What does it take to get a fledgling contemporary label off the ground? If there was an instructional guide — or, you know, a magic potion — it'd include all of the following: a strong design identity, authentic marketing, a devoted fan base, blindingly hard work and just a pinch of luck. While Cinq à Sept — the sexy, cool advanced-contemporary label that dropped this past June — has certainly hit all of that, it had a secret weapon of sorts in founder Jane Siskin.
Google Siskin's name and you'll encounter many an esteemed designation, like "industry vet" and "vital player," none of which are overstatements. As chief executive officer of the Los Angeles-based Jaya Apparel Group, Siskin has 20-plus years of fashion experience and had previously helped launch Seven for All Mankind and Elizabeth and James, both of which have racked up their own fair share of retail and wholesale success.
Cinq à Sept, which Siskin began teasing in December 2015, is her latest venture, for which she oversees a New York City-based design team. "We really started concepting about nine months prior to it actually shipping," said Siskin. "The market is a very crowded playing field. We had to be extremely thoughtful about the direction we were going in and who we thought our customer would be."
From there, Siskin and her team set out to define how, exactly, this new project would differentiate itself, and that's where the name came in. Literally translating to "five to seven," the Québécois French term for happy hour, Cinq à Sept (pronounced sank-a-set) oozes mystery and more than a wink of sensuality. After considering a range of names, Cinq à Sept — both the concept and the phonetic name — settled in like a gut instinct. "We really loved the idea of that time of day where anything can happen," said Siskin. It was "a little bit risky," though Siskin hasn't found its French pronunciation to be a problem. "What's shocking is I'll go to a store and stand by the rack and the customer says the name right," she said. Of course, correct pronunciation is not the most important part of business. I always say they can call it whatever they want, as long as they want to wear it! Once we saw the name, we never turned back."
And as Siskin pointed out, the name helped to further determine the brand's specifics: "We wanted it to be sexy; we wanted it to be cool; we wanted it to be on-trend, but not trendy." Everything that Cinq à Sept, the name, might suggest about Cinq à Sept, the brand, is spot on: Collections are largely comprised of slinky, distinctive dresses and separates that serve a wide range of uses, but are perhaps best served for nighttime activities that take place over cocktails.
Accessibility matters, too: Prices begin in the high $100 range for bodysuits and the like, and can climb up to $895 for speciality jackets, while dresses and gowns, the line's bread and butter, fall between $395 and $695. As such, the label is carried by all sorts retailers, including Shopbop, Saks Fifth Avenue, Revolve, Bergdorf Goodman, Net-a-Porter, Neiman Marcus and Moda Operandi.
Its pricing was extremely strategic. Cinq à Sept has received a remarkable amount of play for a brand so young, which Siskin partially attributes to its target consumer, or the lack thereof. While its competitors — which run the gamut from brands like LPA to Tome — may be designing with a very specific woman in mind, Cinq à Sept casts a wide net. It's not necessarily about who is buying Cinq à Sept, but what they're buying it for. "The thing that we always have to keep in mind is what is instigating a trip to a store, or a visit to the website," said Siskin. "People are shopping less and less for sport. It's more like, 'I need this for this event, so I'm going to look for this.' We really think about all the moments of her life."
The term "Instagram-ready" became an important catchphrase for Cinq à Sept from day one, not unlike fellow Jaya-owned brand Likely. With prospective customers now looking to document their every move on the internet, the very act of getting dressed in the morning has become much more calculated. "We have a constant eye on social media," said Siskin. "We definitely think about the fact that maybe she doesn't want to wear the same thing twice. We like to do things that are blank canvases, so if she accessorizes differently she can wear it a different way." If you're spending $500 on a dress, she said, you want to not only be able to wear it again, but photograph yourself in it more than once.
Despite its digital leanings, Cinq à Sept has earned much attention the old-fashioned way: celebrities. Not even a year in, the brand already enjoys the spread of famous clientele one might expect from a label that's been around four times as long; its recent placements have included Viola Davis, Jennifer Lawrence, Priyanka Chopra, Katy Perry, Mindy Kaling, Jessica Chastain and Evan Rachel Wood, among others. And more impressive yet, it's not a pay-for-play situation.
"We have a wonderful PR team; they have good relationships with, and see a lot of, stylists," said Siskin. "The stylists have gravitated to the brand, pulled like crazy and dressed their clients." Cinq à Sept's appeal to stylists may mirror its pull with stores. "We have a designer aesthetic, but we're not taking ourselves so seriously," she said. "It's really appealing to a lot of celebrities, I guess, and a lot of influencers, even the Obamas."
Towards the tail end of the Obama White House, the former First Family began wearing Cinq à Sept with some regularity. It began with a custom jacket Michelle Obama wore to welcome the Christmas tree to the White House in November, and culminated in the brand's Seraphina dress worn by Malia Obama for her father's Farewell Address earlier this month. "How about that?!" said Siskin when asked about the Malia moment. "I almost died. I was watching it and I was like, That's our dress!" You can bet the company saw a sizable sales boost, too. "It's a $395 dress. She's a young girl, so to see that kind of lift on that dress was pretty exciting."
Such celebrity placements will only help the brand emerge as that next big thing. That's all according to plan. "We've done it a few times and we're going to do it again," said Siskin, referring to the company's past success with contemporary label launches. But they're taking their time; expanding first into handbags or shoes may not be the best fit for the brand. "We absolutely will grow into other categories," she said. "What they will be, I don't know."
“The plan is for this to be the next big contemporary brand," said Siskin. "But we're going to stay cool."
Homepage photo: Theo Wargo/Getty Images