Critiques

F.Words: How to Look Obscenely Chic on the Go

What does the modern luxury consumer demand from a modern luxury brand? The ability to answer that question accurately is worth a great deal of money. I recently met an enterprising entrepreneur who may have nailed it. She may also have found that most elusive of Holy Grails: a pair of leggings that are actually flattering, chic and comfortable. Hallelujah!

Who is this wunderkind? Her name is Kendel Neidermyer, Founder and CEO of F.Words, a luxury athletic and leisure apparel company based in Manhattan. The company’s name is both clever and highly relevant. It’s a promise to deliver simultaneously on four elements that are too often missing from workout and wear-all-day clothes: fit, fashion, function and flexibility.

Good F-words, in other words.

On a cold and rainy late-March morning, I arrived at the CEO’s office to see what the future of luxury might look like, and whether it is really possible to deliver a line that will take us from the slopes to the subway. She greeted me warmly while her gorgeous Dalmatian Alaia (as in Azzedine) circled around us – she serves as the company’s Chief Mascot, and has her own Instagram account (we were later joined by her adorably affectionate cat, Kimchi, whose fur is a gorgeous ruddy color that is totally on-brand).

Cool-girl chic, fit, athletic and energetic, Neidermyer embodies the luxury consumer that she hopes to serve with her new line. She spent time in the world of haute couture and ready-to-wear at Reem Acra and J. Mendel. Now, she’s taking her expertise in pattern-making and construction into a completely new sphere, based on what she realized was a missing element within athletic and leisure apparel: a modiste’s level of attention to the small details that create truly comfortable and flattering clothes that adapt to multiple seasons and activities.

As a runner, rock climber and skier (her Bomber skis lean insouciantly in a corner of her office), Neidermyer explains that her vision for F.Words stems from the desire to bring the joyous experience of hiking and skiing in Aspen home to the city and into everyday life.  Her core consumer is looking for quality and exclusivity; loves to travel, and does so a lot; is socially conscious and cares about the environment; and wants to be a part of a community.

The company she’s building is interesting both in and of itself, and also as an emblem of what the luxury apparel company of the future may look like. Here are some of the building blocks that may point the way to the next era of successful luxury brands:

Technology-driven fabrics: the foundation of the line is “smart” fabric that adapts to the environment of the wearer — the interior and exterior fabrics are designed to be both waterproof and breathable (most apparel available today is effective at one or the other, but not both). The fabrics are much lighter and sleeker than you’d expect. How great to be fully mobile and unconstrained, and neither chilly nor sweaty? That sounds like nirvana to us.

Technology-driven construction: the tech extends to the manufacturing of the garments themselves. The factories F.Words uses had in the past manufactured exclusively for the armed services, law enforcement and firefighters – there are fewer than 7 vendors in the US with the proper machinery needed, so Neidermyer had to use her smarts to find them and then convince them to make for her. For example, the seams on all the items are “steam-sealed,” using tape instead of a needle, which measurably improves the comfort of the garments. “Ultrasonic welding” is the driver behind the miraculous leggings. A machine laser-cuts the various pieces of fabric, and then welds them together, resulting in zero layers atop each seam rather than the four layers found in most athletic leggings and ski pants. Less bulk = sexier and more comfortable.

Local, sustainable sourcing: All of the fabrics are sourced from mills in the United States: some from Los Angeles and some from Kansas City. The fabrication machines are ecological, and the supply chain has a low carbon footprint because everything is manufactured domestically. Because every item is made to order, there’s no wasted material, and no unsold inventory going into a landfill. All of F.Words’ fabrics are bluesign® system-approved, meaning that they are certified as the product of sustainable textile production. The fabrics are biodegradable (one jacket is made with granulated wine corks).

Designed for both form and function: the line has a minimalist, sleek, sophisticated color palette, an obsession with fit and proportion, architectural silhouettes, and designer elements like copper hardware, zippers and grommets and thoughtfully-placed pockets that would not be out of place at Courchevel. But it’s also highly functional — in addition to durability and the aforementioned wicking and waterproof elements, the pockets are precisely large enough to hold a smartphone (Neidermyer performs handstands to prove that your phone will not drop out under duress), and there are hidden wire ports for ear buds. All hoods are removable for maximum flexibility. The promise is that you’ll go seamlessly from the ski lift to the airport lounge.

Discreet branding: like many refined European brands, Neidermyer has opted for minimal visible branding. She believes that the brand identity will be recognizable by its color choices, couture binding, geometric techniques and most especially the back of the brand’s waistband shape (which is a scallop, instead of a straight seam, optimizing both comfort and shaping). A heat-transfer label (which is more comfortable than a woven label) with the brand name will be added to the back neck of the tops, and the back yoke of the pants, on the interior only. The brand identity on card stock will be primarily in copper; on the product, it will be a simple black.

Genderless: every item in the line has the same style, just a different fit for women and men.

Socially responsible: in addition to a sharp focus on sustainability, the company’s connections to the community and to philanthropy include giving a percent of the proceeds from the sale of the famous leggings to Stand for the Silent, an anti-bullying organization.

Bespoke: every item will be made-to-order — the company will hold no inventory — which means that every item can be made-to-measure and customized — hardware colors can be changed, and sizing will not be a problem for consumers to decipher. It will take 2-4 weeks from order to delivery (so plan ahead).

Witty: the brand name itself is quite clever, and the wordplay extends throughout the business. Item names all start with “F” or “Ph:” Frisky, Freestyle, Fluid, Fortress, Phenom, Freedom, and the famous F*It legging. (There is of course nothing frumpy, frazzled, flaky, fascist or fatigued). Specific items are sold in combination as “kits” so that consumers can throw them on and go, knowing that they’re appropriately styled. One kit is called “Saturday Afternoon;” a second is “OMG;” a third is “Who Runs the World?” We think the next kit should be called Freaky Friday. Or Forever Flâneur.

Direct-to-consumer: The distribution strategy is a combination of e-commerce and in-home trunk shows. Neidermyer is looking to recruit “Curators” who will invite their friends to their homes to try on the various pieces and discuss their specific needs and feedback. Other brands, including 3.1 Philip Lim, are finding that these informal gatherings are the perfect way to gain a deeper understanding of the consumer’s unmet needs, what’s working and not, what fit or other design elements need to be addressed, and what the community of brand loyalists is most excited about.

Strong price-value: cutting out the middle-man means that – as at Warby Parker – prices can be lower while quality remains high. Not that these items are inexpensive: the three-piece “Saturday Afternoon” kit is $1,415; “Who Runs the World?” is $2,300; and “OMG” is $5,150.

So, how about the clothes themselves? Think Brunello Cucinelli, but made for action (you can see some of the looks in the slideshow below). It’s outdoor couture, and it works. I tried on several items, and the color palette is refined and elegant (charcoal and dove grey, citrine, silver, copper, and winter white); the design and construction details make for terrific silhouettes; the fabrics are fluid and not confining in any way; and the hand-feel is exceptional. Our Style Editor agrees, noting “Fit is everything and if I can find stylish active wear that flatters, it’s nearly impossible to pass up. Love the color palette: classic, clean and chic. My first impression is F-yeah!”

F.Words is now open for business at www.fwordsgear.com. If you’re interested in a more personal interaction, the “Personal Shopper” section on the home page is where you can schedule private viewings or hosted events. We can’t wait to see what Neidermyer and her business partner Bob Daughton will do with this concept next.

Bottom line? If you want to hit the trifecta of looking chic, feeling totally comfortable, and supporting an enterprising and committed entrepreneur, check out F.Words. Personally, I’d add a fifth word: fantastic.