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With a new fashion brand launching nearly every week, it's impossible to know who will succeed and who won't make it to this time next year. La Ligne, however, appears destined for success. The direct to consumer brand launches today on its website (and Net-a-Porter starting April 11), boasting experienced and hyper-connected founders. The company is well-funded (they just raised $2MM), the advisory board reads like a who's who of the industry, and — not inconsequentially — the clothes, which celebrate stripes and lines in all forms, are both well-designed and well priced.
Oh, and the first meeting the founders took was with Anna Wintour.
"Anna was the first person we told, after we all kind of came together," said Meredith Melling, who founded La Ligne with Valerie Boster and Molly Howard. "She has been really supportive."
Melling and Boster, of course, know Wintour well from their years at Vogue. Melling worked at the magazine for 16 years, most recently as the website's Fashion Director, and Boster spent 10 years as first Market Editor and then Bookings Editor for the website. The two left the magazine in 2013 to found La Marque, a brand consultancy firm. It was at La Marque that they met Molly Howard, a former investment banker who was, at the time, heading up Business Development at Rag & Bone.
By that point, the idea for La Ligne — which means "the line" in French — was already brewing.
"When Valerie and I were at Vogue, we saw trends come and go but stripes were somehow always a perennial," Melling says. "Whether we were shooting a politician, or we were doing a sporty shoot, we always wanted stripes." On the subway one day, Boster and Melling counted how many people were wearing stripes.
"It was about one in five," said the former. "We were like, well that's it. If we can just have a percentage of that market share, then we're onto something." Longtime fans of Saint James, the new designers acknowledge that plenty of brands have perfected the preppy or nautical stripe, but no one, they felt, was using the stripe in an all-encompassing, ready-to-wear way. The duo, who had worked directly with brands at La Marque, realized how important it was for a new brand to stand for something, so they got behind the stripe. "It's democratic, timeless, iconic — and yet so malleable," Melling says.
If that sounds like fashion speak, it is. But Howard turned their ideas into a real business. "I never thought I would ever launch a line," Boster says. "In fact you could have quoted me during my entire period at Vogue saying I'm never going to be one of those Vogue editors that leaves the magazine and thinks they can launch an entire collection. Because I know how hard it is. I didn't go to design school and I know nothing about business." When someone who did know something about business got excited, they knew they had something.
It was Howard who championed the now very popular direct to consumer model (Warby Parker, Everlane, Ayr, Doen — to name a few). "One, it gives us the ability to react to the customer much more quickly — we can see where they're clicking, what colors they like, what sizes they need, so we can really design the experience around them as opposed to the wholesaler," Howard says. "Two, we can control the brand messaging. Three, we don't need to be a slave to the traditional fashion calendar, which the average customer doesn't really care about."
To address the buy-now-wear-now phenomenon, without losing relevance each season, La Ligne will produce two lines: Essentials, classic styles which will be available year after year, and Edition, special-edition styles which cater more to seasonal trends. And then, of course, there's the price point. Though nearly everything is produced in New York, most pieces in the line hover around $200-$300, including a supersoft cashmere sweater (at $275). Only two dresses are priced above $500.
Though the name is similar to The Line, a retailer designed by another Vogue affiliate Vanessa Traina, Melling said they weren't worried about causing confusion. "When you really do the deep dive and you start going after domain names, you realize there are a lot of things that have similar names in different categories," said Melling. "The line isn't about stripes — it's about super chic clothes. So I think we stand for different things. I don't think there will be confusion." To her point, the brand wound up settling for the domain lalignenyc.com since laligne.com was already taken "by some French railroad."
With their resumes and a business plan, the trio had no trouble bringing on investors. "We were oversubscribed, which was really, really great," said Howard. "A lot of it is friends and family, and then we have strategic partners — we have an actress [Dianna Agron], a singer." Their advisory board reads like a fashion party invite list: Andrew Rosen (CEO of Theory Inc.), Andy Spade (founder of Kate Spade and Sleepy Jones), Leandra Medine (of ManRepeller), David Neville (of Rag & Bone), Neil Blumenthal (of Warby Parker), and Babs Burchfield who founded Conscious Commerce with Olivia Wilde.
Though La Ligne just launched today, Howard, Melling and Boster have big plans for the brand. "We see this as a full lifestyle brandâwe want to do home, men's, sports," Howard says. "But we're taking our time, starting with womenswear which is obviously what we know best and what we wear." The debut collection is evidence not only of their experience in the industry but their intrinsic understanding of what women want to wear. A knit tank top, for instance, was thoughtfully designed to offer support so wearers could go without a bra (if, of course, they possess the svelte, minorly-endowed figure for which the line is cut).
There's a crisp white shirt with a navy placard and exploded cuffs, but also a more sedate version in black for women who work in a corporate setting and worry about matching their black suits. And while there are plenty of striped pieces — including T-shirts, sweaters and the trendy Edition pieces which feature a mish-mash of stripes — others take inspiration from the humble line in subtler fashion, as a painted-on color-block, or an accent on a neck or hemline. While this season the Edition is awash in stripes, the team said that going forward it will be more abstract, perhaps focusing on a ribbed knit where the "stripe" comes from its texture. The idea is to make "clothes you can eat, sleep, drink and dance in."
Though fashion is undeniably a business, a surprising number of designers go into it with little or no knowledge of the industry, and La Ligne is a great example of why fledgling designers might do best to bide their time and work their way up within the industry before embarking on a solo mission. Of course, it helps to have a cumulative 26 years at fashion's Bible under your belt. Boster admits, "Without Vogue, I don't think any of this would be possible."