Can Buzzy Area Take Its Business to the Next Level?

NEW YORK — Area started the year with a bang. On January 13th, Rihanna wore one of the label’s decadent mohair coats, with 24-carat gold studs, in a teaser video promoting her Super Bowl halftime show this Sunday. During the same mid-January week, BlackPink’s Lalisa “Lisa” Manobal posted two photos of herself in the label’s designs: a fuchsia heart-shaped top embellished with paillettes and a blush pink houndstooth cardigan and hotpants. Together, the posts earned Area $4.9 million in media impact according to fashion consultancy Launchmetrics.

The nine-year-old label knows how to design statement-making pieces. Its flirty but conceptual red carpet-ready glam has caught the eyes of Beyoncé, Cardi B, Billie Eilish, Olivia Rodrigo, Dua Lipa and former US First Lady Michelle Obama, as well as Rihanna and Lalisa Manobal.

Co-founders Piotrek Panszczyk-Burke and Beckett Fogg have also managed to turn buzz into a fast-growing business that’s on the cusp of profitability. Area doubled turnover last year, generating sales in the “low eight figures,” according to the brand.

Now, the label is gearing up for its New York Fashion Week show on Saturday. Its runway offering is less blingy than in seasons past, though whimsical banana and melon-shaped dresses, seductively sheer tulle neon green full-body suits and tie-dye raver pants are sure to appeal to influencers and celebrities aiming to create social media moments.

On the heels of a 20-style partnership with footwear brand Sergio Rossi, the fruits of which hit stores this month (think: crystal-adorned satin and ostrich feather heels), Area is also deepening its plans to tap the lucrative accessories market.

Clothes ‘Like Eye Candy’

Area found traction with crystalline occasionwear. Couture pieces like the 88-pound, hand-embroidered dress gymnast Simon Biles wore to the 2021 Met Gala have made a splash.

The ready-to-wear is accessibly priced but reflects the same high-impact sensibility, the key to its success in a competitive market. Cropped jackets, mini skirts and T-shirts are covered in crystals, while denim hotpants are adorned in mohair fur. “There’s a visual identity embedded into each garment, so it resonates that it’s special, that it doesn’t already exist,” says Fogg.

American gymnast Simone Biles wore a 88-pound, hand-embroidered dress by Area to the 2021 Met Gala "In America: A Lexicon of Fashion" at Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.

“Area is kind of like eye candy,” says Brigitte Chartrand, womenswear vice president at e-tailer Ssense, which began selling the brand in spring 2021. “It really did very well the minute we launched it. You get a lot for your money, and it’s a fun product.”

Embellished denim and wool pieces are top-sellers for the brand, together making up about 40 percent of overall revenue, according to the company.

From Fashion School to Fast Growth

Panszczyk-Burke and Fogg took inspiration, and their label’s name, from Eric Goode’s 1980s nightclub Area, where Madonna, Grace Jones and Jean-Michel Basquiat partied. As a downtown cauldron for creative expression, it drew a diverse mix of people, something that inspired the label long before “inclusivity” became a marketing trend. Area’s Instagram has featured Afro-Latina trans-voguing legend Leiomy Maldonado and plus-size model Precious Lee. Its shows attract the likes of influencer Christine Quinn and queer rapper Saucy Santana.

Panszczyk-Burke, Area’s creative force, and Fogg, its business brain, met as students at a Parsons School of Design in New York. When they decided to launch Area in late 2013, Fogg had a year of experience at Calvin Klein with creative director Francisco Costa, while Panszczyk-Burke was fresh out of school. They got started in a small studio in New York’s Tribeca neighbourhood, not far from the building that, in the 80s, housed Goode’s nightclub with “way below a million dollars,” pooling their own savings with seed funding from friends and family.

Area's creative designers Beckett Fogg and Piotrek Panszczyk.

Fusing their love of high-concept design with their financial reality, the designers began selling cotton and metallic lamé T-shirts in 2014. They were pressed in an embossing machine and packaged in plastic bags, resulting in unique items. For their first two seasons, they sold “thousands of them” for $85 each via a simple website and at Opening Ceremony.

As the assortment expanded into glitzier pieces like Lurex dresses and cup chain crystal-adorned tops, the brand began attracting interest from stylists and department stores. Buyers were drawn to the way Area’s designs resonated on Instagram, but they didn’t know where on the shop floor to place collections featuring both party frocks and tracksuits. Barneys New York was the first to take a chance. That was 2016.

As they built their roster of stockists, Panszczyk-Burke and Fogg were diligent in getting feedback from their partners, and in response to customer input started to design more tailored separates for a broader range of women. From 2018 to 2021, Area grew revenues six-fold by launching its own e-commerce channel and expanding its wholesale accounts.

On the back of that growth, after seven years of bootstrapping the business, the label took on a minority investment from a family office in 2021. The following year, sales doubled to “low eight figures” and Panszczyk-Burke and Fogg opened a second office in Milan to be closer to their suppliers in Italy, where they plan to manufacture most of their ready-to-wear offering, and build out a distribution hub for international orders.

Today, Area has 28 full-time employees and 90 stockists, including Selfridges, Net-a-Porter and Bergdorf Goodman. Its direct e-commerce channel accounts for 35 percent of sales.

Accessories Ambitions

Now, Area is focused on building robust eveningwear and knitwear categories. It’s also doubling down on longstanding ambitions to grow a shoes and bags business. A previous attempt to tap accessories, back in 2018, proved premature. “We were just not ready to commit, because we didn’t have the expertise and the resources back then,” explains Panszczyk-Burke.

Area's partnership with footwear brand Sergio Rossi includes crystal-adorned satin and ostrich feather heels.

To that end, the label aims to raise an $8 million to $10 million Series A round this year.

“They probably have an enormous opportunity in accessories, in shoes, in fragrance,” says retail consultant Robert Burke. “They have a big, long runway ahead.”

For today, their focus is on the runway they have laid out for their latest fashion week outing at United Nations Plaza, which fast rising Albanian-American pop star Ava Max is set to attend.

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