When Andrew Rosen said last year he was entering the bridge market with a new line called Premise, the industry raised a collective eyebrow: Why was Rosen entering a market everyone else was fleeing?
But Rosen, whose Theory line was a trailblazer in the contemporary market, may once again be on to something: The bridge category's heartbeat could be starting to beat strongly once again. Just don't call it bridge.
"What we do as designers and manufacturers is create something that stimulates the customers," said Rosen, Theory's co-founder and president. "The good ones of us identify voids, which are created when the world changes, and capitalize on them. The reason Theory was created was I recognized that women in the workplace changed — what they were wearing was different, and they had money. We felt there was a void in the bridge market, and [with Premise] we're giving the woman who shops in the bridge department a modern perspective."
There's no question — even from the reluctantly self-described classic bridge lines like Ellen Tracy and Dana Buchman — that the old concept of "classic bridge" is dead, thanks to several changes since the segment's peak in the late Nineties and early 2000s, when the market was worth more than $1 billion a year. They are:
- The casualization of the workforce, including the lack of necessity for the suit and jacket on which the bridge department was built.
- The shifting focus from coordinates to items.
- Customers abandoning head-to-toe brand loyalty and shopping across channels.
- The classic bridge brands getting too big and trading risk for known winners.
- The rise of contemporary and the demand for contemporary-spirited product.
- Women's insistence on looking younger and more modern, even as they age.
- The transition of the Generation X customer out of contemporary, as her body and career grow up.
"In the Nineties, the action was all in the bridge department. In the 2000s, it's all been contemporary — but the pendulum is going to swing back," predicted Rosen, who hopes to triple Premise's volume from the first to second year, although he declined to quantify sales. "Bridge fell off because there was not a lot of excitement in bridge. Those traditional businesses were so big, people were afraid to mess with them, and they had been around so long they started anniversary-ing what they were doing, so they got stale. But now there are all these new resources, and there's a changing of the guard in bridge."
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