Vera Wang is getting into the men’s formalwear business. The designer is expected to reveal today that she has signed a licensing deal for tuxedos with The Men’s Wearhouse Inc. RELATED STORY: Vera Wang Pre-Fall 2012 >> In its third-quarter conference call last week, the men’s retailer said that it would be unveiling the details of “new licensing arrangement…with a well-known apparel brand, specifically designed for our tuxedo rental business.” Sources said the brand is Vera Wang. This would mark the first foray into men’s wear for Wang. The garments are expected to be produced by Flow Formalwear, which also manufactures tuxedos under license for Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Joseph Abboud and Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino. Entering the tuxedo business is a logical extension for Wang, who has made some bold moves into the more moderate end of the apparel business over the past several years. Last year, the designer inked a deal with David’s Bridal to produce a line of more moderately priced women’s wedding gowns under the Vera Wang White label. Men’s Wearhouse is the tuxedo rental partner of David’s Bridal. The White collection hit stores this spring. Wang, whose couture bridal gowns can cost in excess of $15,000, first entered the moderate business in 2007 with the Simply Vera Vera Wang women’s contemporary collection for Kohl’s, which spans apparel, accessories, jewelry, footwear and home. On Wednesday, Vera Wang Group expanded its association with Kohl’s Corp. by signing an agreement to launch Princess Vera Wang, a juniors collection, at stores and on kohls.com, beginning next August. The launch will include apparel and jewelry and will eventually include more categories as well. Wang’s current lineup of licenses includes Coty Prestige Inc. for fragrance and beauty-related products; Kenmark Group for eyewear; WWRD for china, crystal, silver and gifts; William Arthur for fine papers; Serta for mattresses; Revman for bedding; Brown Shoe for Lavender footwear; Hartmann for luggage; FTD for flowers, and Mattel for Barbie. Wang also has a strategic partnership with Zales for Vera Wang Love, a diamond jewelry collection of engagement rings, wedding bands and solitaire jewelry. Discussing the upcoming juniors line at Kohl’s, Wang told WWD,“This came directly out of my girls and their friends.” The mother of two daughters, ages 21 and 18, the designer explained that she’s always wanted to develop a juniors/young contemporary collection “and we weren’t in a position to execute it at our company. I was very excited when Kohl’s thought they’d like to create the line and embraced it.” Wang said the line was developed from the Princess Vera Wang fragrances, which reflect “all the personalities a girl has.” “Everybody always accuses me of being a teenager. I live it everyday in our home,” said Wang. She said she looks forward to making the line “fun, relevant and good value and to bring a hipster quality to it. It’s a market I can relate to and test market in my own living room,” she said. Mario Grauso, president of Vera Wang, added, “The success of Princess Vera, the fragrance, inspired us to make it a whole universe. Kohl’s is such a strong partner with our company.” For Kohl’s, growing its partnership with Vera Wang underscores the strength of its exclusive and private brand strategy, which has been steadily growing and generated 52 percent of sales in the third quarter of 2011. “We are confident bringing this level of fashion and quality to our juniors business allows us to increase the value proposition to our younger shoppers and delivers on our commitment to offer world-class brands in each category,” said Kevin Mansell, Kohl’s chairman, president and chief executive officer. The agreement with Men’s Wearhouse also takes the designer into an entirely new market and could be immensely lucrative for the brand. The retailer now holds a dominant position in the tuxedo rental business, offering formalwear in more than 900 stores around the U.S. and tuxedo rentals have become a major contributor to the company’s profits in the past several years. In the third quarter, same-store sales rose 1.9 percent in retail tuxedo rentals and the company is anticipating a comp-store gain of 14 to 15 percent in the category in the fourth quarter. Doug Ewert, ceo, said on a conference call last week that the unnamed designer licensing collaboration, “which our customers will begin to experience in fiscal 2012, will further strengthen our existing dominant market share position.” Getting into the tuxedo rental business has also allowed Men’s Wearhouse to attract a younger shopper to its stores, one that is also driving sales of slimmer-fitting suits and sportswear, two other growth categories for the retailer. Ewert said last week: “We continue to measure what percent of our new retail customers had a previous tuxedo rental experience with us, and that number goes up quarter-after-quarter. So we’re continuing to grow the number of customers that have their initial experience with us in a tuxedo rental transaction and now come back at a later date for a retail transaction. And I think when we look at some of the younger products and how well we’re doing with them, I think that’s just further evidence that the younger Millennial generation is responding nicely to our products.” This was the company’s plan when it got serious about the tuxedo business five years ago. In 2006, Federated Department Stores Inc., now Macy’s Inc., agreed to sell its Bridal Group in two separate transactions: Leonard Green & Partners of Los Angeles purchased the David’s Bridal women’s chain and Men’s Wearhouse acquired the After Hours Formalwear business. Since that time, the two companies have worked together to outfit wedding parties with David’s Bridal dressing the women and Men’s Wearhouse serving as the company’s exclusive formalwear partner. David’s Bridal operates more than 300 mostly mall-based stores in all 50 states.
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