By  on July 28, 2005

NEW YORK — After two seasons at retail and a slow U.S. start, the Adidas and Missy Elliott joint line, Respect M.E., is being revamped for fall and holiday.

The design has been toned down with more sophisticated looks, and company executives are hoping marketing tie-ins with the launch of the rap diva's new album, "The Cookbook," will help pump up sales.

Erich Stamminger, president and chief executive officer of Adidas America, said at a news conference in May that sales of Respect M.E. had been disappointing here. This week, Ben Pruess, director of Adidas Sport Heritage, conceded that the line was "slow to get going in the U.S."

"I think this is because in the U.S. the marketplace is more a style-following and promotional- driven market than the rest of the world," Pruess wrote in an e-mail from the company's headquarters in Germany. "U.S. consumers need validation that a product is cool: the big advertising spend, the album, the stars, the promo and so on. The rest of the world sees good product, and if they like it, they buy it. This is not just an effect of the Missy range, this is true for a lot of the great European products."

While he declined to give sales figures, Pruess said the line has sold well in other markets and that the reaction globally "has been very strong."

"Improving the U.S. to be on par with the [line's] global success is a clear goal," he said.

Respect M.E. had global sales of about $30 million in its first year, according to estimates. Overall Adidas sales last year were $8.3 billion.

Respect M.E. was launched with great fanfare last April, when Elliott unveiled the looks at a news conference in New York. The initial products that hit stores last fall featured baggy tracksuits and flashy sneakers in bold colors and camouflage prints, as well as a selection of bags and accessories.

For fall, the line includes sophisticated styling with fitted silhouettes, sleeker designs and subtle color palettes with more brown and black.

"We have toned down the collection's branding," Pruess said. "It is less about building the logo and more about developing silhouettes. The new collection is more feminine, more sexy and more creative."He said top sellers and the most popular items have been footwear such as low-top leather sneakers available in different colors. Wholesale prices for the line range from about $4 for a headband up to $100 for a bomber jacket.

Elliott, a three-time Grammy winner, has been a longtime fan of Adidas, and often sports the brand in her videos and at awards shows.

For the marketing activities tied to "The Cookbook," which hit stores in early July, Adidas worked on a cross-promotional agreement with Atlantic Records that includes print ads and product integration in some of Elliott's videos. In addition, Respect M.E. was promoted on an enhanced CD with a photo gallery, and Adidas is helping coordinate Elliott's promotional tour and appearances for the album. New ads for Respect M.E. have a tag line mentioning the album.

The Respect M.E. line has been something of a departure for Adidas, which has long stressed its performance heritage. It was designed to help Adidas appeal to younger and urban customers it may not have attracted with its performance or vintage offerings, and also to give the company broader distribution in specialty chains where it may not have had a presence.

The line is sold as part of the company's Sport Heritage division, which also includes its Adidas Originals vintage-inspired offerings. Adidas also has a collaborative line with Stella McCartney, although that line is sold as part of the company's performance collection, as well as a joint collection with Yohji Yamamoto that is more fashion-forward and retails at higher prices.

The company initially said it would launch the line in 500 stores in the U.S. and a spokesman said it did reach that target. The line was sold in the company's own Sport Heritage stores, and specialty chains including Dr. Jay's, Lady Foot Locker and Sportie L.A. Going forward, the line has also been picked up by Atrium and select Nordstrom locations.

Musicians and celebrities have been moving in droves into the fashion arena, either by designing it themselves such as Sean Combs and Gwen Stefani have done, or by linking with an established company such as Reebok. That company has been particularly active in working with musicians and entertainers, and now has partnerships with 50 Cent and Jay-Z, and last week announced that it has partnered with Nelly for a new collection.While Respect M.E. has been sluggish here, the company's other initiatives have been working in the U.S. In the first quarter, North American sales rose 15 percent to $496.1 million, and Adidas recently opened a flagship in the heart of SoHo in Manhattan, signaling its commitment to growing its presence in the American market, although Respect M.E. is not available in that store.

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