Nearly one year on from their first meeting, Grenoble Life catches up with Kris Leroy, the American founder of Grenoble-based soft furnishings design company LEROY & SCARPA, France, previously Chic Throws.
Grenoble Life: Why the name change?
Kris Leroy: As Axelle and I are now associates, both managing the company and aiming to launch a luxury brand, we definitely needed to change the name for a fresh start. Chic Throws was also impossible to pronounce in French! I had originally had a direct e-commerce strategy for the business in place but realized that it was best to focus on my designs, our originality and leave the B2C to others more specialized.
As most designers, it is important to keep your name in the frontlines and not hide behind a meaningless company name. We have invested in our new name/logo which I think reflects a more luxurious brand.
GL: Who is Axelle?
Kris: Axelle Scarpa and I used to work together at Ericsson Hewlett-Packard Telecommunications (EHPT) over 10 years ago. We have remained friends ever since and over lunch I’d told her my dream associate would be someone like her, an expert in supply chain management and purchasing. She was just finishing her tenth year at HP and was ready for a serious change in environment as well as an entrepreneurial challenge and quality of life improvement. She said, why don’t I come to work with you and I’d thought she’d had a bit too much wine at lunch …
Since April we’ve combined forces, and mutually thank each other for ‘our new life’. It’s great as we prioritize family time (i.e. working four days a week) however often meet online after hours to achieve our goals. We have moved our offices to a business park where our communications agency was located. It’s only 100m away from our last office but we have much better natural light (so I don’t have to go out on the roof to see the true fabric colors) and air conditioning!
GL: What is there to do now that you’ve joined forces?
Kris: We need to basically start all the business filings again in SARL format with the Chamber of Commerce and choose partners with whom we want to launch our new brand. (accountant, notaire, fabric suppliers, communications agency, etc.) You are only as good as your partners.
I am working on the new Winter 2010 collection for the first professional fair in Annecy in June. This will be the test for the B2B market where originality should prime over the traditional ‘mountain décor’ suppliers to ski areas in France, Switzerland and Italy. We are really targeting the chic boutiques in the ski areas in Megève, Chamonix, Courchevel, etc. and hope to ‘wow’ them with our new collection, for their international clients. I have spared no expense on the fabrics that come from top and unknown designers in France, Italy and the UK for the Courchevel Chic collection.
Since the crise clients are craving color and that is what we will bring them as well as neutral-toned, softly-chic faux-fur throws and pillows (see top image).
GL: So you are ready to hit the market now?
Kris: Now that Axelle is on board, I finally can focus on my added value which is sales and marketing. This past year has been spent getting our supply chain in place and prospecting both the B2B and B2C markets. I literally haven’t had a chance to really hit the pavement running with our collections. All sales have truly been through word of mouth.
We just need to finish the website, the catalogue and the samples for each collection, photograph all and then I’m set to meet clients and take orders … Now that production is confirmed and we have about a two week lead time on production (better than our competitors who are importing from abroad), we can really stand out.
Also, we need to perfect photography which is difficult to capture a large throw on a thumbnail-size photo and is quite a challenge for our internet resellers. We are currently testing photographers and have a great photo shoot in place that should all come together in May.
GL: In terms of design are you comfortable in this new market?
Kris: Axelle and I just came back from London where we attended the Kelly Hoppen school of design. This program really helped me fine-tune what I was designing to be in harmony with Kelly Hoppen’s style which caters to the same clientele. I have finally overcome my fear of neutral linens and can expertly decipher the difference in taupe and sand tones.
We have also joined forces with our communications agency and www.ateliermartinberger.com to create www.cocotte-design.com, which is a blog for girls who like to talk about girls in design. We are having loads of fun with this project that just launched last weekend and are meeting a lot of interesting people in design.
GL: What has inspired the new collection?
Kris: I have found three new fabric designers that are really in tune with my style and blend well with what we have already. I have also found a sculpture-designer that can make the buttons that I’ve been trying to find worldwide as a final touch to the collection. We will also be designing our own buttons as finishing touches with our new logo.
As we are actively targeting the ski areas, we are using a lot of faux-fur in bright colors and neutral tones. We only use French and Belgian top-quality fabric and the result is an ultra-soft, emotional / sensual product. It’s not just a throw!
We are also launching some furniture at the fair in June: plush, patchwork chairs and cube tables.
We have been lucky as the press has sought us out and especially the new magazine ‘Cosy Mountain’ which is the first ski-area magazine for contemporary design. Once our packaging is complete with the new logo, we should have a four-page spread in their fall issue.
GL: And then what?
Kris: Once summer arrives, I need to start designing the Spring Collection for 2011 which will include outdoor fabrics (pillows, lounge covers, poufs, plush chairs). We also have lighter throws planned for cool evenings and brightly colored pillows to match.
I am also working with a graffiti artist to design some eclectic throws for artsy and adolescent clients. I am inspired by Banksy’s wall art in the UK and hope to transfer others artists’ designs onto throws, headboards, etc.
We are working on our first chic-boutique deal in London and then who know where outside of France … For the moment we will focus on our home-base and slowly branch out to Switzerland, Italy and other foreign markets.
We do want to maintain a ‘boutique-brand’ and not sell to large department stores. The idea is to remain exclusive and maintain a smaller, very happy clientele.