The King of Pants Hopes for a Second Reign
By ERIC WILSON
POOR pants. You never hear economists pegging a market forecast to their lengths, as they do with skirts, or magazines celebrating “It” pants, as they do with bags and shoes. In boom times, as in lean years, pants are just pants.
Unless, that is, you are talking about those of Alvin Valley, a formerly high-flying designer who was once known on Seventh Avenue as the King of Pants. A decade ago, he was selling as many as 40 pairs a day at stores like Kirna Zabête, but, alas, he overexpanded with sportswear and a lower-priced line, and wound up losing both his business and his name during the recession. Some of the socially prominent women he dressed are still known to mourn the loss of Mr. Valley’s pants, which used to cost around $425.
“They just had a nice cut,” Alexandra Von Furstenberg, who designs furniture, remarked the other day. “They hugged you so that you felt sexy enough, but not too showy.”
Lulu de Kwiatkowski, the textiles designer, said she bought a white pair of Alvin Valley pants before she even knew who Alvin Valley was.
“They were in my closet until they were falling to pieces,” she said, “so when I met him, I knew we had to be friends.” She even asked him to design her wedding dress in 2007.
The stylist Amanda Ross was searching for hers, but wasn’t sure if they had gone missing or if she had edited them out of her wardrobe in haste.
“One of the things I would never throw out is a pair of his pants,” she said.
When the Moret Group, which bought half of Mr. Valley’s label in 2006 for $23 million, stopped producing his collections a few years ago, Mr. Valley grabbed his two dogs (a pug and a dachshund), jumped in his Porsche Carrera and drove to Miami with no intention of looking back. But as luck would have it, Alex Dulac, a private equity investor, was looking for a new business opportunity. He was familiar with Mr. Valley, because every girlfriend he asked said the same thing: “The pants. The pants. The pants.”
So he bought Mr. Valley’s trademarks from Moret in March, sensing an opportunity to revive a hot label from the last decade with a business model from this one: by cutting out department stores and selling directly to consumers online. The new alvinvalley.com is planned to open for business this week, offering roughly 36 styles of pants, starting at $195, slightly lower than their original incarnation. With a first-year sales target of $10 million, Mr. Dulac believes Mr. Valley could become the next lifestyle brand.
“I saw this Michael Kors-ability to him,” Mr. Dulac said.
Back at work in the garment district, Mr. Valley, looking over a long and lean style of high-waist gray wool trousers, framed with stripes of darker gray, said that designing pants has become something of an obsession for him. He was focused on perfecting the fits for which he is known, using a construction technique that was inspired in part by Bridget Jones. Inside the waistband of each pair is a wide band of fabric cut on the bias to hold everything in place, like a built-in compression garment. (He submitted a patent application this week.)
“I wanted women to feel they could take their pants off in front of a date and not have to show their Spanx,” he said.
Well, there’s that. But the real secret to Mr. Valley’s original success with pants, if you ask his customers, was that he chose to celebrate a category that other designers often overlooked.
“He understands construction and a woman’s body,” Ms. Ross said. “After that, all you need is a needle and thread.”