story by Seth Friedermann
photos by Adrianna Favero
hair and makeup by Claire Marshall
model is Lara from Fenton Moon
Here there be dragons…maybe. Jolibe designers Joel Diaz and Christina LaPens have seen everything that the fashion industry can throw at them. From being a struggling independent designer to having your clothes sold at Henri Bendel and becoming a right hand to Helmut Lang, for Mr. Diaz, and a successful career as a marketing and creative director for industry titans Victoria’s Secret, J. Crew, and many others for Mrs. LaPens. Then culminating with their label Jolibe being awarded a spot in the very first class of the CFDA’s Incubator, there’s no way they can be surprised by this business any more, right?
“Coming in [at the CFDA Incubator] and getting a lot of great advice and trying a lot of things that we had to get out of our system, we needed to hear, ‘you have to bring down your prices, you gotta be competitive in this and that.’ And we did it, and we kind of tried to follow this traditional route, and we ended up last season realizing that this isn’t what we’re about…at all.”
This is akin to training to be a top baseball player, being good at it, making it to the major leagues, and realizing you don’t actually like baseball. Now what? You would know you are a world class athlete, or in Joel Diaz’s case a world class designer, and you do have a background in and love of couture, so it might be natural to return to that. But there were actually things that the husband and wife team did like about ready to wear, and they do have retail clients that they adore. Conventional wisdom says small labels can’t do both ready to wear and couture. However, in case you haven’t realized it, Christina LaPens and Joel Diaz are wise but not conventional. Enter e-commerce; what Jolibe will be going forward is a split business model, with couture available for clients who can partake in the process, but also with a line of pieces specifically designed to be affordable and minimize size and fit issues that will be available in October from their website.
“We’re developing a group of knitwear and some easier dresses and coats that are easier to wear. For us, it’s something different. It’s been pretty liberating to be free from the traditional fashion calendar. It’s a very sustainable way of doing business.”
What Jolibe has done is tailor the fashion business to themselves rather than falling prey to the trap of making their passions fit the process.
“At the end of the day what we have here is a lifestyle, and the only way you can tell the story of a lifestyle is to show it all.”
The unwillingness to compromise on their core beliefs, and the rejection of the modern fashion machine, is a risk, but the alternative is misery, and that is simply unacceptable to the designers. As the label begins this new journey it will have the strength of Mr. Diaz’s clean, sophisticated, and structured designs as its hallmark, as well as their brilliant ability to create eye catching pieces that are lightweight and function beautifully. The talent is there and the clothes have always been stunning since they started the label in 2007, but the marketplace is still unknown and the business plan untested. The pair are perfectly cast as trailblazers though, as they are simply looking at the landscape and seeing a path that others can’t see. When there are only two options and you don’t like either, the truly brilliant invent a third path.