Adrienne Vittadini is relaunching for fall, hoping to fill gaps in the changing bridge floor.
Under Schottenstein Stores, which bought the brand last year, Vittadini has closed its retail doors and is channeling its iconic Nineties heritage into segmented bridge and better lines for wholesale distribution come fall 2008.
"In the industry, everyone says, 'Where has Adrienne Vittadini been?'" said Mary Gleason, who joined as president of the brand last January. "But the customer knows it's been out there, and now we are going to bring the product back to where the customer is actually shopping."
Gleason thinks the bridge woman today shops in high-end department stores like Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale's, not in vertical specialty stores, so the new lines are targeted accordingly.
The company, whose new showroom will open soon at 1440 Broadway in Manhattan, will be run under a license model — Gleason's specialty. Founder of brand management firm Group 3 Design, Gleason created licensing and marketing strategies for brands at the mass level — now she's trying to translate that to bridge. Adrienne Vittadini's corporate office will handle marketing, on which it plans to spend about $2 million for fall.
Republic Clothing Group, a New York-based manufacturer that does almost $200 million in wholesale volume, will produce sportswear for both the bridge line, called Vittadini, and the better line, Adrienne Vittadini. Luxottica will handle eyewear; Carolee will continue to do jewelry, and Sandra Sondra will take over handbags from Mondani beginning in fall.
Republic Clothing Group dedicated designers to work exclusively on the collections, of which the better and bridge lines will look "markedly different, though they will both have the feel of Adrienne," according to president Michael Warner. He said the bridge line will be more about refinement and luxury, while the better line will be edgier and more fashion-forward.
"Adrienne was known for her fabulous knits, and we believe there's a great shortage today in this classification," he said. "Our collection will combine Adrienne's signature style and colors with an updated approach for the customer, who is 'forever 30s.'"
Showing in March, the bridge sportswear line Vittadini will wholesale from $75 to $450, marking about a 30 percent increase over former incarnations of the label, which straddled the better and bridge price points.
A better-priced sportswear line will take the full Adrienne Vittadini name. It will wholesale from $34 to $200.
Gleason called the collection "uniquely European in spirit, but designed for the American woman." Grounded in neutrals and luxury yarns, each delivery is inspired by a European city.
There are also two levels of handbags. The bridge-priced bags, which range from envelopes to hobos, wholesale from $175 to $600 and use Italian materials, including suede and python. The better-priced bags wholesale from $75 to $175 and use materials from Asia inspired by the Italian versions used in the bridge line. Although handbags were available even when the sportswear was not, Gleason expects the business will grow when sold with a sportswear line to support it. After the core four categories are established, Gleason plans to launch fragrance, swim, dresses and outerwear licenses.
Vittadini and her husband launched the brand in 1979, and through the Nineties, it had licenses ranging from swimwear to footwear. At its peak, her sportswear generated about $100 million in wholesale volume, plus another $100 million in wholesale volume from licensed merchandise, according to Gleason.
The Vittadinis sold the business in 1996 to Marisa Christina, and in 1999, Marisa Christina sold it to de V&P, which went bankrupt. Retail Brand Alliance, the parent company of Brooks Brothers, bought the brand in February 2001 for $8.5 million and closed the wholesale sportswear business and instead opened about 30 vertical retail stores, where it was doing about $40 million in retail volume, according to Gleason. In its first year as the owner, Schottenstein Stores, which also owns retailers American Eagle Outfitters and Filene's Basement, has reversed that plan: Schottenstein shuttered the retail doors between January and August, chose licensing partners, and plotted how to capture the essence of the brand from its heyday in the Nineties when it was still independently owned.
For the first time since Vittadini first sold her label, she is coming back on board as "the style compass and inspiration" — though not designer — for the line, said Gleason.
"My name is on it, and I care that the product has integrity," Vittadini said.
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