By  on July 13, 2006

NEW YORK — The battle for the hearts and wallets of fall apparel customers is off and running.

Lord & Taylor broke its fall sale on Wednesday, taking out a full-page ad in the New York Times to announce "Advance Notice" of fall markdowns from Wednesday through Sunday.

L&T has taken the opportunity to preview a new advertising look. The image of an Asian model in a graphic black-and-white dress shot against a blood-red background is a departure from the company's signature feminine garden party frocks and flowery script logo.

Asked if the image portends a new look for ad campaigns, Lavelle Olexa, senior vice president at Lord & Taylor, said, "We certainly will have a point of view. The ads are probably going to look like this. We've been moving in this direction."

The competition for fall has grown increasingly urgent, especially among some high-end retailers. Fashion e-commerce sites have made fall merchandise easily accessible, so stores are using more sophisticated means to get customers into stores.

Arnold Aronson, managing director of retail strategies for Kurt Salmon Associates, said of Lord & Taylor, "The ad is very fashionable and doesn't have a hint of promotional zing to it. They're going forward very enthusiastically. I talked to some people at L&T and there's a pretty big spirit."

Lord & Taylor, which Federated Department Stores sold last month to NRDC Equity Partners for $1.2 billion, went into markdown mode before Nordstrom's anniversary sale. That event, which starts Friday, has long been the chain's most successful sale, eclipsing the day after Thanksgiving, a spokeswoman said. Although Nordstrom has no store in Manhattan, the chain competes in other markets with Lord & Taylor. Still, some retail analysts wondered how much of a threat L&T could muster.

Robert Buchanan, an analyst at A.G. Edwards, said he didn't believe Lord & Taylor posed a threat. "They have negative momentum," he said. "Saks Fifth Avenue also has negative momentum."

This year, "I thought L&T got a hold of Nordstrom's calendar," said Walter Loeb, a retail consultant.

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