By and  on March 30, 1994

DALLAS -- Neiman Marcus is putting some muscle behind its drive to appeal to professional women.

NM Work Shop, a department catering to professional working women, is slated to appear in stores this fall, along with the publication of a career catalog and the launch of an advertising campaign featuring actual professional women.

Signs of the campaign surfaced this month with an 18-page section emphasizing well-priced, stylish career wear in the "Spring in Motion" catalog.

The marketing thrust will accelerate in September, when Work Shop opens.

"We're trying to capture the top 5 percent of department store business," said Janet Gurwitch, executive vice president of women's merchandising. "We feel we have the working woman customer somewhat, but we haven't catered to her. We would like to give her an option at a price similar to the top of department stores, but with our visual presentation and service. If we do it right, we can greatly enhance our business."

Neiman's expects to grow its career apparel business 20 to 25 percent this year from a base of about $30 million to $40 million. This fall, all 27 stores will stock apparel aimed at professional women and identified by NM Work Shop signs.

Ten units that already have strong career and bridge businesses will open NM Work Shop boutiques, with the first scheduled to open at the end of April at the unit in Prestonwood Town Center here. At 500 to 1,000 square feet, the Work Shops will be decorated with cherry-tone wood fixtures, granite tables and taupe and brown checkerboard carpeting. Another 10 Work Shops are planned for next year.

Work Shop prices hover at the top of the better range and the bottom of bridge. Suits range from about $270 to $325, blouses average $125 and jackets run from $200 to $350. Neiman's already carried some goods in this price range, but this is its first big effort to market it to professional women.

The bulk of the career sportswear offerings will be private label, Gurwitch said. But branded merchandise will be important, headed by a Gruppo Americano collection that includes looks developed with Neiman's buyers. Christian Dior suits and Gillian dresses will be the basis of the career ready-to-wear offerings.Other NM Work Shop sportswear lines include Giuseppe, Episode and a new collection the retailer developed with designer Randolph Duke called Neiman Marcus, Exclusively By Randolph Duke.

Besides using advertising, Neiman's hopes to attract professional women into its stores through a new cadre of wardrobe consultants who stage seminars and slide shows for specific groups, such as women lawyers. The presentations are tailored to the particular audience and focus on creating a versatile wardrobe with appropriate accessories and makeup. Neiman's currently has eight consultants based in Dallas, Chicago, Atlanta, Houston, Washington and Troy, Mich.

The Duke collection rolled out for spring, with retail prices peaking at about $300 for a novelty jacket. It is sold chainwide, with new capsules of 20 to 30 pieces received about every six weeks.

Soft fresco hues, novelty trims and findings and mostly natural fabrics define the initial shipments.

Bestsellers so far have included a multicolored linen and rayon tapestry jacket for $258, honey linen and rayon tweed pants at $158 and a honey linen jersey T-shirt for $78.

The collection is made by CMT Enterprises, New York, which hired Duke last year in a design and manufacturing deal.

CMT also makes and distributes Duke's signature designer collection. He continues to design the Style Systems by Randolph Duke line for QVC. His next appearance on the home shopping channel is set for April 10.

Duke last year had a deal to produce a bridge line and a contemporary line exclusively for Macy's East. Both were discontinued, said Frank Bober, chief executive officer at CMT.

Bober said Duke's arrangement at Neiman's is part of CMT's strategy to have him design several independent and exclusive collections for individual retailers. Citing ongoing negotiations, he declined to elaborate.

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