Dresses continue to be a bright spot in an otherwise difficult market, and this year’s top two fi nishers, Liz Claiborne and Ann Taylor, can attest to that.
For the second consecutive year, Liz Claiborne Inc. topped the list and AnnTaylor Stores Corp. took second place.
Claiborne seems to have ascended the survey based primarily on the might of its name recognition, since dresses are not the driving component of the brand. After all, Sun Capital Securities Group LLC closed its Liz Claiborne suits and dress business in February.
More attention may be called to the brand this summer, when the company’s namesake, who died last year, is expected to receive a star posthumously on Seventh Avenue’s Fashion Walk of Fame in Manhattan.
Liz Claiborne Inc., which did $4.9 billion in sales last year, has been restructuring under the eye of chief executive William L. McComb. The company aims to revive its namesake brand, which saw sales fall to about $875 million — less than half its volume in its heyday — and started the year by naming Isaac Mizrahi creative director for all categories of the better-priced women’s Liz Claiborne brand, beginning with next spring’s collection. The company is said to be working on a new logo and ad campaign for spring, but the brand is keeping things under wraps. Samples and images of the Mizrahi product are restricted to those on a need-to-know basis, according to sources familiar with the situation.
Ann Taylor also has faced its share of struggles, but dresses continue to be an important part of the offerings and often are featured in window displays. In May, Ann Taylor saw a nearly 18 percent decline in fi rst-quarter profits due to substantial restructuring expenses. Despite that, adjusted results finished ahead of Wall Street expectations.
At that time, president and chief executive officer Kay Krill cited markdowns and inventory control during a conference call with analysts. But Krill said that, given the pullback in spending among consumers, the quarter was still a good one for the New York-based women’s specialty chain.
“Despite the highly promotional nature of the sector this quarter, we successfully managed our business to deliver a gross margin that was only 40 basis points below a year ago and inventories that were signifi cantly below a year ago,” Krill said. “From my perspective, this quarter was all about controlling what we could control and driving down our cost of doing business.”
Going forward, the company plans to open 66 stores in fiscal 2008, up from the 50 to 55 new units originally planned. The increase is due to the retailer’s intention to aggressively expand its Factory and Loft outlet openings. The company also plans to cut the ribbon on 10 Loft stores that were initially slated to open next year.
Vera Wang jumped from sixth place to third. Kohl’s has helped to boost the designer’s name recognition with more mainstream Americans as the exclusive retailer carrying the Simply Vera Vera Wang collection. At the other end of the spectrum, the designer’s ready-to-wear collection is gaining fans among editors and retailers alike. Wang’s lavender label also has come on strong, due partially to the fact that she uses the same DNA as her collection line, but with a younger, tighter fi t and in a more affordable price range.
Vera Wang International is expected to have more of a global reach through a new three-year sales and distribution deal with J. Roseroco New York Co. The designer brand is bolstering its retail presence in Seoul, South Korea. As part of an ongoing expansion, the designer label plans to open nine retail outposts. Projected retail sales for this three-year stretch are $24 million, according to Susan Sokol, president of apparel for Vera Wang.
Sag Harbor fell from third place to fourth. In May, a major shake-up in the Sag Harbor dress business was announced. Less than three months after Sun Capital took over Kellwood Co., the private equity fi rm is cutting the St. Louis-based manufacturer’s mainstream dress business.
Despite the strong dress cycle, Sun Capital deemed Kellwood’s moderate dresses — part of the former Halmode and current Lifestyle division, which includes Sag Harbor dresses — as unprofi table and is shuttering the business while keeping mainstream sportswear and better dresses.
Talbots also dropped one slot in this year’s survey to fifth place. Last month, The Talbots Inc. announced three senior-level promotions, completing a restructuring of the executive team leading a three-year strategic plan to turn around the business. To try to reduce costs, Talbots cut 9 percent of its corporate workforce and eliminated the position of chief operating officer.
The move disclosed by the Hingham, Mass.-based retailer trimmed 129 positions and produced about $14 million in annual savings. Chief operating officer Philip Kowalczyk departed last month and his responsibilities will be picked up by other executives. Some credit watchers are keeping close tabs on the company, hoping the deal with its majority shareholder, Aeon Co. Ltd. — for a $50 million credit facility — goes through to give the women’s specialty chain a much needed fi nancial boost.
Jones New York also tumbled one slot to sixth compared with last year’s survey. In May, Jones Apparel Group Inc. named Aru Kulkarni, who was chief customer officer for Liz Claiborne’s partnered brands division, as president of sales for its women’s wholesale sportswear unit. Sportswear remains the focus for Jones New York.
Jessica McClintock/Gunne Sax held on to seventh place. McClintock’s initial investment of $5,000 has paid off beyond dresses to include prom, bridal, children’s, accessories, fragrance, eyewear and home furnishings, among other things.
Nicole Miller rose from 10th place to eighth place this year. While Miller has been a longtime favorite for her dresses and fun prints, she is expanding her reach with legwear and other categories. The designer is entering the bridge arena with a sportswear collection called Nicole Miller Chartreuse Label. Miller inked a licensing deal with The Rafaella Group in New York to create the collection, which is scheduled to bow at retail in fall 2009.
Oleg Cassini slipped one place to ninth, as did Worthington, this year’s 10th-place finisher. Cassini is a key resource at David’s Bridal, where its wedding gowns are sold. Worthington is one of J.C. Penney’s private brands.
Taking the final spot on the mens’ portion of New York Fashion Week calendar next month will be none other than @tomford. Though he’s shown his men’s wear in New York in the past, this will mark the first time the designer has shown his men’s collection alone during New York Fashion Week: Men’s. His runway show will debut on February 6 at the Park Avenue Armory. #wwdfashion
London-based couture house @ralphandrusso has certainly been in the spotlight, having its dresses worn by @beyonce, Angelina Jolie, Meghan Markle in her engagement photos and more. For couture, Tamara Ralph focused on ornamentation — think: feathers with chain mail, jet embroidery and clusters of pearls and crystals. See the rest of the collection on WWD.com #wwdfashion #couture (📷: @giovanni_giannoni_photo)
Minnie Mouse celebrated her 90th birthday by getting her own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. For her celebratory luncheon, @coach’s creative director @stuartvevers dressed her in a custom made prairie dress, complete with Vever’s take on the polka dot – black sequined versions – under a cropped motorcycle jacket. The designer also put his own mark on Minnie’s classic red shoes, infusing the color with sparkles and adding some Coach crystals. “We chose colors that were very Minnie and also represented quintessential Coach elements,” said Vevers. #wwdfashion #nationalpolkadotday (📷: George Chinsee)
@nickjonas is unveiling his first-ever apparel collection through a partnership with John Varvatos. The limited-edition capsule, which makes its debut in spring, also marks the first time the designer has collaborated with anyone on a line. “The process in working with Nick is amazing. It’s inspiring to be around someone who is not only connected with the trade that they do, but also with what’s happening in the environment around him, and how that connects to what we do with style,” said Varvatos. (RG: @johnvarvatos) #wwdfashion
@margotrobbie steps out onto the red carpet wearing @miumiu. The actress is nominated for “Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role” in “I, Tonya” at the #SagAwards. (📷: Stewart Cook) #wwdfashion
For @massimogiorgetti of @msgm, the Nineties are his favorite decade. “They had a huge impact on my personal growth. What I like of the Nineties is that they are not so precise in terms of style as other decades…there was actually a bit of everything,” he said. As seen on MSGM’s Spring 2018 show: tie-dye and a bit of grunge, two styles that are synonymous with the decade #wwdfashion #wwddecades (📷: @kukukuba)