Unless you've been living under a rock, you've encountered LPD New York at some point in the last year, probably in the form of the sports jersey-style tees printed with designers' names (like the one worn by Lupita Nyong'o and her stylist, below), which catapulted the young brand into the fashion industry's consciousness.
But as co-designers Ben Fainlight and Moses Moreno are keenly aware, virality doesn't guarantee longevity. Their plan for the label? An accessible ready-to-wear line that's a lot more than graphic tees.
A quick history lesson: As a fashion intern, 23-year-old Fainlight wore a t-shirt every day but felt like there had to be a better way to communicate that he liked and participated in fashion. Hence the tees, which allow the wearer to align with his or her favorite designer, even when a $2,000 Prada bag is out of reach. Fainlight founded LPD in June of 2012 and sold the first jerseys through his Tumblr a month later.
The tees caught on like wildfire, and soon celebrities like Rita Ora and Naomi Campbell were wearing them (for the latter, the Tisci '74 style). Moreno and Fainlight met through a mutual friend, the stylist who pulled the jersey for Ora, and began working together on the label's branding and imagery until Moreno decided to come on board full-time as a co-designer in September 2013. (One of those abnormally productive types, the 29-year-old Moreno founded the streetwear brand Stampd LA and consults for entertainment brands while contributing to Relapse magazine as its fashion director.)
Since then, LPD has dropped its original name ("Les Plus Dorés," a too-lofty title that translates to "the most golden" in French), held its first fashion week presentation in September and accumulated a 65-plus roster of stockists everywhere from France to Tailand.
LPD's fall 2014 range, the first that Fainlight says he considers a true collection, marks the biggest shift in the brand's identity so far (see top image). Mixing materials like bulletproof kevlar nylon and hardware made from quick-release gun holsters with wool, denim and poplin, the collection melds LPD's athletic/heritage vibe with a new toughness. There's streetwear and grunge in there, too. A detachable pleated skirt hangs from the back of a black backpack, a nod to punk pants with kilts attached.
"Even though it's not streetwear and you wouldn't call this streetwear, it has the same toughness and effect as streetwear," Fainlight says.
LPD's ready-to-wear is both more complex and quieter than the tees (a.k.a. the Dream Team line). According to Fainlight, slapping a design on a t-shirt does not a fashion house make, and though there are still graphic elements in the collection, they're done in a smarter way.
"It's just an evolution of sportswear into more adult fashion," Moreno explains. "I see this as the new gap that's happening. It's not streetwear, it's not luxury and it's affordable. I think the economy and the way the world is today appreciates that."
While a t-shirt from the Dream Team collection (the designer jersey line) starts at $85, a women's vest from the ready-to-wear collection clocks in at $150. The most expensive pieces include the skirted backpack, which retails at "low Givenchy prices" and a black fur coat, which will set shoppers back $3,000.
If there's one challenge facing the brand at this point, it's the past. While the viralty of the designer jerseys put LPD on the map, showing editors and fans that there's more to the label than clever tees is tricky.
"That's the biggest hurdle to overcome now, is the perception of doing t-shirts and doing that sort of thing and now doing this. To get people to see not only that, the Dream Team rack," Fainlight says, referring to a row of t-shirts hanging to the left of the fall collection. "But to see all four racks together as a collection and seeing how everything speaks to everything else."
That's not to say that the Dream Team doesn't continue to be a core part of LPD's business. According to Fainlight, the success of the t-shirts provided the capital to get the ready-to-wear off the ground and continues to pay for the brand's operations. LPD hasn't taken on investors yet, although Fainlight and Moreno acknowledge that it's going to take a lot of funding to keep building it the way they want to.
With the initial jump-start from the fashion community behind it, building true brand loyalty is the team's main focus. People buy the Dream Team jerseys because they like the designer, not because they like LPD necessarily, Fainlight says. Growing a fanbase that likes the designer of the t-shirt just as much as they like the designer on the t-shirt is the challenge.
With fashion's sudden interest in streetwear (see: Anna Wintour getting on board with Public School) and sportswear, LPD is striking at the right time. But it isn't angling to be a flash in the pan or to get samples on the backs of celebrities just for the press. Moreno and Fainlight want genuine community. "Gang members only" is one of the slogans the two came up with while working on LPD's branding.
"It's that mentality that has -- whether it's been said out loud -- always been there in street culture, and fashion loves that," Moreno says. "If you think of diehard Chanel fans... I know Jewish girls who have literally gotten the double Cs tattooed on them because they're like, 'My grandmother wore these.' That's gang culture."