When Patrick Herning and Kathryn Retzer decided they wanted to combine their decades of experience in the fashion industry and launch something new together, they didn't want to do another project that would just be lost in the noise of the new brands that launch every day. Instead, they wanted their work to help improve the industry they love so much — and what would do more to improve it than to make it more diverse?
"What we were both looking to do in the space was to come up with something truly meaningful, something disruptive," Herning says. "The opportunity to create a platform for the [plus-size] customer, the opportunity to provide her with something that didn't exist from the fashion community, was very important to us."
Herning, formerly of HL Group, and Retzer, formerly of Vogue, knew that there was a customer who was being underserved — if, that is, she was even being served at all. The duo knew if they could create a platform for her, that she would come; thus, 11 Honoré was born. It took just over 11 months from ideation to its official launch on August 21. "We're very proud of this fact," Herning says. "It has been the perfect storm."
11 Honoré caters to women sizes 10 through 20 and is launching with an impressive list of designers: Prabal Gurung, Brandon Maxwell, Christian Siriano, Marchesa, Tome, Zac Posen, Michael Kors Collection and Monique Lhuillier are a few of the labels that were on-board from the beginning. Herning and Retzer started by approaching the brands with which they had a relationship who they knew already offered extended size ranges. Some, like Siriano and Gurung, have offered it through their own e-commerce sites, while others, like Lhuillier, offered plus sizes through trunk shows and custom orders.
But they're most proud of the brands that didn't have any experience in plus sizes at all. "What was so exciting for us was to meet with brands like La Ligne and Baja East, who had not necessarily been in the space but who were also so excited and they never blinked an eye," says Retzer. 11 Honoré was able to court these designers by taking on the cost and labor of finding experts who could properly grade and pattern their existing designs for a plus-size customer. Designers who partner with 11 Honoré don't have to worry that quality or design will be compromised. Even more essential, the e-tailer will take a shorter mark on profits to keep the cost of the garments the same as their straight size equivalents.
"Price consistency is one of the most important things we're going to provide our customer, so when she is at Saks, Barneys, Neiman's, and she sees a designer she loves, when she finds that designer on our site, that will be the exact same price," Herning says. "There are a lot of sensitivities around this customer, and we want to be a platform and a destination where we're doing nothing but making her feel better about herself."
Retzer is also applying her editorial background to add a three-dimensional quality to the site; 11 Honoré features a blog, "The Honor Roll," which features profiles and Q&As with the models, designers and stylists that are part of the community. They also want to maintain a luxury feel to every aspect of the site, tapping supermodel Candice Huffine to model. As for critics who argue that the plus-size customer isn't willing to buy at a luxury price point, Herning and Retzer are ready to prove you wrong.
"I challenge anybody who says that to sit in the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel for 60 minutes, and tell me this customer doesn't like luxury items," Herning says. "This customer is spending it on shoes; this customer is spending it on handbags; this customer is spending it on jewelry; this customer is spending it on trunk show options. What we're doing is creating a solution for an aspirational luxury focused customer and making her life so much easier, because she does want this — she has just not been able to have it."
The feedback from the soft launch has already been great; the duo says that even just a few industry press pieces have garnered them organic traffic and interest from customers who are ready to shop. But Herning and Retzer aren't ready to stop just yet; there's hope that their plus-size samples could be used for editorial shoots, as well as hope that a brick-and-mortar option, permanent or pop-up, could be in the future. But before then, they want to get more brands involved with their message.
"I can't get to Europe fast enough, to get young contemporaries on board to truly give our customers as many options as we possibly can and to get out there and find young designers to work with the CFDA," Retzer says. "We want to create a platform that is unlike anything else and that has it all."