Saturday, June 02, 2018

In the Market Report by Marilyn Kirschner

By George, I Think He’s Got It!

Zack Carr and George Carr in Istanbul in 1995
Click images for full-size views

Who says it’s easy to get a fashion brand off the ground and running, even when it appears that the stars have been perfectly aligned? Certainly not George Carr. In 2010 he created CARR NYC (www.CARRnyc.com), a lifestyle collection for men and women. It had an unmistakable 70’s and 90’s feel along with a bit of the 20’s and 30’s, a subtle Southwestern aesthetic (an homage to his Texas roots), and a New York City glamour. The legendary Sam Shahid, who had served as CARR’s creative adviser, referred to it as a “thinking person’s collection” based on George's late brother Zack Carr’s vast and impressive archives which were left to him when he died from a rare blood disorder in 2000 at the age of 55.

Zack may not be a household name, but he helped define American fashion for over 30 years. Longtime fashion insiders (myself included) knew Zack to be a brilliantly talented fashion designer who worked behind the scenes as the creative director and right hand to Calvin Klein. He served as VP of Design at Calvin Klein from 1973 – 1985, Principal Designer of Zack Carr Collection from 1985 – 1987, and Chief Creative Director at Calvin Klein from 1987 - 1997. He was such an integral part of Calvin Klein’s sophisticated, minimal aesthetic, that upon his untimely passing, Calvin went on record saying:

”Whatever one thinks about what we stand for in terms of being nontraditional, modern, clean -- that was Zack. Zack Carr, my great friend, and lifelong design associate. Throughout my career, Zack was by my side helping me make every creative decision. I respected him beyond words”. - Calvin Klein

In 2012, Ron Frasch, the former president and chief merchandising officer of Saks Fifth Avenue, gave George Carr his first order to the tune of $20 million. He launched CARR Collection at Bloomingdales and CARR Men at Saks Fifth Avenue, but unfortunately, George was forced to close one year later due to undercapitalization. He has begun to seek new investors “to become a partner for the big picture” and started the process of restructuring.

George with some of his designs
Photo by Marilyn Kirschner

I recently revisited George at his chic Chelsea duplex apartment/studio which he lovingly calls Studio 55 referencing his Studio 54 years. His tenacity, passion, determination, and resolve immediately struck me. "I believe something is missing from the marketplace and what I hear every woman say is, “Where are the wearable clothes?”

CARR NYC The Totem Collection black and white with a touch of lavender
Photo by Marilyn Kirschner

He went on, “We want investors to know who I am and who we are. The 90’s fashion that Zack and I both created is the foundation of CARR NYC. But this is my collection -- not Zack’s. I’ve taken his shapes, the Helmut Lang 90’s (Zack and Helmut were friends), the slip dresses, the black and the white. I’m going to own it. 'The City Collection', which is all about tailoring is our first collection and the new 'Totem Collection', which is 90’s minimalism mixed with athletic attitude and luxury is what I am promoting here. It’s all about minimal classicism, and urban athleticism played out primarily in black and white with a hint of lavender and silver. Price points are on par with, say, Theory; not too high and not too low."

In describing the line to me a few years ago, he used the words: “luxe leisure, dressed up, modern, American sportswear chic, sophisticated, simple, intelligent, and pragmatic". This has not changed. What HAS changed is the attitude and more importantly the focus, which is now on sportswear and athletics (the ‘A’ in CARR doesn't only stand for art and architecture, a love of which was shared by both brothers). “I believe I have come further from fall in showing a sportier and more relevant collection in today’s terminology,”

Timothee Chalamet wearing Off-White at the 2018 Film Independent Spirit Awards
Photo by Justjared.com

From the outset, his muses have been Georgia O’Keefe, Audrey Hepburn, James Dean, and Gwyneth Paltrow. He has added Karlie Kloss (he would love her to wear his clothes), Puff Daddy, Jay Z, Meghan Markle, Timothée Chalamet (he would like him to be the face of the label and 'play' his James Dean) and Off-White’s Virgil Abloh. He vividly recalls seeing Timothée at the Independent Spirit Awards right before the Oscars (he won Best Actor for his role in "Call Me by Your Name"). He was wearing an un-tucked crisp white shirt by "Off-White", skinny black jeans, and classic white lace-up sneakers and had an "AHA!" moment because the young actor had been dressing in very tailored suits on the red carpet before this evening. When he studied the shirt, he noticed the label "Off-White" and took note of what he was doing. He became a fan instantly.

Virgil Abloh.
Photo by highsnobbery.com

Of course, Virgil Abloh has officially reached cult status at this moment in time. He was not only named as the next artistic director of men’s wear at Louis Vuitton in March (he is the first African-American to have this distinction) and is nominated for both Womenswear and Menswear Designer of the Year.  The winners will be announced at Monday’s CFDA Awards Ceremony.

 I also inspired George. He took note when I initially mentioned to him that I wished he had more sportswear. As he put it, “I was just unable to do sportswear at the time, but I am all for sportswear." The boutique at Studio 55 currently features "The Totem Collection" which is untailored, unstructured, bodycon, sexy, simple with basketball tanks and tank dresses, the "coords", and 90’s wraps.  It is also seasonless. The idea is to dress a global customer in any climate (except extreme winter!) and in any time zone.

