By  on August 26, 2008

Thirty-one years after Saks Fifth Avenue gave Josie Natori her big break by carrying her innerwear collection, the retailer is at it again — this time with the designer’s first ready-to-wear collection.

This fall her new Natorious label will be sold in 35 Saks Fifth Avenue doors, including the Fifth Avenue flagship in Manhattan, where a 700-square-foot concept shop is now in place in the fourth-floor atrium. Natori was wearing pieces from the line — an off-the-shoulder top and viscose skirt and belt — when she inspected the new space Friday.

“I wouldn’t be in business today if Saks didn’t believe in what I did. Saks was the first to buy my line,” she said. “This is one of the most important things we have done in our company.”

In fact, Joseph Boit­ano, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of Saks, encouraged Natori to get into rtw and was on hand last week to see the finished results. The addition of Natorious is one aspect of the retailer’s plan to reinvent its fourth floor, as part of the store’s top-to-bottom overhaul. The floor’s renovations should be a 12-month process and will carry a new name, which Saks executives declined to reveal.

Natorious, a 90-piece collection that retails mostly between $225 and $350, is aimed at women in their 20s through their 60s. There is an abundance of tops and blouses, items that Boitano said are lacking today. The introduction of softer, casual silhouettes such as Natori’s designs reflect Saks reinvention of this zone of business, Boitano said. Well aware many working women can wear suits as they choose, or not at all, in favor of more casual or fashionable pieces, Saks is trying to address that, he said.

Last week, Saks chairman and chief executive officer Stephen I. Sadove noted rtw has been a challenging part of business. But that has presented an opportunity for smart, well-priced collections such as Natori’s, while simultaneously meeting customers’ changing needs, Boitano said.

Natori is so confident about this sector that she expects Natorious to account for 50 percent of her total business within the next five years.

Suzanne Johnson, general manager of the Saks flagship, said, “This is part of our reinvention of modern style. We are bringing in new brands to help take this whole world to a new level.”

“What’s so exciting is that we have a collection that gives fashion, trends and a really good fit for all people — not just for my size,” Natori said.

Elementary as that may sound, fit has become a bone of contention with many designer shoppers, who find themselves sized out of contemporary sportswear and are frustrated by some designers’ tendency to only cut small sizes in abundance.

Natori, who will do a personal appearance in Saks’ Beverly Hills store Oct. 2., set out to design a seasonless collection, which allows shoppers to enhance their wardrobes from one month to the next. “One thing I was very cognizant of was that it would cover the country,” she said, referring to the varying climates from state to state. “These are clothes you can travel in.”

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