South African fashion designer
Born: Cape Town, South Africa, 27 September 1958. Education: Attended University of Southern California, B.S., 1982. Career: Founded own design firm in Los Angeles, 1982; moved to New York, 1993; launched Urchin and Urchin Knits apparel lines (later combined and renamed Urchin Mark Eisen), 1996; signed licensing pact with World Gym for uniforms, 1996; designed interior of GM car for charity, 1997; signed licensing agreements for Mark Eisen Studio, 1997; moved headquarters from Los Angeles to New York, 1998; launched bridge knitwear line, Eisen, 1999; formed partnership with Italian firm Sportswear Company SpA for Mark Eisen Collection, 2000; footwear licensing deal with Lerre, 2000. Awards: Alumni of the Year, University of Southern California Business School, 1988.
McNamara, Michael, "Synthetic Chic," in WWD, 30 August 1994.
"Mark Eisen Sets Launch of Contemporary Label," in WWD, 9February 1996.
"New York: On the Runways," in WWD, 1 April 1996.
Socha, Miles, "World Gym," in DNR, 2 October 1996.
"Eisen Works Out," in WWD, 10 October 1996.
D'Innocenzio, Anne, "Brand Strategies are Paying Off," in WWD, 4December 1996.
Muir, Lucie, "Fibers Mix it Up at Prato," in WWD, 11 March 1997.
Monget, Karen, "Committment's in Fashion," in WWD, 6 October 1997.
"Up & Down the Fashion Food Chain," in WWD, 5 November 1997.
D'Innocenzio, Anne, "Eisen's New Moves," in WWD, 8 October 1997.
Winter, Drew, "Interiors Become Extroverts," in the Ward's Auto World, November 1997.
D'Innocenzio, Anne, "Young, Contemporary Styles Take Center Stage," in WWD, 25 February 1998.
"And the Beat Goes On," in WWD, 31 March 1998.
Lee, Georgia, "Urchin Betting on Knits Line," in the WWD, 22 April 1998.
"Eisen Plans Bridge Line for Fall 1999," in WWD, 2 November 1998.
Socha, Miles, "Mark Eisen Merges with Italian Producer," in WWD, 31 January 2000.
Daswani, Kavita, "Seventh on Sixth Gets New Global Groups," in WWD, 9 April 2000.
Socha, Miles, "Face of Africa Showcases Africa," in Africa News Service, 25 April 2000.
Bressler, Karen, "Mark Eisen: Making His Mark," available online at Fashion Windows, www.fashionwindows.com, 2000.***
Mark Eisen began his illustrious design career at the University of Southern California, where he was earning a degree in business. He designed a stylish gold-and-red helmet celebrating the school's famed Trojans football team and was soon selling them by the thousands. His first press coverage was a brief mention in Newsweek praising his entrepreneurial spirit. The fledgling designer went on to create a name for himself, first as the purveryor of spare, elegant minimalism then as the king of high-tech chic.
Despite his evident success, Eisen is never complacent. He admitted to Karen Bressler, of the Fashion Live website, he has a superstitious routine he follows before each major showing. "The night before a show," he says, "I eat in the same restaurant with the same people at the same table in the same seat and order the same thing, crab meat and thin pasta. I used to carry a friend's pearls in my pocket on the runway, but then I heard that pearls could be bad luck." From his success, however, it appears he has little to be concerned about. High-profile celebrities have turned into diehard fans, and his creations continue to garner positive press from fashion critics and fellow designers alike.
Womenswear in the hands of Eisen is elegant and well cut, made from the finest fabrics. Eisen is unabashedly smitten with textiles and has enjoyed combining opposites for surprising results. He likes mixing Lycra in with more delicate fabrics for its ability to retain its shape, and has used a myriad of luxurious fabrics like silk, sateen wool, cashmere, mohair, alpaca, angora, and suede in his designs. His collections in 1994 and 1995 featured what became an early trademark—minimalist chic—with tailored suits and simple dresses in dark hues of black, charcoal, and chocolate browns, while throwing in a few splashy neon separates to brighten the range. After several minimal collections, Eisen turned to synthetics, such as resortwear collections using acetate, rayon, and even polyurethane. Eisen's fascination with textiles is always evident, concocting high-tech fabrications as laminated chiffon, linen coated with resin, rayon crêpe, and nylon blends.
