While department store better floors sputter because of the recession — even losing space to moderate lines — companies hope a stream of launches and relaunches, plus lower prices, will help jump-start the sector.
Although observers agree the pricier better market has been especially hard hit — with orders depressed by 20 to 30 percent — particularly in February, March started to deliver bright spots. The key is delivering the better customer what she wants: items instead of collections, multipurpose career-to-casual pieces, seasonless fabrics, higher value at sharper price points, upbeat colors, tops more than bottoms, slenderizing technology and professional tailored looks.
“Throughout 2008 we saw a lack of sales growth in better, so we reacted and planned those businesses down accordingly [by the same percent of previous decrease] in the fourth quarter and into 2008,” said Tony Buccina, vice chairman and president of merchandising at The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. “But we did see some increases in moderate price points, and we moved our investment to those areas in 2009 — that’s where we’re seeing the business move until the market corrects.”
Belk saw a similar trend of moderate outperforming better. “The whole better category has been challenged, as the higher price points have been a challenge,” said McKay Belk, president and chief merchandising officer of Belk Inc., adding the better department’s modern offerings were outselling traditional.
“Clearly sportswear has been difficult for some time now, but it’s showing relative signs of life this quarter,” said Lord & Taylor chief executive officer Brendan Hoffman. “As spring deliveries hit the floor with brighter colors, lines like Lauren and Kenneth Cole are looking bright and customers are responding.”
Meanwhile, better brands — from Calvin Klein to Nine West to Rafaella and Kenneth Cole New York — are trying to compete in this economic environment by lowering their prices, or at least their opening price points, by 10 to 30 percent. “Everyday value” items that are on the low end of the price range even without promotions are frequent bestsellers.
Hoffman said the promotional level was still higher than he’d like to see for spring, but “inventory levels are more in line than they were in holiday, so it’s less about trying to work down the inventories and more about working around customers’ expectations — everyone wants to know they are getting a value.”
“Better is probably struggling a little more than moderate because this customer has really been hit harder than anyone else,” said Andrea Goldreyer, better analyst for the Doneger Group. “But the better market for fall has worked to address what’s happening in the real world by going after items rather than collections.”
Goldreyer said even brands normally focused on collections have shifted to having key items make up 45 to 60 percent of their overall assortment. Adrienne Vittadini, which relaunched for fall 2008, is an example, shifting from collection mode to key-item mentality for fall 2009.
“Even if the economy hadn’t been so tough, it would have been tough for us because we weren’t on the right track,” said Mary Gleason, president of Adrienne Vittadini. “We started the relaunch with head-to-toe dressing, but for fall we really want to shift to modern separates. We’re hearing from retailers that they want separates. We’re now making great pieces, so if a customer comes in and sees an outfit on a mannequin, they can just buy a piece to add to their existing wardrobe.”
As one of the most recognizable models in the world, Christy Turlington Burns has an insider’s view of the fashion industry and the allegations of sexual harassment swirling around it. “I can say that harassment and mistreatment have always been widely known and tolerated in the industry. The industry is surrounded by predators who thrive on the constant rejection and loneliness so many of us have experiences at some point in our careers,” Turlington told WWD, along with her suggestions for how the modeling world should protect younger women and men. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. (📷: Tony Palmieri) #wwdnews
@asics America has tapped a new brand ambassador: famed DJ/record producer @steveaoki. This initiative is intended to set the tone for the new brand identity and philosophy and will include partnerships with influencers and in-store and off-line activations that will continue into next year. This is Asics’ most significant marketing effort in two decades, and is expected to attract younger consumers to the brand. #wwdfashion
24-year-old Jean Prounis is redefining the rules of jewelry. Formerly a studio assistant to Jemima Kirke and a design apprentice at Ghuran, she focuses on handcrafted subtleties and ancient goldsmithing techniques. “There was a really sterile feel in the environment and I wanted to have jewelry with character that shapes how you wear it everyday,” Prounis said. Each piece is hand made in New York, either by Prounis or three other jewelers in the district. #wwdfashion
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Amid the Harvey Weinstein controversy, there’s another sector that’s being put under the spotlight for sexual abuse: the modeling industry. While rumors about abuse and sexual harassment of female and male models — and the photographers, agents and others who perpetrated it — have circulated within the fashion world for years, model @cameronrussell started posting stories from models on Instagram last week about abusive situations they’ve encountered — from sexual harassment and molestation to attempted rape. Over 75 have weighed in so far. Read more on WWD.com. Link in bio. #wwdnews
To celebrate its 16th anniversary, @dylanscandybar tapped designers and celebrities to create mosaics out of candy. The mosaics will be auctioned off to support the philanthropic cause of each participant’s choice. Pictured here is the mural created by @aliceandolivia's Stacey Bendet. For a first look at some of the other artwork being unveiled tonight, go to WWD.com. #wwdeye
The annual Veuve Clicquot Polo Classic in Pacific Palisades this weekend drew Kate Hudson, Tracee Ellis Ross, Laura Dern and more. See pictures of the star-studded event on WWD.com. (📷: @chelsealaurenla) #wwdeye
In his new book “Hollywood Royale,” Andy Warhol’s Protégé Matthew Rolston celebrates the Eighties revival of Hollywood glamour. Featuring more than 100 portraits taken by Rolston from 1977 to 1993, the book contains photos of icons like Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, and @drewbarrymore, pictured here in 1991. “Hollywood Royale,” out today, will be accompanied by an exhibition opening at Los Angeles’ Fahey/Klein Gallery on March 1. #wwdeye