Out-of-towners may find New York City’s Garment District downtrodden, but Nicolas Caito and Hervé Pierre planted their company there with traces of Paris.
The creative team behind the Atelier Caito for Hervé Pierre label are ensconced in an airy atelier at 218 West 37th Street. The building’s nondescript exterior belies their design studio’s European aesthetic and to a greater degree the craftsmanship that is being done seven floors above. Friends of 15 years, they both trained in couture houses, first collaborated during their days at Bill Blass and decided to create their own label in fall 2017. Construction and fabrics are paramount to their designs, as are patternmakers, a few of whom worked quietly during an interview with Pierre, Caito and his wife Camille Caito-Tetard, who serves as chief operating officer.
Four months ago, the trio moved into the Midtown design space, where natural light cascades down from two pyramid-type skylights — the better for draping. The space’s white walls were dressed up by layering sheets of drafting paper geometrically to add texture and enhance the artistic feel. Ethan Cook’s framed artwork featuring fabrics made on an antique loom is bookended by two origami bird lamps (flown in by Amazon).
As an entirely New York-made collection, the founders sounded disappointed about the shrinking garment center. “More and more factories and suppliers are moving out somewhere else, because it is getting more and more expensive. The Garment Center has become like two streets now — 37th and 38th. But it’s not convenient at all, when you have designers all over the city in need of buttons, zippers, fabric, lining…,” Caito said.
The founders have been quietly building their business via retailers like Moda Operandi, Bergdorf Goodman and Tsum in Moscow (which they visited last year). They are also working to make inroads into Asia, Caito-Tetard said. For the first time, Moda Operandi will put the collection on pre-order at the end of this week. The collection will be shown in Paris from June 24 to 26 for international buyers.
While luxury brands’ dominance is entrenched at retail, there is a bubbling appreciation among consumers for workmanship and harder-to-find labels. Pierre said, “It’s interesting. Some specialty stores are coming here because they know we are not offered in big doors and they can get something special for their customers. We are at the other side of fashion. There are all the big names and logos that can be found all over the world [citing Hudson Yards as an example of designers’ omnipresence]. When stores come here, they say, ‘Oh, Mrs. Blah-blah-blah needs a size 10, Mrs….’ It’s almost sold when they are here. Sometimes they will take a picture and text a customer to say, ‘What do you think about this?’ They will say, ‘Oh, my God, I need it right now.’””
While selling the collection to buyers is one thing, selling to customers — “the real client with the black American Express card who is ready to buy” — is their main objective, Pierre said. The seasonless designs are meant to be wardrobe-building pieces. Stores understand upfront that markdowns are not part of the deal, nor are reorders. Caito and Pierre listen to retailers’ feedback and make adjustments to future collections accordingly. A round-shouldered sack dress with hip pockets, for example, is offered in green to appeal to Russian shoppers. Styles range to a size 16 — two sizes larger than most designer collections.
Although he spoke at length abut what he learns from frequenting stores, Pierre did not mention why. His role as First Lady Melania Trump’s stylist is something that he no longer addresses publicly. That is a church-and-state type situation in relation to his responsibilities at Atelier Caito for Hervé Pierre.
“I understand that a designer has to have a vision. But when you impose your own vision on so many customers and it doesn’t match the need of the customer, why do you have to follow the vision of only one person? She is 25 to 35, a size 2, she has red carpet every two hours, she has a private plane and she is independent and fabulous,” Pierre said sarcastically. “Maybe that is the way in magazines, but real life is a different story.”
Their collection retails from $1,895 to $5,395 with an emphasis on finishing, lining and well-executed accents. A white dress with a Y-like design in the front appears to be two pieces. Its airy top is suitable for big-busted women and those who want to dress with ease. With the Atelier Caito for Hervé Pierre collection, shoulder seams are shifted to the back for a slimmer back, and princess seams are used on the backside to give even conservative dresses a sexier look. The company only produces dresses that will be part of the collection. That eliminates any guesswork for clients, in terms of unexpected tweaks in design. Cato said, “We want to be true to the design. We want to make sure they get exactly what they saw.”
Eveningwear options include a sleeveless midnight dress with subtle embellishment and black piping, which is designed to be worn with a collared bolero jacket, and a midnight navy dress with a pale pink bodice and midnight criss-crossed spaghetti straps, and a cropped jacket. More dramatic is a black column gown with an attached flowy pink cape with a Y-shaped neckline, designed to draw attention to the wearer’s jewels.
Aware of the copying that runs in certain circles where some designers rely on photos for inspiration instead of actually sketching, the pair prefer to focus on workmanship. Through the years, each of the French-born duo worked with an assortment of designers. Pierre said, “That’s why Nicolas wanted to create this business. He said, ‘Hervé, I am sick of being inspired by other designers. I want to create.’”
In line with that ideology, the founders aren’t actively pursuing major retail chains now, preferring to grow organically in a markdown-free zone, Caito-Tetard said. At Tsum in Moscow, for example, the collection hangs with Chanel, Louis Vuitton, The Row, Valentino “and the cash machine,” Pierre said. They also aren’t interested in over-the-top fashion week events. “In a way, we want out of this whole system of fashion shows. Again, it’s more about design and the product. That’s how we have been trained,” Caito said.