CHAUS: MAKEOVER, UPGRADE

Byline: Anne D'Innocenzio

NEW YORK--Bernard Chaus Inc., the money-losing moderate sportswear firm, has unveiled a new, clean look for fall selling. It is offering more fashion, like plaid slipdresses, retro-Forties dresses, and belted jackets, at prices that are 10 percent higher than last fall's.
The makeover is being spearheaded by Andrew Grossman, who came on board as chief executive officer last September.
Although Grossman, who had been president of Jones Apparel Group, the better-price sportswear powerhouse, declined to be interviewed for this article, it is known that he wants to push the label into the top tier of moderate or low end of better. In that venue, it will be competing against such names as Rena Rowan for Saville and Rafaella instead of some of the juggernauts that dominate the mid-moderate area. The new zone is not expected to be nearly as difficult for Chaus as the mid-moderate area, where the company had been floundering, said industry sources. Over the past few years, Chaus--which had a reputation for dowdy styles like fussy beaded trims and rayon print dressing--had been losing market share to the increasingly successful Norton McNaughton and Alfred Dunner. Both labels now have a dominant hold in the market.
In the Chaus career line, jackets now wholesale for $64; blouses for $22; trousers for $30 to $40, and skirts for $40.
For Chaus Sport, the wholesale price for tops and pants ranges from $22 to $24.
Some buyers noted a welcome change in Chaus's merchandise.
"It is a dramatic improvement, and I think the customer will react to the improvement," said Ilene Cohen, vice president, merchandise manager for The Doneger Group, a large buying office here. "It falls between upper moderate and the opening price point of better. They are using better fabrics but their price points fit into upper moderate."
Chaus's career line, which had emphasized soft dressing--floral printed skirts and blouse sets, for example--now emphasizes structure. The line has expanded to include such fabrics as wool crepe, moss crepe and wool flannel; it had previously carried only rayon blends.
About 25 percent of the line is in jackets, which Chaus had rarely carried. Career looks include belted jackets with velvet collars, acrylic ribbed shells, bias cut skirts in rayon acetate and angora blend twinsets.Chaus Sport had been primarily knits, with an emphasis on printed pants and oversized knit tops. For fall, 75 percent of its line is in knits with the remainder in wovens such as corduroy and polyester/rayon blends.
The Sport line includes rugby cloth cotton jackets, cotton polo shirts, blue cotton drawstring pants, plaid slipdresses and cotton plaid vests.
Although Chaus has been struggling, its most recent quarterly results showed some improvement. Losses for the second quarter, which ended Dec. 31, narrowed to $4.9 million from $8.5 million in the same quarter a year earlier. Sales in the period, however, also fell, from $50.7 million to $46.5 million.
For the first half, Chaus lost $13.9 million after $9 million in restructuring expenses and costs related to Grossman's hiring. The company lost $10.2 million in the first half a year earlier. Sales fell 7 percent to $111.9 million from $120.3 million.

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