by Brian DeLeu
Brian DeLeu received his bachelor of science degree in apparel design and fashion merchandising from the University of Delaware in 1992. He also attended the Paris American Academy of Fine Arts in Paris, France, in 1991 and the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York, from 1986–1987.
As design director for JC Penney in Plano, Texas, DeLeu leads a team of 28 designers
and CAD artists and is responsible for the design and merchandising of the $1.3-billion
"St. John's Bay" brand, which includes women’s sportswear and accessories. Through product and print media improvements, DeLeu updated the St. John’s Bay brand identity from traditional sportswear to modern sportswear. In 2005, he designed and launched the contemporary "a.n.a." line, with sales now growing to $500 million. In 2008, he launched the authentic activewear brand, “Xersion.” DeLeu is responsible for all aspects of these brands, from the initial concept through in-store merchandising, and for budgeting all aspects of the design team, from headcount through samples, travel, and development.
Prior to JC Penney, DeLeu worked as design director for Lane Bryant, design manager for Mervynx California, and as a designer for Regarde Inc. (Tangibles), Dare Clothing Company (DCC), and Jordache Enterprises Inc. in New York City. He has traveled extensively through the U.S., Europe, and Asia for inspiration and line development.
Q. How often do you travel internationally for your work, and what are the purposes of the various trips? What percent of your job is spent “on the road” (excluding your weekly commute from New York City to Texas)?
A. I travel to Europe three times a year for inspirational shopping, fabric and print shows. I travel to Asia at least twice a year for line/sample development â€” that is where I am, actually, in the sample rooms reviewing first samples with the design teams, making corrections, merchandising the lines, etc. Domestically, I am in New York at least eight times a year and Los Angeles twice a year, again shopping for inspiration or attending trade shows.
Q. How have the international aspects of the industry changed since you have been in the business?
A. The core business has not changed all that much, but the countries that I travel to for development have diversified. In the past, a large amount of production was in Hong Kong. Now we travel to Shanghai, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Jordan, just to name a few. As far as design inspiration, we do not place as much emphasis on European shopping as we used to. Inspiration now comes from all over the world thanks to the Internet.
Q. What is your favorite world city or cities for design inspiration and why?
A. Can’t really say I have a favorite city, as every city always has a different approach to the same fashion trends. I do always tend to like Italian designers the most (i.e., Marni and Prada), and most of the time I spend in Europe is in Italy as I have a home in Milan.
Q. Given the current world economy, how has your work changed in terms of what you do â€” design work, global sourcing, etc.?
A. I would not say it has changed all that much, but we are always looking for ways to cut garment cost.
Q. How long does it take to get apparel from concept to store? What strategies do you use to shorten the lead time in China?
A. We are currently working on a 30-week calendar. Using as many vertical suppliers as possible is always the easiest way to cut down on production time.
Q. What are future challenges for designers working in the global market?
A. The biggest challenge is always to identify the trends no matter where they come from â€” the runways, the streets of Tokyo, or the current state of the world.
Q. Currently, how do you work with Chinese partners in the areas of design?
A. Currently, we invite all of our major vendors from all over the world (China, India, Korea, Vietnam, Bangledesh, etc.) to bring their design teams to the home office at the start of every season. The vendor design teams and the JCP design teams will then share the big ideas that they will be designing into for the season. This meeting is very much a collaborative effort. The JCP design teams will have just returned from their European and U.S. inspiration trips, and they will review with the vendor teams what they have purchased or seen. The vendor teams will have often just returned from their travel and trade shows as well, and they will show their bought samples and any early development samples, fabrics, yarns, etc. This gives us a chance to exploit their talents and overseas market knowledge very early in the season. It is important to note that we are very specific which vendors we work with (there are approximately three to four per category), and they have all signed very strict confidentiality agreements and are very large partners in our business.
Q. Given the maturity in the Chinese textiles and apparel industry, how has business changed in the areas of design when working with Chinese partners?
A. Currently, most of our partner vendors have very large product development/design/trend teams. These teams often include Westerners that understand the Western market or locals who have attended design schools in Europe or America. In the past, our vendors were strictly factory owners running production with no eye for design.
Q. Is outsourcing design to Chinese partners a future reality? What would be the benefits?
A. I really don’t believe that it is a reality unless the foreign designers have spent a significant amount of time in the U.S. so that they truly have a Western eye and understand the customer.
Q. Are there aspects of design in which Chinese partners can provide a value-added service, such as areas which require computer-aided design or technical skills?
A. We have tried to have CAD work done in our India offices, but unfortunately without the Western aesthetic or color sense it became too much work to instruct and correct. We do, however, have an entire technical design team in all of our overseas offices to conduct all second fittings and final fittings. This has been most successful when the fittings are conducted using video conferencing and photographs.
Q. Do designers go to China for trend analysis, forecasting, etc.?
A. Not currently.
Q. Asia is now the center of fabric sourcing activity. Do you agree and how does this influence design?
A. Asia has been the center for fabric sourcing for some time, although all of the direction and trends come from America and Europe.
Q. Hong Kong’s designers have been gaining acceptance in overseas markets. How are Chinese designers (including Hong Kong) able to read the market trends in U.S. and other countries? What is the future of Chinese brands with U.S. consumers?
A. We have never looked to Chinese designers as we still feel that their design aesthetic is very different from that of the American aesthetic. We always closely watch the European runway shows for inspiration and trends.