By  on June 2, 2006

NEW YORK — Expect more than the de rigueur ribbon-cuttings when Martin + Osa opens its first five stores this year.

The active lifestyle brand, a division of American Eagle Outfitters that will open its first store in mid-August, is devising a marketing campaign that’s consistent with its individual approach to retailing. Storefronts will have wide entrances but no windows, and the assortment will include “sweater sweats” and “sweat chinos” among other products that fuse new fabrics and technologies into updated sports-inspired styles with comfort.

To set the image, the company next week will begin running humorous ads imbued with the surreal notion of bringing the outdoors indoors. One ad depicts a stately European living room with a pile of snow that broke through the window as if an avalanche had just occurred. Another shows dresses dangling from trees and illuminated from within like hanging lanterns.

The photography is by Tim Walker. “Tim captures a spirit that we felt was very consistent with where the brand is going,” said Ken Pilot, president of Martin + Osa. “We want to put the fun back into sportswear.”

The marketing campaign includes a call for customers to be socially conscious. It’s also a hook to get them into the stores. The brand’s tag line will be “Refresh. Replenish. Repeat,” with a line underneath that reads: “Please dispose of your old clothes properly.” The message is to encourage customers to bring in their jeans to Martin + Osa stores, which will distribute them to charities. They can be old jeans or just jeans the customer doesn’t feel like wearing anymore. Any jean that is purchased will get wrapped in a special brown “refresh” bag bearing the tag line.

“There is so much today that is focused on recycling. We are focusing on reusing. That’s our beat,” said Pilot. He explained that Martin + Osa is not “a green company.” However, he noted the brand’s paper shopping bags and corrugated cardboard boxes are recyclable, so there is a degree of environmental consciousness. “The ‘refresh’ insignia is a more modern approach to reusing product and is consistent with the target customer who is accustomed to using the Web and e-mail, where you hit the ‘refresh’ icon to delete old messages and bring in the new,” he said.The Martin + Osa storefront design reflects Pilot’s mission to “break out of the sea of sameness” that permeates malls. Rather than having windows to see inside, the exterior will be covered with wood and a strip of opaque blue glass, though with 18-foot wide entrances and no doors, there will still be a sense of openness. There will also be forms with the Martin + Osa look at the entrance before entering.

Inside, the concept of bringing the outdoors indoors will be evident through the use of natural materials, including stone and wood. It’s in keeping with the legacy of the late Martin and Osa Johnson, an adventurous couple from Kansas who explored East and Central Africa, the South Pacific Islands and North Borneo and wrote books and created films chronicling their travels. They studied the wildlife and the people of the regions.

During an interview at Martin + Osa offices, which occupy an entire floor of the American Eagle design center here on East 37th Street, Pilot said he didn’t want to divulge too much about the company’s stores and merchandise months before the first unit opens in NorthPark Center in Dallas in mid-August. However, he did say the brand is inspired by nature and a sports-related lifestyle and has “simplicity” in design. He said the assortment will be primarily denim, chinos and outerwear, as well as knits, accessories and footwear. The archetypal customer is a 30-year-old man or woman, but the brand is expected to attract those ages 25 to 40. Customers are likely to be those who have grown up shopping at American Eagle, have money and an active lifestyle.

After the NorthPark opening, additional Martin + Osa stores will open in Tysons Corner Center, McLean, Va.; Fashion Island in Newport Beach, Calif.; San Fran­cisco Center, and the Woodfield Mall in Chicago. Pilot said the company is already looking beyond the launch and sees another 10 to 15 units opening in 2007.

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