By  on June 11, 2008

NEW YORK — Nicole Miller is adding a new layer to her growing wardrobe, and she is using her favorite color, chartreuse, to do so.

The designer is entering the bridge arena with a new sportswear collection called Nicole Miller Chartreuse Label. Miller inked a licensing deal with New York-based The Rafaella Group to create the collection, which is scheduled to bow at retail in fall 2009.

While Miller has dabbled in separates, the designer has never done a coordinated sportswear collection until the Chartreuse Label. Although the bridge category has been beleaguered with recent woes at Ellen Tracy and the departure of Dana Buchman from that tier, Miller said there was an opening to jazz up the arena with her sense for colors and prints.

"There has been such fallout in that area that I think there is a lot of opportunity," Miller said. "Also, I tend to have a younger, less-serious look. Part of the problem with bridge is that it got so sad and serious, and one of our strong points is color and print. I think I can bring excitement to that area."

Miller and her design studio will work closely with Rafaella executives to develop the new line. While advertising and press for Chartreuse Label will be handled by Miller's in-house team, Rafaella is taking over such areas as sourcing, manufacturing, sales, distribution and marketing at the retail level.

While the collection is intended to stand on its own, Miller said there will be common threads running through the looks she puts on the runway and the new bridge extension.

"I want it to take some inspiration from the runway," she said. "If I have a great blouse, they [Rafaella] will have a version of that great blouse, and I will make a signature print every season. I always work with them on a theme for a fashion show and will probably make a print within the theme of the season."

Miller said she could envision customers mixing and matching items from the bridge line with her other collections.

"There will be a whole color relationship," she said. "If they find a sweater in sportswear, they can put it on with one of my dresses. This is going to enable me to be in other departments and have more visibility in stores."Miller also has a Signature eveningwear collection and a Collection line of dresses, item-sportswear and eveningwear. She designs the Nicole by Nicole Miller line as well, which is exclusively sold at J.C. Penney.

The Chartreuse Label is expected to have a similar distribution to Miller's other apparel collections, which are sold at Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lord & Taylor and Bloomingdale's, and 1,200 specialty stores. Chartreuse Label is expected to range in price from about $90 to $400 at wholesale, although special pieces can go up to $600.

Bud Konheim, chief executive officer of Nicole Miller, said the younger spirit of the Nicole Miller brand can translate well to the more mature customer who shops the bridge floors.

"You have a tremendous ability to reach a lot of people in that area with a designer taste level, sensibility and aesthetic," Konheim said, adding the designer's first complete sportswear collection will enable the brand to take center stage in the larger specialty and department stores.

"People always ask Nicole, 'Where do you get all your ideas?'" Konheim said. "Her answer is, 'The problem is that I have too many ideas and no place to put them.' We hope to get another outlet for her creative talent out of this, and also take more ownership of the American public."

Konheim declined to disclose first-year volume expectations.

Rafaella also makes its namesake brand and is a manufacturer of private label collections for retailers. The company's management team has recently been beefed up under ceo Christa Michalaros, who was previously president of Tommy Hilfiger Womenswear. Hires included Husein Jafferjee as chief operating officer and Richard Metzger as vice president of design and product development.

"Clearly, retailers are looking to breathe new life into their bridge sportswear zone," Michalaros said. "Brands with a more modern, updated aesthetic are key areas of growth at upscale department stores, and our intent is to position the Nicole Miller Chartreuse sportswear in this new redefined area. This also provides Rafaella with an opportunity to gain access into a new channel of distribution."

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