Three years ago, James and Gwendolyn Jurney opened the doors on an intriguing new retail concept, fittingly called GROUPE, at 198 Bowery. The pair had, for 18 years previous, built a reputation for fine tailoring at their NoLIta boutique Seize Sur Vingt; but a drastically changed fashion landscape inspired an idea to bring independent designers together in something of a mutual support system for a new reality.
Music and art were always a part of their cultural DNA. And their first year, 2017, saw them putting on exhibitions and bringing in DJs that in a way helped to further define the clothes they were offerin in the shop. Almost as if to say, “If you like to listen to this, surely you’ll love to wear this.” But it was GROUPE’s relationship to design talent that genuinely allowed them to cultivate a forward-thinking manifesto of sorts.
Indeed, James now describes it as being like a record label, with various designers signed on like music acts, and GROUPE seeing to their careful career development, as well as to the actual sales at retail.
“The concept of sharing all our resources across a few brands with strong synergies is really the backbone of the model,” he explains, “and the reason we can manage to survive through extremely tough conditions.”
Yet more than just a collection of brands sharing the rent, there is a mission of continuity which they hope comes across to their exacting clientele. But they have also recently further honed the mission to specifically work with designers who have already seen a bit of action, as they are better equipped to deal with the whims and vagaries of the fickle fashion biz—one of those being Timo Weiland, with whom they have struck up a particularly significant partnership.
“We were very lucky to meet the Timo team again when we did,” James enthuses, “since they are exactly the kind of brand that makes sense for the early stages of GROUPE. They have been through highs and lows and genuinely understand how hard the business is…but they also know what it can become if managed correctly.”
Their June 2019 Fashion Week presentation was something of a pivotal moment, in fact, where their philosophies and talents came together in the way that they had always imagined. The fallout has been a genuine sense of GROUPE’s true potential. And, well, they’re now dressing major a-listers like Anderson Cooper, Andy Cohen and even Billy Joel.
To delve a little deeper into the GROUPE / Timo Weiland symbiosis, we chatted with the Timo team of Timo himself, and partners Donna Kang and Alan Eckstein.
The Timo Weiland brand is almost a decade old now—how has your design philosophy evolved?
Timo: Over the last 10 years, we have grown up as a team. Our style definitely reflects that maturity while still remaining true to our downtown New York roots, and prep-meets-street aesthetic.
Donna: We used to work in a classic, wholesale system based on a strict fashion calendar with regulated drops and sales dates. Now we are working on a direct-to consumer/wholesale model that gives us the flexibility to deal effectively with the changing landscape of fashion retail, and allows us to pivot quickly to best answer our consumer’s needs.
How would you define Timo Weiland as a label now? Does music play a big part?
Timo: The TW label is centered around modern tailoring and essentials for the city dwelling lifestyle. And yes, New York and its vibrant music scene have always been core inspirations to the three of us. Alan and I are both DJs too.
How did you come to connect with GROUPE?
Timo: Alan, Donna and I were connected to GROUPE through our longtime friend and collaborator Edina Sultanik, the co-founder of (capsule). The synergies were immediately apparent from the first meeting, so we moved forward to form a partnership.
Alan: I had followed the GROUPE team for sometime dating back to their NoLIta location. When we all came together, it was instant fun.
How are you working together to meet some of the challenges faced by independent fashion labels and retailers right now?
Timo: GROUPE has been a dream operational partner for the Timo Weiland brand—more specifically in the areas of sampling, production, operations, and retail. The business and operations side of running a fashion brand are the frequent killer of independent fashion labels and retail shops. The more streamlined and systematic the approach, the better. GROUPE—and Seize Sur Vingt—have been operating successfully for over twenty years in a way that has grown and evolved with the times.
Donna: All three of us have branched off into other, tech driven fashion endeavors that we are constantly learning from. We bring our respective talents, skill sets and experiences from these new and past projects together and when combined, this gives us a more encompassing view of today’s retail landscape, that can help us navigate the constantly changing world of fashion.
How has the relationship helped you as a designer?
Donna: Partnerships between designers, friends and collaborators have long been a classic source of inspiration and development for artists throughout the ages, and there is no difference here. It’s been a great blending of minds, resources and experiences that has promoted both artistic and business acumen and positive, personal growth.
What is most exciting to you about fashion right now? And most frustrating?
Timo: The pace of the industry is both thrilling and frustrating. The turnover in fashion right now is faster than ever, and the opportunity to grow a retail business with the latest tools at our fingertips has never been greater. Going into 2020, there is more of a blank slate for brands and retailers to reinvent systems and take over market share from those that have not innovated fast enough and have gone out of business.
Alan: Fashion seems to be going through something of a reset and we’re glad to be a part of that new class. With major retailers like Barney’s out of business, you need more than ever to carve out a niche—and that’s the direction we are headed in for the Timo brand.
Donna: It used to be that the designer would dictate the trends and the public would listen. Now it is the people that are setting the trends and the designer is interpreting them. As for the trends, it feels that the strongest, overarching constant in the sea of options offered now is that the individual is more celebrated today than they have ever been before. Personal choice and expression is the most exciting thing to me in fashion now. Learning about the balance between digital and organic branding has been a rewarding and frustrating experience so far.