Calypso St Barth is making a comeback, embracing its iconic bohemian chic with a fresh perspective courtesy of a leadership reshuffle. The resort lifestyle brand, founded in 1992 on the Caribbean island of Saint Barthélemy, was particularly ubiquitous during the 00s when haute hippie chic was the sartorial choice for it-girls like Nicole Ritchie and Jennifer Aniston, who dressed for a coffee run like it was a tropical island getaway. But the brand fell on hard times and closed in 2017. It returned in 2021 as a direct-to-consumer brand, and shortly thereafter launched with Saks who had a long history with the brand. At the spring 24 press preview, FashionUnited spoke to the new Creative Director, Sophia Duff, to gain insights into her vision for rejuvenating Calypso St Barth, and to Jason McNary, the brand President, who previously served as Calypso’s Vice President of Retail from 2009 - 2012 before departing for roles at Agnès b, Brandon Blackwood and Faherty.
"In 2021 the goal was simply to stabilize because the world was going through a pandemic,” McNary told us. “Now we have set out a course for growth and we brought on Sophia in February which was also when I returned to the company.”
Despite never having worked for Calypso St Barth directly, Sophia Duff's hands had been all over the product for years. Early in her career she designed private label for the brand, working with their factories in Indonesia on batiks and hand tie dyed textiles that were used for the swim, home and ready-to-wear collections. Her office was right next door to Calypso’s Meatpacking location and she would visit the store just to immerse herself in the colors and embellishments. “I love this brand. I missed it when it was gone,” she said. “There’s nothing else like it out there and it’s just a joy to be able to design for it.”
In its heyday, Calypso operated 25 boutiques across the US including three stores on one corner in lower Manhattan. There were clothing and accessories in one Lafayette Street location, homewares right next door and Au Marché, the brand’s outlet store around the corner on Broome Street. McNary’s aim is to return to occupying prime real estate. “Our strategy exists in four areas: as a retail business because, at our core, we are a brick and mortar company and how we display the garments, accessories, the color stories, it's all very important to our customer,” he said. “Then we see it as wholesale, plus online is a big player for us as well, and finally licensee businesses will be a growth vehicle.“
Who is the Calypso St Barth customer today?
Despite the radically different retail environment, McNary believes the Calypso consumer is still out there, ready to welcome the brand back into her closet. “We were the leader, the pioneer in resort luxury, and I think that space is still there in the market. So we are going to stay true to the brand tenets that made us so successful in the past,” he said. “Another important factor for us is that we still work with the same factories that we always worked with, families in India who treat their employees well, so they are right in line with our brand values and the values of today's consumer.”
Before approaching the designing of spring, Duff spent time in the Calypso archives, pinning down the brand DNA for a contemporary audience. “Yes, it’s feminine, and, even though the word is overused, it’s bohemian," she said. "It's also aspirational, with a timeless focus on beautiful colors, prints, embroideries, all of which are very current today, but some of the silhouettes are changing.” She pulled core items to sprinkle through the range and reintroduced beloved techniques such as block printing, signature trims and popular embroideries. She identifies Calypso women everywhere, and includes herself among them along with brand founder Christiane Celle who was born in the glamorous epicenter of boho-chic, the south of France. The customer ranges in age from 20 to 80 years old, and whether from New York, Texas or Florida, she is possessed with a worldly, adventurous, romantic spirit. Duff says there is one contemporary icon who embodies it all perfectly: “Kate Moss is the essential Calypso woman. She was younger when Calypso was first around, and now she’s more mature and it still works.”