By  on February 28, 2007

Better departments are springing forward this season to offer more private, exclusive and upscale offerings.

At Macy's, the launch of O Oscar for spring continued the precedent the retailer set in introducing T Tahari last fall. Private label is slowly but steadily growing at both Macy's and Lord & Taylor, according to the buyers there.

"The only things gaining space in that area are lines like O Oscar, T Tahari and private brands, which are getting more space because they have better margins because they are noncompetitive," said Andrew Jassin, managing director of the Jassin O'Rourke Group, a consulting firm in New York. "Private label — a store's own proprietary brands and brands that have been created for them — continues to intensify. Designer brands with big names also are doing well, whereas the old world of Joneses and Lizes seems to be getting downplayed."

Following an eventful fall — relaunches of Calvin Klein, Liz Claiborne and Nautica, and the exit of City Unltd., produced by Liz Claiborne Inc. — the changes for spring are more subtle. Lauren Jeans is replacing the licensed Polo Jeans, and Calvin Klein white label added a dress line that was offered in a quiet way in December, with a full launch for spring.

Lauren Jeans is already doing well at Lord & Taylor. "[I'm] not sure the new name makes a difference, but we do think they are addressing a void in the market — more missy denim," said LaVelle Olexa, the retailer's senior vice president of sales promotion, advertising and public relations.

Olexa said Lord & Taylor added Lacoste to its better floor this season and that Michael Michael Kors and Lilly Pulitzer were among the area's strongest sellers.

For Macy's, the spring season is one of continued consistency checks across its converted May-to-Macy's doors. "The challenge is looking at newly acquired doors and figuring out how to align them with our existing doors," said Nancy Feldman, general merchandise manager and executive vice president for sportswear at Macy's East. "This year is a year of refinement and is certainly a change year."

At Macy's, Lauren Ralph Lauren is still king, along with O Oscar and T Tahari, as well as the retailer's private labels INC and Charter Club, added Feldman. "Our overall private brand business continues to grow as our business grows," she said. "We have a nice balance between private brands, new exclusive brands and aspirational brands like Lauren."

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