign.

Previous Go collaborators include red-carpet favorite Proenza Schouler, Sophia Albou of the French label Paul & Joe, and 40-year-old Patrick Robinson, recently named head of design at Gap.

Still, the high-low partnership is a challenge for both sides.

"For a designer working at a company like (Target), the central issue is the fact we're quality over quantity, and they're quantity over quality," says Lazaro Hernandez, half of the Parsons-trained design duo Proenza Schouler.

But success is practically guaranteed. Actress Maggie Gyllenhaal wore a stunning, navy blue Proenza Schouler gown to the Academy Awards this year. And awards-season buzz helped the pair create a buying frenzy with the affordable swing coats, bustier tops and pencil skirts in their spring/summer Target line.

The Libertine look? Punk meets preppy with skull and diamond-argyle sweater vests, silk bow-front blouses, bucket hats embroidered with whales, striped shirtdresses and bat-printed Bermuda shorts frayed at the seams.

Consider these pieces just a sampling of the cheap chic Hartig and New York-based Cindy Greene have dreamed up for their limited-edition Target line, priced from US$12.99 to US$39.99 - small change compared to the core brand's creations.

Libertine's deconstructed, reconstructed and then silk-screened vintage tees fetched US$375 when they first started flying off the racks at Fred Segal in 2001. A year later they were selling for US$500.

With their exposed stitching, rough edges and Victorian graphics, the label's shirts and other one-of-a-kind creations became an instant favorite among celebrities like Mick Jagger, Brad Pitt and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Even the German fashion guru Karl Lagerfeld is a fan.

Last year, Hartig told the Independent of London that one night while he and Greene were having dinner in a restaurant, "Karl and his posse of six or seven people walked in, and six of them were wearing Libertine. Our jaws fell to the table."

Lagerfeld preceded Libertine in the high-low design world when in 2004 he launched a capsule collection for the Swedish retailer H&M. He was followed by Stella McCartney and Viktor and Rolf.

Come Nov. 8, H&M will launch a Roberto Cavalli collection that the Italian fashion icon promises "will add a dash of festivity and dreams" to fall wardrobes.

According to H&M spokeswoman Lisa Sanberg, the designer collaborations have been well-received and sell out quickly, "exceeding our expectations with long lines and excited crowds.

"We always strive to be able to surprise our customers with something new and unique in our stores," she says. "It's also a great way for our customers to experience high fashion, design and quality, and introduce them to designers and fashions that may have previously been out of reach."

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