WACHNER-OSCAR: BIG PLANS

Byline: Anne D'Innocenzio

NEW YORK--The new owner of the Oscar de la Renta licensed swimwear line has aggressive plans to market the name globally, along with sprucing up the designs with updated prints and new textures.
"We have a sensational name...and money is no object," said Linda J. Wachner, chairman and chief executive officer of Authentic Fitness Corp., which took over the license in January. It replaced Crest Apparel Inc., which had the license for nine years. Crest closed in September 1993.
Wachner, who also heads Warnaco Inc., was interviewed with de la Renta at his swimwear showroom. She said that starting with last month she expects the line to generate about $12 million in sales at retail, including U.S. and overseas, for the next year. Wachner added that she expects annual sales growth of 25 to 30 percent.
For cruise, Wachner said she plans to distribute the line to Latin America and Europe. Overseas retail sales are expected to approach $2 million, she said.
"There is a big brand recognition for the Oscar de la Renta name over there," she said, noting that she is prepared to spend "a couple million dollars" on advertising and sales promotion in the U.S. and overseas. Advertising print campaigns will be launched in February in such magazines as Harper's Bazaar, Elle, Vogue and Self, said Kathy Van Ness, president of Authentic Fitness. In Europe, billboards advertising the designer's swimwear are being planned for next summer, and the company said they are mapping out other campaign strategies for Europe and Latin America. The company is also exploring Southeast Asia.
Wachner noted that the swimsuits are cut higher for the European customer.
The newly revamped Oscar de la Renta swimwear line, which had been mostly nylon and Lycra spandex blends under its previous owner, now has expanded to include such fabrics as Lycra bouclÄ, yarn-dyed velvet and brushed suede leopard. The collection also has fabrics imported from Italy, like a ribbed print nylon and Lycra blend.
"We are diversifying the line and offering women all different possibilities," said de la Renta, recalling that one style--a black tank suit with a sheer bodice--had been recycled from the late Sixties.
"We tried a similar style in 1969, but we didn't do well," he said. "Lauren Hutton even modeled the suit in Vogue magazine."
He added, however, that the sheer look, along with other textural interest, is back. Coverups feature such fabrics as tea-stained crinkled rayon sheer, embroidered cotton poplin and piquÄ nylon and Lycra blend. The average wholesale price for the coverups is $48.
Wachner cited the bold-colored prints on the swimsuits.
"With the prints, there is a lot of color definition, with dimension and texture," said Wachner, pointing out that some of the prints use as many as 18 screens. They include an Henri Matisse-inspired print that has black, red and white patterns on one- and two-piece suits, with matching pareos.
The swimwear collection, which has 70 styles, also emphasizes the bust, with lots of push-up bras and underwires.
De la Renta added that his ready-to-wear collection has influenced his swimwear line, pointing to such examples as a black nylon and Lycra swimsuit with animal-print trim and another with brightly colored shell print design that was featured in the designer's spring collection.
For cruise, the collection includes a navy blue and white striped nylon and Lycra two-piece suit; a white Lycra skirted tank suit with a full embroidered cutout design, and a brightly colored yellow tank in Lycra bouclÄ. Three of the suit styles carry his embroidered signature label on the front.
Despite such heavy revamping of the swimwear line, the average wholesale price is $34, about $5 less than under its previous owner, said Carmine Porcelli, director of licensing at de la Renta. Porcelli attributed the price difference to Wachner's clout.
"There is a tremendous advantage of having Linda Wachner take over the license," he said. "She has the ability to produce the finest quality garments at competitive prices."

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