NEW YORK -- Bridge sportswear manufacturers are getting back to their roots for 1994.

Vendors have decided that trying to be all things to all customers is simply not smart business. As a result, they are concentrating efforts on their true customer -- a sophisticated shopper that has the money to spend on work and casual clothing.

Herb Gallen, chairman of Ellen Tracy, which had a strong year at retail in 1993 with both its Ellen Tracy and Company collections, said the firm had strong spring bookings and will open fall this week. "So far in 1994, business at retail has been horrible because we've had earthquakes, freezing weather, blizzards -- everything," said Gallen. "It's hard to calculate the rest of the season from this. But it doesn't change the fact that retailers are simply looking for something they can sell. It's that simple."

Adrienne Vittadini said she has refocused on knitwear for fall. "The original concept of bridge was a designer look at more realistic prices, but so many of us went away from it," she said. "We are offering color, items -- not basics -- because people want fashion along with price and quality."

Denise Seegal, president of DKNY, said she would like to take advantage of categories within the collection that have traditionally sold well for future growth. "The first reaction to petites has been unbelievable," she said. "Those women were starving for sophisticated clothing. Other new areas of growth could be strong categories like dresses, or knits."

She anticipates 10 to 15 percent growth in existing businesses for 1994, with maybe higher growth for more casual sectors, such as jeans.

Tom Murry, president of Tahari, said his firm enjoyed high-double-digit growth in 1993, which it expects to repeat this year by offering novelty fashion looks for the career woman. Allen B. Schwartz, chief executive officer of ABS, is poised to continue the firm's double-digit growth by offering a collection strong on items and trendy looks. ABS is increasing its distribution in a number of existing accounts and will be building some fixtured in-store shops for fall.

"If I had to rename the bridge department, it would be called contemporary designer," he said. "The bridge customer is among the most sophisticated customers in the store, and she wants the new thing. But, she's also smart. She doesn't want to pay $1,800 for a jacket."Gail Cook, president of Dana Buchman, said the company has had solid growth for a number of reasons, including the fact it offers a bridge quality collection at prices that are lower than most of the other lines.

Although the firm's 1993 figures are not yet available, sales reached $73 million in 1992. Cook expects double-digit increases this year. Several smaller firms anticipate growth from retailers who are pulling back dollars from bigger resources that have not been turning.

Irving Singer, president and a partner in Renfrew, a bridge firm that started out in 1991 as a pants resource, saw his volume go to $4 million from $1.5 million in a nine-month period.

"We're trying to service the stores in a way that some of the bigger resources don't and to offer the major stores selling tools that specialty stores normally use," he said. "We also don't go above $300 at retail for a jacket."

Joseph Greco, an owner of Gruppo Americano, said he saw the volume of his three branded lines -- Luciano Tempesta, Giuseppe Collection and Gruppo Americano Studio -- grow from $7 million in 1992 to $15 million last year. He expects it to move into the low $20-million range in 1994.

"Because we have a large private label business, we can offer fashion and quality at very reasonable prices, which I think is important in bridge these days," he said. "I also want to build this business slowly, which I can afford to do. It's important now to be careful with distribution, to find the right partners." A spokesman for Debra deRoo, a three-year-old bridge firm, said he anticipated increases of about 25 percent over last year from what he calls "fallout" from stores cutting back on bigger bridge labels.

"This is a casual line and we know exactly who our customer is," he said. "She's someone who is not trend-driven but likes relaxed clothes. We're very focused, and keep our prices down -- around $40 to $50 for knit sweats -- and that's really what's helping expand our business right now."

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