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LOS ANGELES — Age 25 may be a bit long in the tooth by fashion standards, but swimwear staple Anne Cole is approaching the quarter-century mark with a revamped design team and renewed vigor amid a younger generation of rival swimsuit labels.
Previewed exclusively by WWD, the Anne Cole Collection for cruise 2008, set for an initial delivery in September, recalls the strengths that propelled the brand to the top of the swimwear heap in the Eighties and Nineties: strong prints, vibrant colors and sportswear-inspired accents.
“It was always competitive and running alongside sportswear in the past,” said Claudia Cordic, Los Angeles-based Warnaco Swim Group’s vice president of design for branded swimwear, a division that includes Michael Kors, Nautica, Calvin Klein and Op. “That’s gotten lost a little bit, and we are trying to regain that position.”
Three main groups — First Class, Newport and Glamourama — make up the one-piece-driven new collection, which totals about 150 looks. One-pieces wholesale for $46, tankinis for $33, bikini tops for $30 and bottoms $18 to $28, and cover-ups for $28 to $34.
A core style features a lace scallop trim made by a laser technique that Cordic emphasized is rare in swimwear, although common in dresses. “It took a long time to develop,” Cordic said of the swimwear with the laser-cut trim. “Even our production manager who is like a 50-year-old man e-mailed me, ‘I think you got a winner.'”
A multisized polkadot print was popular for Anne Cole about four seasons ago, and the brand is trying to recapture the polkadot audience with a daintier dot pattern for cruise in red and white, and navy and white. Other notable prints are a yellow chain design set against navy called Chain Gang, and a white nautical geometric design called Maze against black, cobalt and a green hue dubbed grass.
Fashion standouts are basket-weave adorned one-pieces, wrapped suits that Cordic described as “mummies,” jacquards and sheer striped suits. White enameled hardware and gold logo hardware with chains decorate many pieces. Fabrics are a blend of nylon or polyester and spandex.
“Some of the folks that have been around for a long time thought I was crazy and said, ‘What is she doing with that very forward mummy suit?'” Cordic said. “When you sprinkle in the fashion, you can gauge how far out on a limb you can go to grow the business.”
For Warnaco Swim Group as a whole, the cruise season will determine if new initiatives pay off. Since former group president Roger Williams resigned in January, Paula Schneider has acted as the de facto head of Warnaco’s swim business with the exception of Speedo, helmed by Sheree Waterson. Schneider was installed last year as president of designer swimwear to help jump-start a Warnaco swim division that, with 2.3 percent net revenue growth from fiscal year 2005 to 2006, lagged in comparison with the 11.3 percent and 54 percent growth the company experienced in intimates and sportswear, respectively.
Under Schneider’s direction, Warnaco has physically and operationally ended the separations between design teams in its various brands. The teams now work together in one large room in the Warnaco building, and a design center with trends forecasts, color services, silhouettes, prints and fabric is to become a shared resource.
For Anne Cole, designers were brought in from outside of the swim industry, often criticized for being too stodgy, to breathe life into a brand that’s sputtered as contemporary apparel makers extended into swimwear and upped the fashion element. Warnaco, which holds the rights to use the Anne Cole trademark in perpetuity, does not break out sales of individual swim brands and declined to estimate Anne Cole’s cruise 2008 revenues.
Cordic followed Schneider in joining Warnaco last year from Laundry by Shelli Segal. In turn, Cordic, who was vice president of design for dresses at Laundry by Shelli Segal, recruited eveningwear designer Clover Graham from her former employer to assist in the Anne Cole upgrade.
“Everybody is flooding the swim market now.…We just needed to really make a statement,” Cordic said.
Bridget Quinn Stickline, vice president of merchandising for Everything But Water, said Anne Cole has slid in the specialty swim retailer’s 72 stores as other brands such as La Blanca eroded its customer base. One of the problems in retooling the Anne Cole line, she continued, is that the brand has to figure out what part of that base — whether it be women who opt for sexier, trendier suits or those who favor modest ones — it will primarily target.
“I don’t know that Anne Cole has to be out in front, it just has to be special enough that it doesn’t look like everything else,” said Quinn Stickline. Traditionally, the Anne Cole buyer is a woman in her 30s to early 50s who is drawn to clean, classic swimwear.
Cordic has gotten the ultimate stamp of approval on the cruise 2008 Anne Cole Collection: the blessing from octogenarian Anne Cole, who still frequents Warnaco three days a week. Subbrands Anne Cole Locker, aimed at customers in their 20s and 30s, and control offering Suddenly Slim by Anne Cole are awaiting her word. Cole insists that her namesake lines exude “buttoned-up sex” for the woman who will tantalize, but never overexpose.