NEW YORK — The Kenneth Cole New York women’s sportswear line is gearing up for life after Liz Claiborne, which launched the collection almost five years ago.
For spring, Paul Davril Inc. will produce the collection under license. PDI also handles the men’s portion of the brand and has various other apparel businesses, including the Ecko Red women’s line. Kenneth Cole Productions Inc. and Liz Claiborne Inc., which prefers to own brands rather than produce them under license, announced their split in March.
The designer said the switch of licensees “gave us a chance to redefine ourselves and it gave us a chance to reintroduce ourselves to the marketplace.”
The relaunch of the line, currently in about 90 Kenneth Cole stores and about 400 department store units, will have a slightly reduced distribution. Sources have indicated the Kenneth Cole line under Liz Claiborne pulled in less than $100 million in annual sales.
Starting with spring, some department stores will have looks from the designer’s runway show for the first time. Kenneth Cole New York Signature Collection, as the more fashion-forward and pricier runway looks are being called, will make up some 20 percent of the line and be in about 20 percent of the department stores carrying it. Signature has been tested in 10 to 15 of KCP’s doors for the last year.
“It’s what you’ll see on the runway,” Cole said of Signature. “It’s what you’ll see in our ad campaign and it’s what you’ll see in our better department and specialty stores. This gives us a wider foundation and a more comprehensive presentation of the brand to the customers.”
Cole described the styling of the spring collection with a series of “mores.” It is more refined, more elegant, more modern and more contemporary. The designer said the elegance comes from the more coordinated design of the pieces and also from higher-quality fabrics, including ramie linen and viscose, and better construction.
“Women today are becoming a little bit more confident, assured and comfortable with their femininity, and able to be more contemporary and modern in the way they represent themselves in the workplace,” said Cole. “It certainly is a practical interpretation of that lifestyle evolution.”The line has pleated dresses, pencil skirts, skirts with grosgrain details and fitted jackets. Retail prices, including Signature and the rest of the line, range from $79 to $99 on tops, while dresses go for $159 to $179 and jackets for $149 to $199.
Selling runway looks to department stores gives Cole a larger platform for his collection and gets more mileage out of the company’s significant expenditure on the show. Cole said fashion shows need to be as “interesting” and “arresting” as possible, but conceded they also have to help promote the brand.
“We’ve made significant progress toward finding that middle place that serves both masters,” he said.
It might be a toss-up as to whether the fashion world or Wall Street is more demanding, but Cole has managed to please the financial community. For the first half ended June 30, the firm’s profits shot up 16.1 percent to $14.4 million. Revenues increased 13.7 percent to $235.4 million, including a 9.1 percent rise in licensing and other revenues to $18.4 million. The firm’s stock closed at $30.11 Tuesday, up 2 cents for the day and 16.6 percent above a year ago.
Paul Blum, president of KCP, said the line defies easy categorization.
Currently positioned in the better area of the department store, Blum said the collection has a lot of elements of a contemporary line, but with a more universal fit.
“What we’re doing is we’re going to be the bridge between the better zone and the contemporary zone,” he said. “Doors are starting to work by lifestyle and they’re starting to recognize the contemporary lifestyle is a mind-set and a certain customer. They’re going to start zoning the departments based on a certain customer.”
He added, “I know, for example, Federated [Department Stores Inc.] has really started to focus on the lifestyle of a specific customer.”
Blum believes this is a departure from the traditional categories that rule department stores. “It’s a move away from price point and I think it’s also an interesting move away from size,” he said. “[Department stores] are all questioning that traditional structure and trying to make their environments more shopable.”
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