Rachel Comey is returning to the runway with a New York Fashion Week show scheduled for Sept. 6 at 3 p.m.. in SoHo’s Shinbone Alley.
“It’s a pretty, picturesque, cinematic alleyway that’s right by my studio and store. I always walk by and we have done a photo shoot there once before. It’s just a charming little city nook,” said the designer, who has also hired a new company president, and is shifting into retail growth mode.
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Comey makes grown-up clothes with an artistic sensibility and counts Michelle Obama, Tracee Ellis Ross, Maggie Gyllenhaal, Zosia Mamet and Rashida Jones among her fans.
The last time she had a runway show was in September 2021, when she celebrated her 20th anniversary in business by staging a full-on happening at Spring Studios, a celebration of movement choreographed by contemporary dance and performance artist Beth Gill.
This show will also be performance based.
“This particular season we’re doing a collaboration with Joan Jonas, who is a groundbreaking performance artist who has lived and worked in this neighborhood for 50 years,” Comey said. “And she’s got this incredible catalogue of work and ephemera around her expression and practice that we have been playing with making textiles. Because we have that, it lends itself to the storytelling of doing a show. I’m hoping to cast some young performance artists, too, to connect the legacy of her career to younger artists working today. Those types of community things always really inspire and excite me.”
Jonas, 87, has been practicing performance art since the ’70s. Often basing her pieces on myths, rituals and poems, she draws, paints, recites text and wears costumes and masks as part of her performances. In May, she partnered with Woolmark Company on a film bringing the Woolmark Prize finalists’ work to life. Titled “Dialogue,” the film was a contemporary restaging of one of Jonas’ most influential performances, “Delay Delay” (1972).
Also in September, the brand is welcoming a new company president, Julie Discours-Rabin, most recently the president of Area, who comes with two decades of experience at Nanushka, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Barbara Bui, Versace and Sonia Rykiel.
“She brings to the table a lot of experience, talent and vision we didn’t yet have on the team,” Comey said. “We’ve spent the last eight years building structures and dealing with logistics. Our current president, who is great, set those goals and completed them. It’s nice now to bring on someone like Julie who comes from wholesale, from merchandising, from business strategy. It’s an exciting collaboration I’m very much looking forward to.”
In October, the brand will open its fourth store, on Fillmore Street in San Francisco, adding to the fresh fashion momentum in the city.
It’s the right time.
“Business is great, it was such a roller coaster through the pandemic and then we all got projected out of the cannon when life started happening again. We’re up 10 percent from last year and are looking for ways to grow, like the San Francisco store,” said Comey, who currently has three stores — Crosby Street in New York’s SoHo, Smith Street in Brooklyn and Melrose Place in Los Angeles. The newest will be 1,600 square feet.
“We’ve always had a pretty strong customer base in San Francisco that traveled to our New York and L.A. stores and shopped on e-commerce as well. Our collection suits the vibe there. Fillmore has so much to offer in the way of community-based things — a wine store, legacy book store, hair and beauty and other independent like-minded boutiques. And also the restaurants and coffee shops. There’s a vibrancy happening on the street,” Comey said. “San Francisco gets a bad rap, and downtown I get it, but there are so many other vibrant things happening. I love going there; I connect with it personally. It’s so beautiful.”
“It’s been obvious the past couple years and through the pandemic how important it is to connect directly to the customer and how valuable that relationship is,” she said. “For me, it’s super inspiring to hear about the lifestyle of our customers, what they are doing, where they are going and how their lives have changed. It’s nice to go where the customers are, too, and connect with a new community.”
The brand may be looking for more retail real estate opportunities in future.
“The great asset about Rachel Comey is we dress a woman from head to toe, for events, to go to work, it’s a lifestyle brand,” Discours-Rabin said. “That’s why we’re so successful in our retail stores. I was reading a report and the average time our client is spending in the store is one hour. Because they feel so good, like they are part of the family. There’s something very special about the experience we are providing in our stores.”
Wholesale is about half of the business now, and Comey and Discours-Rabin do not intend to pull back on it even as they open more brand stores.
“I feel so close with the buyers at all the boutiques, especially the founder-led ones where we connect over our customers and community. And also the value of designing clothes for peoples’ lifestyles, it’s super important,” said Comey, whose clothes are sold at Hampden in Charleston, South Carolina, and Kick Pleat in Austin, Texas, among others. “Julie will be able to bring a new perspective to that and structure it as well.”
“After COVID-19, we’ve seen some e-comm players start to struggle. And I’m not saying retail is amazing right now, but people are going back to shop in store because it’s important,” Discours-Rabin said. “Also, for many strategic reasons, it’s a key element for the development of the brand. Eighty percent of our wholesale partners are domestic, so there is a huge opportunity internationally. And if you are thinking of opening a retail store, wholesale is a way to test the appetite…in Paris or Stockholm, for example. It gives you so much information about the market.”
The executive has been a fan of the brand for a long time.
“I moved to New York from Paris in 2012 because I was fascinated by the energy and how all the American designers were bringing something new and fresh to the industry,” she said. “Rachel Comey was one of the first brands I visited in store, because I saw so many girls wearing the cool denim. The brand totally fits my aesthetic — I’m one of the key accounts, maybe. I worked for different brands and sometimes the aesthetic was not my personal taste, but who cares? When you have to develop a business you look at opportunity. But this is a big plus.”
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