By  on March 3, 2005

NEW YORK — Barbara Cavanagh had an epiphany of sorts in September.

En route from Paris to Première Vision, it became clear to Kellwood New England’s president that the bridge customer and her shopping patterns had changed enormously over the past few years, and she came to a single conclusion: Kellwood’s Bill Burns division needed a makeover.

So she literally turned to David Landauer, Bill Burns’ vice president and creative director accompanying her in the car, and announced that she was shifting gears and changing the creative direction of the line, effective immediately.

“I said to David, ‘We will have to do this and if we don’t do this, then we are going to have to close the doors.’ I made the decision then and there,” Cavanagh recalled. “I looked at him and said, ‘We need to start all over again and change the whole concept of this line.’”

Landauer, who was caught off guard, quickly adjusted to the new game plan. “I had 20 minutes to absorb it and then I had to run into fabric appointments thinking, ‘What am I looking for?’” he said. “It was hysterical. I had to process it and look at everything from a fresh perspective. Ultimately, it was very exciting.”

The designer twisted and tweaked items in the following spring collection, but offered the complete makeover for fall, which Kellwood is presenting to specialty stores. The collection consists of items such as cashmere and silk argyle V-neck sweaters, stretch silk georgette bow-tie blouses, leopard flocked stretch tweed skirts, cotton velvet jeans, silk cashmere wraps and crushed tie-dye velvet blazers.

It’s a far cry from the Bill Burns the customer has come to know over the years. The label stood for classic, men’s wear-inspired tailoring with plenty of structured suits and jackets, pants and skirts, all cut from the same cloth to offer women ways to coordinate their separates. Its mission statement was to give women a look for the boardroom and very few other places. Bill Burns, like many others in the bridge segment, seemed stuck in that mantra. But as the customer was becoming less traditional in her fashion choices, looking for more items and shunning the standard bridge resources for contemporary lines, the time seemed ripe for a Bill Burns makeover.

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