Leah Durner for CARR hand painted  silk X tank
Photo by Marilyn Kirschner

"Here in the USA, The Sun Belt from California through Texas onto Florida is king! New York may be the center of the world, but California is the most populated state. And in 3 years, Texas will be. These are my tri-coastal homes. A new customer wants minimalism with style! My fabrics are lightweight, pack-able, travel-able, minimal and with style. And remember The millennial likes to travel. She wants experience. And I wanted her to feel movement and ease as she worked, played & experienced her modern lifestyle. Valerie Steele taught me that modernity is all about movement and movement is about anatomy! My clothes are not for actual athletic performance, but the jerseys of sports uniforms influenced me. Rayon jerseys in midi tank dresses, silk jerseys in mini tank dresses and cotton jerseys knits and T-shirts. Thank you, Coco Chanel, for jersey knits. Thank you Coco Chanel's boyfriend Boy Capel for being a polo player!”

CARR NYC sketch for equestrian jean jacket and lean equestrian pant by George Carr

“Woven cotton would be another totemic fabric at CARR NYC. American, easy, effortless. Cotton translates into denim tracksuits, equestrian jackets and pants, and my new 'collarless' white suit! And my man-tailored classic white oxford shirt -- thank you Timothee’ Chalamet at The Independent Spirit Awards in Off-White. And thank you Brooks Brothers for the oxford button down. And again, thank you, Coco, for taking Boy’s Scottish Oxford Shirts!”

CARR NYC black and white silk and cotton flora flage printed top and pants
Photo by Marilyn Kirschner

“And to add luxury and style -- silk blouses, shantung pants, lurex shirts, cocktail dresses, and that silk/cotton silver lamé in the signature floral pattern. Florals are the new camouflage - 'Flora Flage'!  My cotton and silks contain a hint of Lycra which adds a touch of modernity. All my fabrics are natural with a dry hand and flat feel - heritage and modern!”

CARR NYC bagX

“It’s all about the mixing and appropriating because I have an African American background for real. I am not appropriating anyone else’s culture. I’m appropriating my own culture. I see it as lifestyle dressing from the boardroom to boardwalk all in a sportier, unstructured way. My Clint Orms skull belts and jewelry are a mainstay at CARR NYC and are used to accent The Totem Collection RTW - 'Totem-On-Totem'! I may not be featuring the 90's bling, but I understand the need for personal expression through accessories, jewelry & baseball hats!" CARR leather accessories continue in The Totem Collection. Sporty black leather carryalls tatted with the totemic 'X' and wide leather belts add dimension to the RTW.

CARR NYC by Lucchese black patent  boots with racing stripe

The Lucchese for CARR NYC totem boots complete the "Totem Collection". CARR NYC shows boots as footwear all year. What better accent to a white mini dress than a high black patent flat boot tatted with a white Road Stripe? My minimal ballerina tatted with the CARR 'X' is in development!”

George told me that he believes his "City Collection", the tailored part, looks stronger than ever and credits Meghan Markle for that. “I see her as the new Audrey. She has put her stamp on modern tailored dressing for the new millennial - her white city coat and black pantsuit is available here at Studio 55 - just not in the main boutique! And look at Harry. He used to be naked in Vegas, but he is a grown-up man now. My men’s collection, which is very Prince Harry, is for the real man. They are both epitomizing my customer because they are 33 and 36. They are millennials. They are Yuppies. The new, young, affluent. That is who I am going after. The royal wedding had a big influence on me because I am Anglican Episcopalian, but I see this world as diverse and inclusive, I want to bring it all in. So, what have I got? American sportswear with a luxury feel but with a special identity.”

CARR NYC white silk jersey mini dress

“Zack and I were doing our art in our home, my late brother Peter, the cowboy and sportsman, was doing baseball, my uncle who raised me was an athlete, as was my father. And my housekeeper Henry was my African American influence. What I realized is that she was always listening to Willie Mays on the radio, playing baseball. And all of a sudden I took all of these elements, Afro-Centric 90’s hip-hop and athleticism from my childhood, and brought it all together. It’s all here... it’s just what room you went into. It’s all about family influences. It was all one for me. Virgil (Abloh) is doing nothing different. I may have taken the gold chain off, but I put my silver pendant on.”

CARR NYC pantsuit in textured cotton and silk lame floral

“Here at Carr we see a 'new' New York, and I’ve lived in L.A., and I see a 'new' L.A., and I’m tri-coastal as I’m from Texas, which has also changed. We see this new world, and we think CARR exemplifies that and is the symbol of this new world. And there is my woman wearing her sculptural solids, and the new man. Nothing is tailored. Everything is ‘athluxury.’ It’s luxury sportswear. And we want BIG digital. I want to be as big as Apple. And loaded with consciousness, respect for one another, man or woman, financial, or environmental. We want the whole world to have an awareness. ”

It's not lost on me that just six months after I saw George's first collection (it was August 2016), with its nod to O'Keefe and its subtle Southwest references (down to the totem silver belt buckles and urban Western-inspired boots), the fall/winter 2017 collections unveiled, and the runways in New York, Milan, and Paris were filled with Western influences including endless variations on the Western cowboy boot. I instantly thought of CARR NYC.

George has stated, "I always go for beauty with a capital B. I don't do ugly." Well, that's great news because if you've been looking at recent collections, you would have to agree that the LAST thing the world needs is more ugly. Yes, we need designers to be innovative, experiment, push the envelope and challenge existing notions of beauty, but there is enough that is downright unflattering. And at insultingly exorbitant prices no less!




- Marilyn Kirschner

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