Designer Jonathan Meizler doesn’t want his menswear brand, Title of Work, to be another department store brand.
Currently sold at Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman and Nordstrom, as well as online luxury marketplace MatchesFashion, Title of Work targets the luxury shoppers who appreciate a hand-stitched tie — and are willing to pay over $1,000 for a sterling and leather bracelet. It’s also a brand for non-traditionalists: His current collection, “Dirty Words,” features items with expletives like “fuck this” and “dirty bitch” stitched on them. It’s a nod to the current administration, Meizler said.
After seven years in business, the designer — who has e-commerce sales through his site — feels like he has finally built a foundation for the brand and is ready to launch standalone retail stores. For the past two months, he’s been testing the concept in the CFDA’s Retail Lab, located inside the Cadillac House in Manhattan.
“That’s why the CFDA has this space, to help designers test out physical retail and see if it’s a fit for them,” said Meizler. “We needed to first understand, one-on-one, who our customer is and what resonates with them. It’s like a test tube. This is what you can’t do in a department store setting.”
More luxury designer brands that once had a straight and narrow path to follow toward success — design a collection, present at fashion week, sign on with a major department store partner — have found that path is now scattered. Particularly for brands that didn’t take the plunge and launch off the bat as direct-to-consumer brands, transitioning the awareness and early sales that have come through wholesale partners to direct retail is a tricky feat to pull off. It’s not like flipping a switch.
Through the Retail Lab and other initiatives, the CFDA has been trying to help designers transition to a more differentiated revenue stream — one that capitalizes on the exposure and reach of wholesale partnerships, without compromising the importance of direct customer relationships.
“We identify our designers who have the strongest brands and give them a platform to test direct retail sales, meet customers and plan a blueprint,” said Steven Kolb, the president of the CFDA. “The rules are changing under their feet, and we have to serve as a guide.”
Prior to Title of Work, the Retail Lab acted as a physical sales incubator for designers and brands like Timo Weiland and Public School. Even if the brands don’t go on to open their own stores, they’ll have more customer intel to relay back to retail partners or apply to their online shops.
For Meizler and Title of Work, plans for a store are starting to come together. He sees his brand as capitalizing on a whitespace for men who are fashion-forward and walking the line between high-low, streetwear-lux fashion. He felt the brand’s point of view and positioning wasn’t as easily translated online or in a department store.
“Brands need a point of view today when there’s so much noise, but when you’re sitting in a retail store, you have no control over how they choose to display your brand,” said Rony Zeidan, the founder of RO NY, which worked with Title of Work on the installation. “It’s a luxury brand, but it’s flipping the world of luxury upside down because it’s so contemporary, there’s not an elevated separation.”
Meizler wanted to use the space to understand who the brand’s customers are better, introduce the brand to new ones and, of course, make sales.
“The CFDA has been a great support here, because they’re trying to find themselves and make themselves more relevant, and they’ve been following through,” said Meizler. “The more people understand the designers, the more likely they are to buy.”