VITTADINI BRIDGE LINE TO SKIP SPRING AS PART OF MAJOR OVERHAUL

Byline: Alice Welsh

NEW YORK--In a sweeping restructuring at Adrienne Vittadini Inc., the company said Tuesday it will skip the spring season for its bridge collection; launch a new better-price sportswear division called AV Options for spring, and discontinue its dress division.
The company--which reportedly did $150 million in volume last year, including income from licenses--has planned no changes for Adrienne Vittadini Sport, which represents 60 percent of its business. Forty percent of the business was generated by the Collection.
"I don't really believe in collections anymore," said Adrienne Vittadini, in a wide-ranging interview here at her offices, along with her husband, Gianluigi Vittadini, vice chairman and treasurer; James Held, president, and Brad Saltzman, executive vice president of sales and marketing.
"I think women are buying more pieces than outfits and are dressing much more sporty," said Vittadini.
After sitting out a season, the company will reposition the Collection with a knitwear focus for fall 1996.
"We are going back to our roots--doing beautiful, luxurious knitwear and more items," said the designer.
She said the line would be 90 percent knits and the company would be offering woven pieces but not structured jackets--"more elegant, casual styles that can be worn to the office or at home," said Vittadini.
It would remain at the bridge price level.
"We've polled retailers and listened, and this is the direction they said they need right now," said Vittadini.
Vittadini said she plans to rename the line because it would no longer be a collection, but she has not yet decided what to call it.
"We're taking a season to retrench," said Held. "We have a lot going on with AV Options and our new licenses."
Held said he wasn't worried about losing floor space or customers for a season.
"If the product is right, the retailers and customers will want it," he maintained.
Held said the Collection line wasn't losing money, but it wasn't growing as fast as the company would like.
"I'm very disappointed they are taking a season off. I thought they were headed in the right direction," said Gerald Barnes, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of Neiman Marcus. "I hate to see them lose the customer for a season.
"The business has been difficult over the past couple of seasons, but I think they recognized the problem and were well on the way to correcting it," he added. "I think it's a great idea to focus on knits. They've always been the most interesting part of the line, and it's a good time for knitwear."
Its newest venture, AV Options, will make its debut for spring 1996.
"The Vittadini style and design won't be compromised. Sourcing will be the key to offering a lower-priced line," said Vittadini.
"We'll be sourcing more in Israel, Portugal, Turkey, the Philippines and other places where quotas and other restrictions are not as severe," said Held.
Vittadini said the line will be 100 percent cotton but more novelty-driven than the Collection had been, with greater use of prints, stripes and graphics.
"Whereas the Sport line is weekend wear and an athletic-inspired casual bridge collection, AV Options is convertible clothing. It can go to work and into the weekend," said Held.
Vittadini said the idea for the line was based on conversations with customers during in-store appearances she made to launch her perfume.
"They told me that wanted the Adrienne Vittadini look but said, 'We can't afford your collections anymore,"' she said. "Customers want easy knits that work back with other things in a much more modern way."
AV Options will wholesale from $14 for a T-shirt to $49 for a cardigan jacket.
It will open Monday in the Vittadini showroom at 575 Seventh Ave. Although the company declined to make any volume predictions for the new line, Held said, "We hope to double our wholesale volume within two to three years."
The company is also focusing more on the Adrienne Vittadini Sport collection, a line that has enjoyed sales gains of 20 percent seasonally for a few years, according to Held. Based on customer and retail requests, the company is developing a petite business within Sport, beginning with holiday 1995 delivery. Because dresses in the Sport line have sold particularly well, said Saltzman, the company will discontinue Adrienne Vittadini Dresses as of spring 1996 and add more dress bodies to the Sport line.
On the licensing front, the company will zero in on the home area, with a vision of what the designer calls "Casa Vittadini." Two more licensed lines are planned for 1996. The first is Adrienne Vittadini Luggage, which is planned for a March debut through an agreement with Lark Luggage Co. The second, for which the company is close to an agreement, is an Adrienne Vittadini Furniture collection for fall 1996.
Vittadini designs a bed and bath collection, manufactured and marketed by Fieldcrest Cannon Inc. and has a wall coverings deal with FSC, a division of F. Schumacher & Co.
AV, the fragrance launched last spring by Khepra Beauty Group LP, is expected to generate a first-year wholesale volume of $15 million, according to Held.
Other existing licenses are for swimwear, footwear, eyewear, scarves, cosmetic bags and yarns.
During the last 18 months, the company has halved the number of freestanding retail and outlet stores to nine from 18, while in-store boutiques are being redesigned by architect Michael Gabellini.
The first boutique will open in Bloomingdale's flagship in September. Additional in-store visual concepts will open in other Bloomingdale's locations, as well as in Saks Fifth Avenue, Dillard's and Neiman Marcus before the end of the year.
Vittadini is also refocusing its marketing dollars, spending more money on direct mail and in-store events while continuing with its national ad campaign. Held said the company will double its ad budget this year over 1994 and will again double it in 1996.

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