AVON EXPANDS APPAREL FRANCHISE

Byline: Susan Watters

WASHINGTON--Christina Gold, president of Avon North America, is as good as her name when it comes to spinning profits out of Avon's $4.3 billion direct-selling business.
Gold has moved aggressively in the last 18 months to expand Avon's franchise into apparel. The most recent deal is this month's launch of the company's new Diane Von Furstenberg moderate-priced designer collection.
Avon has also begun exploring the possibility of expanding its customer base through direct-market catalogs by testing the concept this fall in selected areas in the Northeast, said Gold.
In a recent interview at the company's Northeast Expo and fashion show, held Aug. 9-11 at the Omni Shoreham Hotel here, Gold called the collection "a great fit with Avon."
"It brings the American consumer an opportunity to buy designer-created casualwear separates in silk and cotton at reasonable price points, from $19 to $48," she added.
Gold would not offer any sales projection for the new Von Furstenberg line, but did say Avon's apparel sales in Brazil, Canada and Europe--which began in the mid Eighties-- now account for 15 percent of international sales.
"We don't project getting to that number [in the U.S.] that quickly," Gold said, "but we do intend to grow the business. When you start from nothing and build a business, the opportunity is tremendous."
The launch is Avon's latest U.S. move into the apparel business, which began last year with intimate apparel and casualwear. Swimwear was added a few months later. In the last 10 months of 1995, Avon racked up $120 million in apparel volume, accounting for 7 to 8 percent of its U.S. business.
Von Furstenberg signed a joint licensing agreement with Avon in February for a budget-to-moderate line called Diane Von Furstenberg--The Color Authority. The company plans to introduce four lines a year, starting with fall and holiday in the fourth quarter, followed by a spring and summer collection that will appear in 26 catalog campaigns.
Von Furstenburg, who came here for the launch, spent the afternoon, shoes off, seated at a table, while she autographed catalogs for Avon sales managers. Avon's fashions are not sold in stores but are available through an Avon representative or by calling 1-800-FOR-AVON.
As sales managers stood in line to meet the designer, they got a chance to inspect the collection, which was displayed on racks in the center of a showroom and flanked by items from Avon's intimate apparel line. Two models strolled through the crowd, one in a Warnaco negligee, another in fashions from Von Furstenberg's holiday line.
As part of the promotion, district sales managers will be dressed in something from the fall collection. They will also use a wardrobe planner that shows how different tops work with various skirts and pants.
Von Furstenberg's casual sportswear line includes three blouses: one with three detachable collars for $32, another for $29 in pink, gold and teal, and a black-and-white paisley blouse for $32.
Other pieces include washable black silk pants for $29, a black-and-white plaid cotton knit cardigan for $49, a vest for $29, a cotton knit skirt for $22 and a multicolored, signed silk scarf for $24 with an early $19 promotional sale. Extra-size items are priced about $5 above regular prices.
Accessories in the Von Furstenberg fall line include a felt "crusher" hat in black corduroy for $16 and a black leather belt bag for $24. The holiday line features a Lurex and acrylic cable-front sweater for $39; a washable silk tunic in purple, red, black and teal with matching silk pants ($29 for regular size; $34 for extra large); a "Queen of Hearts" print washable silk blouse and matching scarf ($34, regular size; $39, extra large), and a strip of six enamel button covers for $7.
Gold said Avon does not plan to feature other apparel designers, but wants to "give Diane Von Furstenberg a chance to succeed." As part of its strategy to expand its customer base, Avon has purchased mailing lists of potential customers in the Northeast. It is also targeting customers with slightly higher income and slightly more education than its traditional customers, who might want to use the product but don't want to be serviced by a representative.
In the coming months, Avon intends to mail a catalog to this customer base to test the prospects of developing a select mail-order business that will not overlap with its existing direct-selling customer base.--Fairchild News Service

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