By  on February 4, 2009

Is there opportunity in the current economic disaster? Saks Fifth Avenue executives are counting on it, at least when it comes to the contemporary arena. Last month, the retailer unveiled a fresh approach to the category, including a redesign of a 3,600-square-foot section of its contemporary department, featuring 15 of Saks’ newest labels.

“We want to, as Saks should, highlight new talent,” said Joseph Boitano, senior vice president, general merchandising manager. “In order to highlight it, we’re presenting it in a new environment.”

Selecting the featured collections couldn’t have been easy, considering the store’s current philosophy — stated in January by Ron Frasch, Saks’ president and chief merchandising officer — of making “the hard decisions on a brand-by-brand basis. Those brands that are nice to have can’t exist in the new environment.”

So what makes these collections so special? Boitano sees them as the best of contemporary’s fashion-forward — with staying power. Click here to see the lines that made the cut>>

“These designers have the potential to become its future core vendors, moving out of this space allowing us to highlight new emerging designers,” he said. “We chose them not because of a common aesthetic, but rather that each have their own distinctive voice. Whether it be the quirky femininity of Rachel Comey or the urbanity of Helmut Lang, in the new space each brand is able to present a clear and strong message, which then allows our customers to be their own editors, interpreting the trends for [their] lifestyle.”

Among the resources around which Saks will develop its contemporary identity, Rag & Bone, Elizabeth and James and Helmut Lang were new to the store last fall. Vena Cava, Gryphon and Hanii Y debut for spring. While the 15 are also available at three other Saks locations, with five more slated to follow for fall ’09, the environmental concept is unique to the Fifth Avenue flagship.

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