Byline: Holly Haber

DALLAS--"At Long Last...Escada Sport," read the banner trailing behind the little airplane circling the skyscrapers here one afternoon last week.
Even though the merchandise hasn't hit the stores yet, executives of Escada USA have spent the last month traveling to major cities around the country staging fashion shows and creating a buzz--like the flying banner--to build excitement among the merchandisers and sales associates who will begin selling the new line of casual sportswear next week.
Escada's pitch here included sales clinics at stores, a focus group with customers and a cocktail party with a jazz band and a runway show on the 40th floor of Texas Commerce Tower overlooking the city.
Dallas was the third city visited by Escada officials, who staged similar presentations in Chicago and Los Angeles last month. The company plans to conduct a fourth program on Dec. 1 in Boca Raton, Fla.
"Tonight was a big expense--about $25,000 to $30,000--but it was the best money I could spend," said Ron Frasch, president of Escada. He spoke after the cocktail party at which the firm had wined and dined about 200 executives and salespeople from Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lilly Dodson and other specialty stores in Texas.
"The most important thing for us is to connect with the salespeople to help them support and service the customer," Frasch said.
From meeting with customers in each city during the Escada road show, Frasch said he had learned that the key ingredient in clinching a sale is the salesperson.
"The customers are aware of umbrella advertising," he observed, "but what makes them buy a product is the salesperson. We need to treat every store as an individual and every salesperson as an individual. We also found that if a customer came into a store and couldn't find her size, she got mad at Escada."
The focus group here had about 12 customers involved in a freewheeling discussion in front of a two-way mirror that enabled retail executives to watch the women and listen to criticism and praise.
The company has bought 20 pages of advertising this fall in national fashion magazines to promote Escada Sport. It also plans to build Escada Sport boutiques within the 12 company-owned Escada stores.
"Our customer is so loyal, that's why Escada Sport is a slam dunk," Frasch enthused.
And Escada Sport is just the beginning of line extensions at the German sportswear giant. Frasch plans to expand the accessory and shoe lines to hundreds of pieces that will debut by next fall. He also intends to broaden the eveningwear offerings to an entire collection, which also will be introduced for fall 1995 and will have its own sales force.
In addition, the company announced this week that designer Todd Oldham has signed a three-year contract to be a creative consultant for Escada Margaretha Ley and Escada Couture. Oldham is working with the Munich-based design team that had been headed by design director Michael Stolzenburg, who died last month.
In the runway show at the party, models bounced down a runway showing 48 Escada Sport styles from fall and next spring.
The line's spring looks came in broad bands of red, white and navy as well as some plaids and stripes. Silhouettes were basic, including knit anoraks and sweatshirts, golf pants, denim jeans, pleated skirts, shorts, baseball and varsity-style jackets and T-shirts. The line's logo of a tall, narrow "E" was embroidered on jackets and screen-printed on T-shirts.
The sole print was a vintage-style daisy motif in navy and white rayon that was cut into floaty tank and slipdresses worn over white cotton knit tank tops. Daisies also came up as embroidery on some blouses and jackets.
Retailers reacted positively.
"I think Escada Sport is a natural for them because it fits into the lifestyle of their customer," said Becky Sharp, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of NM Direct, the catalog division of Neiman's. "I love the sportswear-related pieces that were more utilitarian, like the golf clothes."
At Neiman's NorthPark Center store, sales associates took advantage of having the spring line for a sales clinic and called customers in to see it. Neiman's took orders for more than 40 pieces.
Bill Dodson, president of Lilly Dodson, which does the highest volume Escada trunk shows in the country, also liked the Sport line.
"It's for the same Escada customer to wear on the weekend, and I do think it'll also attract a younger customer because it's more affordable than the collection," he said.

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