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Meet the Women's Designer Spearheading Club Monaco's Reinvention

From a higher-end collection to an expansive new flagship, Club Monaco is undergoing a major revamp. We chat with the woman behind its new elevated aesthetic.
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If you've walked into a Club Monaco in the past couple of years, you've probably noticed that the retailer has undergone a gradual makeover. The stores have a cooler aesthetic and the clothes are a bit more elevated, with fashion-driven pieces complimented by classic staples. Overall, the offerings have expanded -- with recent additions including a higher-end collection, a shoe line, and more third-party items by cool contemporary brands like Rachel Comey and M. Patmos. How great Club Monaco has become is a frequent topic of discussion in the Fashionista offices.

Last month, Club Monaco completely overhauled its flagship store in New York's Flatiron neighborhood, reflecting the retailer's plans for the future and evolution into a lifestyle brand. Inside, there's an outpost of Toby’s Estate Coffee (via Brooklyn), a bookstore operated by the Strand and a flower stand. There's also works by New York artists featured throughout the space, three fireplaces flown in from Paris and, of course, the brand's apparel and accessories goods for women and men.

The new retail concept is smart for a couple of reasons. For one, it has the potential to attract a wider variety of shoppers. Secondly, it sets it apart from its competitors -- most notably J. Crew, to whom it is often compared, especially since its revamp, which reminds us a lot of the one J. Crew underwent when Jenna Lyons took control.

Now, meet Club Monaco's Jenna Lyons.

Club Monaco's new direction has been spearheaded by women's designer Caroline Belhumeur, a Bristol native who was hired right out of school by Calvin Klein and eventually took a break from fashion to start a family until Club Monaco came calling. We chatted with her about her career, her vision for Club Monaco and more. Read on for our interview.

How did you get your start in fashion?

I received formal training at Kingston University in London and was lucky enough to catch the eye of Calvin Klein while he was visiting the school. He plucked me right out of school and brought me to New York and I worked for him for many years.

How did your past experiences influence your vision at Club Monaco?

I get to take every aspect of my life and bring it into the aesthetic of my designs – whether it’s my childhood growing up in the English countryside, my affliction to 1980s punk music or New York City architecture. All of this has contributed to the structure of our silhouettes, fabric and overall design direction.

What was your strategy coming in? What did you want to change? What was your vision?

My main objective was to have myself and the design team become consumers of the brand; to design clothes we all want to wear. I have built the idea of keeping a foundation of great classics while injecting fashion “must have” items.

What are you inspired by when designing?

Our mantra at Club Monaco internally, and externally on our blog Culture Club, is “get inspired by what inspires us.” This intonation is what I use to begin my seasonal design process. I take inspiration from random influences, galleries, orchid and flower shows, cities and seasonal weather hues. Everything I see; touch, eat and smell inspire me, and thus inspire Club Monaco’s designs, prints and fabrics every season. For past collections, I have been inspired by New York City, where our headquarters are located, from the scale and architecture of buildings, the boldness and energy of the people, and the overall space. All of this has contributed to the design of our silhouettes, the structure and selection of materials and the colors in our collections

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Who would you say is Club Monaco's core female customer?

Club Monaco’s style is best described as easy sophistication, effortless chic and functional, affordable luxury. The Club Monaco woman is me and everyone around me. She is sophisticated, chic and from all backgrounds, countries, but appreciates good fit and the craft of beautiful clothes. She wants to explore fashion while not being dictated by it. Because my approach is personal, I design for myself and people around me.

Why did you decide to launch the higher-end collection?

Club Monaco Collection offers a unique assortment of Club Monaco classics intermingled with elevated wardrobe pieces and accessories. The Collection reflects Club Monaco’s transformation from a black and white retailer to an iconic urban fashion brand whose heritage lies in key pieces sprinkled with luxurious elements. The new Club Monaco Collection offers iconic wardrobe staples updated with tailored pieces made of the finest materials — 100% Italian cashmere, silk, genuine shearling, calf-hair and Italian leathers.

Can you tell me more about revamping the stores? I heard one is going to have a bookstore and cafe?

We just launched our first global flagship on 5th Avenue. The store is truly a lifestyle destination incorporating our men’s apparel line, women’s, iconic NY bookstore, The Strand, and a coffee shop called Toby Estates. Our consumer can come shop our fashions, while also perusing a curated collection of books.

Anything else you're planning to launch in the near future?

Club Monaco continues to evolve into a true lifestyle brand. That is evident with our shoe line we added, our new global flagship on 5th Avenue and our women’s Collection store on Bleecker Street. We also just opened our first free-standing store in the UK and continue to expand throughout Asia.

What about designer collaborations?

Club Monaco collaborates with other brands in our signature Maker’s and Muse program. Club Monaco’s Makers & Muses collaboration was created in September 2012 as a way to highlight Club Monaco’s ongoing creative collaborations from the likes of Jane Mayle, Michelle Campbell and Erickson Beamon. Every month brings a new Maker into focus with an exclusive behind-the scenes look at their craft. These stories illustrate not only the creative process, but also celebrate craft through a variety of designs. This holiday we are partnering with Jayne Mayle, Paulina Liffner, Marcia Patmos and Loeffler Randall.

What would you say are five staples every woman should have in her wardrobe?

My five key pieces from Club Monaco are a trench coat, boyfriend-style cashmere sweater, a leather jacket, skinny pant and updated crop pants. They are versatile, timeless and work cross-seasons.

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