Monica Chiang lace ballet flat in pink, $225. (Monika Chiang )
Monika Chiang doesn't do things on a small scale. The statuesque beauty with the cascading black locks has just launched her eponymous debut line, and it's no capsule collection. In fact it's closer to the amount of merchandise that would fill a substantial chunk of a department store rather than just a 1,300-square-foot boutique.
The size of her first collection (which includes bags, shoes, jewelry and clothing) and planned move Oct. 5 into a free-standing Robertson Boulevard store, called Monika Chiang, may seem gutsy. (A New York store is scheduled to open later this fall.) Chiang is a fashion designer newbie, and the economy is still shaky.
But she has some solid financial backing from J. Christopher Capital, owned by Christopher Burch. If the name seems familiar, it's probably because of his financial involvement with another fashion line, designed by his ex-wife Tory, at whose company he remains board co-chairman.
The déja vu doesn't stop there. Chris Burch and Chiang are dating, and her store is doors away from a Tory Burch boutique. Chiang's prices hit a sweet spot similar to that of the Tory Burch brand — $105 to $345 for accessories, $255 to $995 for shoes, $85 to $495 for jewelry and $20 to $1,875 for clothing.
Is this a Tory part deux? (Not a bad idea, considering the success of that brand.) But the two lines are night and day. Chiang's collection is edgy, dark and full of decidedly "downtown" items such as fitted leather motorcycle jackets, leather pants and oversized "hole-y" cashmere sweaters that, she says, are based on the sweaters that hang in Christopher's closet. Burch's spring 2012 collection is an ode to romance in seaside pales.
"The aesthetic of [Chiang's] line is a lot like [French labels] Sandro and Zadig & Voltaire," says Catherine Moellering, vice president of the Tobe Report, a New York-based retail trend consulting firm. "Those are full-fledged lifestyle brands that are coming to the U.S. soon, so I think that those brands are her biggest competition."
Chiang's approach of debuting such a large initial offering and two stand-alone stores may not be conventional, but it gives her an edge in terms of merchandising and securing all the floor space she desires.
"The biggest challenge in coming out with a line this big is capital," Moellering says. "It has to be well-financed purely just to get it produced."
Moellering adds that starting with free-standing stores is not such a bad idea. "Department stores are rough. You don't know how much floor space you'll get, and you lose some control in how your product is merchandised."
The signature element running through Chiang's robust offering is height, seen in heels on boots and stilettos that reach about 6 inches. Even "flats" like ballet slip-ons and sneakers have a hidden wedge heel to give a wearer that extra lift.
Not that Chiang, at 5-foot-9, needs the lift, but she is often seen wearing heels, and she says that she has patterned much of the line on her own closet.
Tailored button-down shirts and smart-looking blazers pair well with more aggressive accessories, such as crocodile-skin etched cuffs, layered chain necklaces with long, sinewy spikes and gold-studded, thigh-high leather wedge boots.
Chiang is already thinking about her next category: candles. She says she has been formulating a signature scented candle that will burn in her boutique. The light, white floral scent seems to fit with the posh and serene atmosphere slated for the store's interior.
The signature colors of the emporium will be gray, white and dusty blue. Brass fixtures will add some hard edges, but not enough to compete with the sharp lines and tough-yet-feminine items housed in the boutique.
Monika Chiang, 108 S. Robertson Blvd., Los Angeles.