Canadian designer Alfred Sung may not have the sexy ads of a Calvin Klein or a line of chocolates a la Bill Blass, but if yesterday's luncheon in his honor, given by Sondra Gotlieb, wife of the Canadian ambassador, is any example, he has the respect of some very choosy Washington women.
"His clothes are classics, and that appeals to people like me," said public relations consultant Nancy Reynolds as she watched a small show of Sung's fall designs at the Fourways restaurant. "People of middle weight, middle age and middle income."
"They look very wearable and that's important to me," said Jean Smith, wife of the attorney general. "I'm so short that things have got to be wearable first."
"They're going to stampede the store," declared Buffy Cafritz, a serious clothes wearer and shopper. "This man has it."
This man is 35, a quiet Shanghai-born designer who drifted into the fashion business only after his father persuaded him that his plans to paint and draw the rest of his life wouldn't earn him a living. "My father made me choose a profession, so I headed to Paris," said Sung, whose calm manner suggests a quiet kind of storekeeper, not the designer of a company that last year grossed $30 million in retail sales.
After Paris--where he studied at the prestigious Chambre Syndicale de la Couture Parisienne--came four long years working for a Seventh Avenue design firm and trying to immigrate to the United States. Unsuccessful with American immigration authorities, Sung headed to Canada where his two younger brothers were studying at the University of Waterloo in Ontario.
But Canada eventually led him to Saul and Joseph Mimran, two e'migre's from Morocco with a new sportswear house in desperate need of a designer. That was in 1972; since then Sung and the Mimrans have expanded their original investment of $200,000 worth of fabric and a small 30-piece sportswear collection into the Monaco Group, with sights on the United States and an aggressive marketing campaign to expand Sung's reach. His latest fall collection of 200 pieces includes what has become his signature--clean, classic tailored suits and dresses--and coats, gloves, belts and hats.
"Canada has such a limited population," said Saul Mimran, one of the few men at the Sung luncheon. "For Alfred to do $10 million worth of business in Canada is equal to $100 million here in the States. We've just got to expand and keep going forward."
"Rather than saturate the Canadian market, which is dangerous, we have to venture into the United States," added Sung, who prefers to leave the "numbers and the selling to the boys. I'm happy to just draw."
The kickoff to this U.S. expansion plan--20 free-standing Alfred Sung boutiques--starts in Georgetown Park, where last night Sung staged a second small show of his fall collection to mark the store's opening.
"Washington is the perfect test market for us," said Rosemary Kaner, who, with her husband Harry, will manage the boutiques as part of a licensing agreement with the Monaco Group. "There are a lot of world-class citizens here," added Kaner. "And a lot of beautiful closets!"