By  on August 19, 2009

Since taking over the design helm for Calvin Klein Collection women’s apparel in 2003, Francisco Costa has mostly received positive reviews for his architectural and sculptural takes on the house’s purist aesthetic. Now, there are signs the business is starting to follow the accolades.

When Costa and a few of his socialite friends fete the opening of the women’s Calvin Klein Collection shop at Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan Thursday, the celebration comes with much significance for executives at Calvin Klein Inc.

“This is a very important step in rebuilding our Collection business,” said Tom Murry, CKI’s president and chief executive officer.

The label once had a significant shop on the second floor of Saks, but like most of the other in-store Collection boutiques nationwide, the unit shuttered after the company licensed the label out in 2001 and faced a series of delivery and fit problems as a result of licensee woes.

“We had a strong representation at Saks, Neiman’s, Bloomingdale’s, Bergdorf’s and Nordstrom,” Murry said. “Of all the businesses we operate, [Collection] is really the only business that did not lend itself to the licensing model.”

Last year, the company took the Collection business back in-house to rebuild the retail real estate and restore it into one of the top designer sportswear businesses. The first shipment of merchandise produced in-house was for early spring, which landed in stores at the end of last year.

“We have made investments into the infrastructure, and we are executing and shipping a quality product on time,” Murry said. “We are seeing solid signs of growth and traction all over the world, and the Saks shop-in-shop is another example of that.”

Ron Frasch, president and chief merchandising officer of Saks Inc., said, “We have always loved what Francisco has done. We think he is one of the most talented designers we do business with.”

Frasch conceded that there had been delivery, pricing and merchandising issues with the line in the past, but Murry and his team have made “smart moves” to correct them.

“It gave us the confidence to say, ‘let’s try and do some business,’” Frasch said.

The 900-square-foot shop is located within Saks’ second-floor designer sportswear department. Its all-white interior is peppered with runway looks graphically displayed from ceiling suspensions. Costa had a significant amount of input into the design of the space, which was created by CKI’s in-house retail design team.

CKI plans to open more such shops.

“It’s an integral part of the strategy and has been since we brought [Collection] back in-house,” Murry said. Asked about planned openings, he added that future shops were “opportunity-driven.”

“The locations have to become available, but over time we have every intention of getting back to the critical mass that we had back in 2001, before we licensed it and the business began to slide downhill,” he said.

Murry didn’t disclose sales projections for the Saks unit, but said, “Based on the performance we have had over the past six months or so, we feel comfortable we will achieve the required productivity for the floor.”

Thursday night’s cocktail party will be hosted by Costa, MTV’s Alexa Chung, model Elettra Wiedemann and girls-about-town Lauren Santo Domingo, Jessica Joffe and Kathryn Neale. Saks will also be displaying looks from the women’s Collection in its Fifth Avenue windows.

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