"Noir may only be in its infancy, but it is a pioneer in the contemporary womenswear sector," says Peter Ingwersen, the man behind the brand. As the first luxury collection to blaze a trail into the organic market, it is already way ahead of its game.
"We take our corporate social responsibility very seriously and have used certified African cotton since the brand's inception. We're also developing Illuminati II - our own organic cotton fabric, which will be ready for spring 09," Ingwersen explains.
Launched in February 2005, Noir's ascent has been rapid. For the past three seasons it has taken to the runway at London Fashion Week - opening it twice - as well as exhibiting at Estethica, the ethically rooted LFW trade show. For spring 08 Ingwersen is taking his catwalk presentation to New York Fashion Week, but has pledged to remain loyal to London. "We'll continue to show at Estethica. It's an amazing concept, proving how stylish clothing and ethics can go hand in hand," he says.
Ingwersen earned his fashion stripes at Day Birger et Mikkelsen as the brand's managing director from 2001 to 2004, prior to which he was the brand manager for Levi's Red and Levi's Vintage from 1987 to 2000.
He personally funded Noir for the first 12 months. "I was aware that it wouldn't be long before other luxury-level brands started to recognise the opportunities that the organic industry offered and I really wanted Noir to be the first to achieve this goal," he says.
Paying the wages for a team of five, as well as paying for all the fabrics and business trips, took its toll on Ingwersen. "I was becoming poorer by the day," he laments. "Noir made me put my money where my mouth was. Luckily, I was approached by two investors who were impressed with the brand's ethos." The investors - involved in ethically driven work in Africa - now share ownership of Noir with Ingwersen.
For spring 08 there are two new additions to the Noir stable. The first is Black Noir, a diffusion line with price points about 40% less than the mainline, which currently ranges from £100 to £3,000. The second is a lingerie line called Nu Noir. The initial four-piece collection comprises a bra, high-waisted briefs, a body and a cardigan. Prices range from £20 to £400 at wholesale.
At the time of going to press Ingwersen was in talks with a mystery backer for investment, which will prove essential to Noir's growth. "To be able to extend our distribution and meet orders, the brand needs further backing," he says.
In the past 12 months turnover has increased by about 230% to £1.3 million. Noir's current sales distribution divides between Germany at 35%, the Far East's 35%, the US 20% and just 5% each for the UK and Scandinavia. Ingwersen is keen to focus on the US and Europe with a view to increasing turnover to a two-digit figure by 2010. He also plans to increase his stockists base, which currently has 37 stores internationally.
A menswear launch with the same product components and personality as its womenswear counterpart - including a diffusion line and underwear - is in the pipeline. The crowning glory of Noir's brand growth is the launch of the Illuminati II project.
Ingwersen says: "The Illuminati II fabric is our own organic fabric, which will be offered to selected luxury brands in August 2008 for the production of their spring 09 collections. This will coincide with Noir's own use of the fabric. It is integral to the development of both Noir's and the industry's corporate social responsibility."
THE NOIR COLLECTION
For spring 08 Noir remains true to its S&M-inspired roots. With contrasts as its theme, key looks pit leather alongside silk, strict tailoring next to diaphanous silhouettes and monochrome alongside bursts of colour. Reference points include silk cigarette pants worn with a butter-soft leather jacket that exposes skin through transparent seams.
A leather mini skirt, coordinated with an oversized silk blazer with pushed-up sleeves and drop shoulders, combines feminine styling with a traditionally masculine silhouette. Beneath these hard layers sit seductive draped silk tops and low v-neck opaque bodies.
Elsewhere, men's shirts cut for women, stretch leather leggings and slip dresses dominate as Noir wardrobe staples.