“The difference between now and 10 years ago is that when people see something on the runway, they don’t just want to fantasize about it, they actually want to own it. So for us, it’s about how can we make that happen from production to price point.”
This was Area co-designer Piotrek Panszczyk when FN sat down with him in June at his resort showroom in Paris. On Saturday during New York Fashion Week, he and co-designer Beckett Fogg showed the spring ’20 collection he’d promised would really push the brand forward.
“It’s about twisting the familiar and putting it in a different context,” he said. “We’re tackling a more classic femininity than usual with broderie and florals, but Brutalist and architectural at the same time.”
And with his exaggerated bourgeoisie, couture tropes and top-to-toe name-plate necklace motif that walked the runway — gladiator sandals included — he was as good as his word.
Area represents a new breed of young labels you’ll rarely see discounted. And while there are always elements of placement, it’s also one of the few brands that celebrities and influencers actually buy for themselves. For instance, Kendall Jenner bought her white kitten-heeled mules fair and square, and both she and Katy Perry shelled out for the label’s fringed Ling Ling bag.
What is your starting point for a collection?
PP: “The shoes are the very first thing we think about. When we launched the brand five years ago, the footwear was just something to accompany the ready-to-wear, but it quickly became a product in its own right. It was one of the first things that people responded to because shoes are such an emotional buy. The ready-to-wear to accessories ratio is currently at around 70:30 but it’s evolving and growing.”
Your crystal-fringed footwear has been a signature practically from the get-go, what sort of challenges did you face with the production?
PP: “The footwear might look quite effortless; it’s a b***h to produce. I know it’s just attaching a fringe to a shoe, but it’s actually very complicated. At first we thought we could just tack it on later [in the process] as we might do with RTW but we soon realized that wasn’t possible. The upper sole is connected to the under sole and the heel via a press so the fringe is first of all attached to a satin ribbon and then inserted between the two. There was a lot of trial and error before we figured it out.”
Your business is self-funded, how is that working for you strategically?
PP: “It’s tough, but it also teaches us how to be lean, really focus and still make product that’s super-fashion. The market is really changing, so it’s great to have the freedom to change with it and to create our own house with our own rules. Stores are always asking us for capsules, exclusive colors and styles, but for us it’s how can we grow our assortment in a meaningful way so our business can stand by itself. We don’t want to become over-saturated. We launched around five years ago. The first three years were about figuring out what works, what doesn’t and learning about persistence, but it’s the last two that have been really explosive. This year we signed with Net-a-Porter, Galeries Lafayette Champs-Élysées and I.T. Hong Kong. I’m happy because the response has been so great.”
Area is part of a new breed of emerging labels you rarely see discounted. How do you manage to swing that?
PP: “I feel like these days, to not get marked down, you need to produce something people really want from the get-go and are prepared to take the hit on their wallet. We do discuss that loosely with stores, but the product performs so well they just don’t need to put it on discount. There are core pieces that you will always find in every collection and we make things that are going to last. We’re very nit-picky about the quality, but it’s because we really want to create a legitimate product that people will treasure and love and that will stand the test of time. Maybe you won’t wear them your whole life, but you can always bring them back. We’re not fast-fashion, we don’t over-produce, we keep waste to a minimum. That’s what Area is all about.”
How has Instagram helped your business?
PP: “It lets us speak directly to our customers, finding out what they want and how we can give it to them. It’s such a great platform because although we sell product, we also tell a story and the people who followed our story from the beginning are still there. We get a lot of direct messages about heel height, especially, so we try to take everything on board.”