In early 1996 the designer launched two new labels, Urchin and Urchin Knits (later combined and renamed Urchin Mark Eisen). Eisen declared to Women's Wear Daily (9 February 1996) that Urchin, a sporty ready-to-wear collection, would "be affordable, fun and functional, as opposed to trendy." Colors were deep earth tones, with brown, beige, and black, as well several variations in blue: navy, indigo, turquoise, and sky blue. The Urchin Knits line, comprised of cardigans, tunics, twinsets, and trousers, used silks, cashmere, crêpe, lambswool, and cotton, with Lycra mixed in for fit and flexibility.
Eisen segued into designing uniforms through a licensing agreement with the famed the Santa Monica-based World Gym in fall 1996. Both trainers and staff at the health club operator's New York City locations were given stylish and sporty activewear separates, with the range eventually reaching all of World Gym's 400 sports complexes worldwide. Additionally, the activewear, under the Mark Eisen for World Gym label, was sold in World Gym clubs around the world, beginning in 1997.
To help combat breast cancer, Eisen and fellow designers Nicole Miller, Todd Oldham, Anna Sui, and Richard Tyler joined General Motors and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) for the Concept Cure program. The designers teamed up to work on the interior of GM cars, which were then auctioned off to raise funds for the Nina Hyde Center for breast cancer awareness. Richard Ruzzin, director of interior character for Chevrolet told Ward's Auto World (November 1997), "These fashion designers used color, texture, and material in ways we never dreamed possible with our products." Like the famed Eddie Bauer designer Fords, the vehicles had plenty of style and raised over $700,000 for the cause.
In an effort to take his name and designs global, Eisen hired Brad Saltzman, formerly of Adrienne Vittadini, to become president and CEO of his firm. Eisen remained chairman and still handled all design responsibilities. Commenting to Women's Wear Daily (8 October 1997) on the arrival Saltzman, Eisen said, "I have searched for over three years for a partner who shared my same vision and goals. I am most excited to be able to hand the business side of the company to Brad and to have my primary focus on design. We are now poised to explode the business both domestically and internationally through multiple categories."
Licensing agreements reflecting the global plan included Nissho Iwai Corporation and Ichida Company to produce and distribute the Mark Eisen Studio collection, which had ceased production in the U.S. for some time. The Mark Eisen Collection, the firm's strongest line, was poised for licensing in Europe and throughout Asia in 1998. The newer line, Urchin Mark Eisen, had experienced swift growth and was already in 350 U.S. high-end department stores such as Bloomingdale's, Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, and Henri Bendel. Eisen and Saltzman hoped to increase U.S. retail locations to more than 500, and to find a new licensing partner for the better Mark Eisen Collection.
For fall 1999 came a new bridge knitwear line, simply titled Eisen. Targeted to women, aged 30 to 50, the range was intended to offer a stylish and less expensive alternative to misses. Next, in 2000, came a new suitor for the Mark Eisen Collection, a partnership with Sportswear Company SpA, once a unit of GFT and backer behind the C.P. Company, to manufacture and distribute the range internationally. Eisen also entered into a licensing deal with Lerre, a Naples-based footwear manufacturer, for an upscale footwear collection.
Returning to his roots, the South African-born Eisen helped sponsor the African Designs Fashion Competition in 2000, a contest for new African designers to win a three-month internship with Eisen and a chance to show their designs at New York's Fashion Week for the summer 2002 season. Eisen also served as a juror at the Seventh on Sixth global design forum, which brought in design teams from Hong Kong, Africa, and Portugal. While Mark Eisen's creations firmly reflect American design sensibilities, he has not forgotten the difficulties of his countrymen and women. With designers of all ethnic origins blooming in South Africa, Eisen is well positioned to bring what he calls the "cross-global reality" of African designs to America and beyond.