NEW YORK — Andrea Jovine packed her garment bags and left Seventh Avenue for Greenwich, Conn., in 1998, but fashion, she said, never left her.
"Once fashion is in your blood, it's always there. I never really ever stopped working," Jovine said, sitting in her West 40th Street showroom overlooking Bryant Park.
Jovine had closed her business for financial reasons, and soon left the industry altogether following the death of her husband and business partner, Victor Coopersmith. International Women's Apparel, a division of Hartmarx Co., lured her back and the bridge designer launched a collection for fall 2003. She has been quietly designing lines ever since. The spring collection, which was unveiled at the Fashion Coterie last month and is being sold to buyers in the showroom, serves as a coming out for Jovine.
"I am returning with the same philosophy, making clothes for modern women who have a fairly hectic lifestyle," Jovine said. "We were best known for knitwear, and I still believe that knitwear is timeless and suitable for any occasion."
The collection revolves around textured knits and printed wovens, including pompon cardigans, crocheted metallic yarn skirts, floral-printed coats and striped or gold-studded cardigans.
Jovine conceded that she never really missed the stress associated with keeping a Seventh Avenue business, but living outside of Manhattan gave her a fresh outlook on fashion.
"Being away was very helpful in terms of giving me a perspective on business," Jovine said. "It gave me a better insight into the consumer because I became that typical consumer. I had to go out and look for clothes, which reinforced the fact that there was a place for my clothes."
Jovine is key to the strategy of Chicago-based Hartmarx to build the women's business. Industry veteran Susan Falk joined Hartmarx as group president of women's wear in January, a new position. Falk was hired to oversee sales, marketing and operations of Hartmarx's women's businesses, including Austin Reed and Exclusively Misook.
Falk came to Hartmarx with considerable apparel and retail experience. She had been president and chief executive officer of Henri Bendel, president and ceo of Express and president of Diane von Furstenberg. More recently, she worked as president of The Body Shop International and as president of the Avenue division of United Retail Group."My big focus is relaunching the Andrea Jovine business," Falk said. "I remember her business so fondly from the Eighties and early Nineties."
Falk said Jovine will be an important element in Hartmarx's strategy to build the women's business. More than 80 percent of Hartmarx's business is in men's, "so the growth opportunity is clearly in the women's business," Falk said.
To grow the Jovine business, the company recruited Zenith Arreglado as director of sales in August. Arreglado had been vice president of sales and marketing at Peter Nygård Signature.
Jovine's wholesale prices range from $68 for a knitted top to $225 for an embellished coat. The collection targets bridge departments, and for spring, the company projects to be in 200 doors. Falk declined to give first-year sales projections, but said the eventual goal is to build Jovine into a $100 million business.
To that end, Jovine plans to expand her brand and hopes to license her name for various product categories in the near future. Throughout her apparel absence, she had kept licenses for hosiery with Leg Resource and eyewear with Colors in Optics.
"When we stopped, the goal had been to make it into a lifestyle brand, and I had been working on licenses in the home area," Jovine said. "My long-term goal is the same now. I would like to go into apparel-related categories. It's about creating a whole environment."
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