NEW YORK — Jones Apparel Group is opening the floodgates in its effort to build Bandolino into a multifaceted lifestyle brand at a moderate price.

For spring, casual sportswear, denim and dresses will be added to the collection’s current lineup of career-oriented sportswear, shoes and accessories.

Jones is looking to push the brand to the forefront of the consumer’s mind with the fuller, year-round retail presence the new lines offer and a marketing budget that’s increasing by more than 30 percent next year.

“The moderate bar’s been raised,” said Lynne Coté, Jones’ group chief executive officer of women’s moderate sportswear. “We don’t treat this brand, just because it’s moderate, any different than we do our better brands.”

Last year, Jones derived just over 30 percent of its $4.38 billion in sales from moderate apparel.

Bandolino’s branding and lifestyle positioning is a sign of the times in moderate, where department stores have increasingly had to differentiate themselves from lower-priced national chains like Kohl’s and the consumer has come to expect more than just cheap clothes.

The moderate area is echoing the action in better as brands like Bandolino and O Oscar and Sag Harbor, both produced by Kellwood Co., vie for more exposure. Moderate department store lines also have to compete with branded offerings from other channels, such as Old Navy and Target’s various lines, which are usually sold at lower prices, but are collectively brightened by the halo of the discounter’s muscular branding efforts.

“It’s probably a trend [of branding moderate] and I think it’s probably not going to go away,” said Jones ceo Peter Boneparth. “It’s going to be very hard for label-driven businesses rather than branded companies to exist. You can’t run a business living and dying by a delivery and that’s what happens when you’re a label. You can weather a lot of storms productwise if there’s a lot of brand equity.”

With a more than 30-year history, Bandolino already has some brand value that Boneparth said was being “reignited.”

“Jones and the superplayers of the Nineties really are in a very unique position,” said brand consultant Catherine Sadler, who said that, having grown so large so quickly, they now have to become more creative to meet the demands of their shareholders.“The challenge for Jones with Bandolino, as well as its other brands, is to differentiate each so that in their consumer’s mind, he or she is clear as to what its unique attributes are and what lifestyle it represents,” Sadler said.

Bandolino, she said, has untapped potential and a leg up with its existing brand awareness and a favorable perception in the marketplace.

“Consumers today, at every level of the spectrum from high-end to moderate, are more discerning than ever before and they are more brand aware and more brand demanding than ever, and yet not necessarily more brand loyal,” said Sadler. “They have more choices available to them. They’ve been more exposed.”

Jones picked up the brand in its acquisition of Nine West in 1999 and expanded the name into sportswear last fall. Apparel launched in 242 stores and is slated to be in almost 1,300 department stores, such as those owned by Federated Department Stores Inc. and May Department Stores Co., by spring. The firm expects sales of the brand to increase 50 percent this year over 2003.

Bandolino is not distributed to national chains such as Kohl’s or J.C. Penney. These lower-end chains have offered significant competition for the traditional department stores and are continuing to come up with new ideas to attract customers. Kohl’s, for instance, is launching a modern-styled proprietary brand called apt. 9 that will hit the ground running this fall with a presence in the firm’s 589 stores.

“The department stores are realizing they can be in the moderate business and not look like some of their moderate counterparts,” Coté said.

The moderate consumer has also gravitated to more fashionable looks. Whereas mothers a generation ago dressed differently than their daughters, “Now, mothers clearly want to look like their daughters,” said Boneparth. “That’s a sea change in attitude about how people want to see themselves.”

Coté noted that the moderate customer “prefers something branded — if she can get it at the right price point, it’s the icing on the cake.”

“We’ve created a fashion-infused line, which is designed regardless of her disposable income,” she said. “We’re giving her what she can get in a lot of these better brands and she’s recognizing it.”Pants and skirts from the career portion of the line wholesale for $20 to $25, while jackets generally go for $36 to $45. Prices in the casual line run about 10 to 15 percent less.

The various Bandolino lines are designed to match, so a pair of jeans from Bandolinoblu, the denim line produced by the firm’s Gloria Vanderbilt division, will blend stylistically with a jacket from the career line.

Kimmi Morikawa, vice president of design for Jones’ updated brands, said, “She is an updated customer, somebody who wants fashion at a price. She likes novelty, she likes embellishment. The whole look of the line is much more contemporary than what’s been out there.”

Morikawa, who has a background in better at Finity Apparel Group, where she was design director, has kept the better ethic in her move to moderate.

“It’s all in the details and the trim, that little extra,” she said, pointing to printed linings and contrast stitching. “It’s harder to work in moderate in some ways, because you can’t just pick beautiful and expensive Italian fabrics.”

Jones’ muscle, such as in-house fabric development, helps the designer make up some of the differences between moderate and better. “Those resources are really, really important,” she said.

Still, this is fashion for the masses.

“Trendy is a very scary word,” said Boneparth. “It’s got to be trend-right, not trendy, and it’s got to fit right.”

Bandolino is supported by a national ad campaign that works in conjunction with regional, grass-roots and direct-marketing initiatives. The brand’s targeted customer base is meant to reflect the ethnic makeup of the country, a emphasis that can be seen in the magazines that will carry the ads, including Marie Claire, Essence and Latina.

Having various product categories allows the brand to have a bigger marketing budget.

“We can say with conviction to the stores which magazines we’re going to be in, what we are going to do about point of purchase, what we are going to do about fixturing,” said Boneparth.Eventually, Bandolino might also expand its own retail presence. The brand already has 19 stores, devoted mostly to footwear and accessories, but that might morph into a fuller presentation including apparel. The current stores are set up for footwear and don’t have the space for much apparel.

“I don’t think Bandolino retail is 500 stores,” said Boneparth. “We think there is a significant opportunity there over time.”

He added that separate stores would serve to enhance the brand and would not drain off sales dollars from wholesale customers.

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