Contemporary Designers Add to the Fall Coat Scene

In what is shaping up to be the year of the coat, a bevy of contemporary designers has gotten in on the outerwear action this fall.

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In what is shaping up to be the year of the coat, a bevy of contemporary designers has gotten in on the outerwear action this fall.

This story first appeared in the July 10, 2007 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Brands such as Nanette Lepore, Vera Wang Lavender, Rebecca Taylor, Alice + Olivia, Lauren Moffatt, Theory, Trina Turk, Autumn Cashmere, Rag and Bone, Mike and Chris, Marc by Marc Jacobs, Hanii Y, ADD, Lela Rose and Dries Van Noten are offering fresh outerwear looks in the rich fabrics and updated styles that have been notably absent the last few seasons.

Retailers, including Scoop, Olive & Bette’s and Shopbop.com, are embracing these chic jackets and coats for fall.

Susan Sokol, president of Vera Wang Apparel, coined a great coat “the fashion accessory must-have for fall.”

“In many ways, the coat is really the center of a woman’s wardrobe and it becomes her key investment piece of the season,” she said. “When you’re someone who loves fashion it’s important to have that fabulous outerwear piece, and I think it’s all about the coat. Aside from being practical, it provides comfort and warmth. It’s an integral piece in someone’s wardrobe, it really becomes your centerpiece.”

Vera Wang’s Lavender label, which began as a dress line, launched its first collection of contemporary sportswear this spring and has evolved even further for fall. For the Lavender label’s first fall collection, coats will wholesale from $300 to $425 and represent almost 15 percent of fall business. Coats constructed from felted wools and cotton failles give a silhouette a little more structure and edge, and have been important to the Lavender label because these fabrics really capture the trends of the season, especially that men’s wear kind of feel that seems to be so prevalent for fall, said Sokol.

Stacey Bendet, head designer of Alice + Olivia, said that her decision to increase the amount of jackets and coats in the line was more from a look and style perspective than it was to have a presence in the outerwear market.

“One of our best-selling coats is a red, wool, cashmere, puff-sleeve, high-waisted coat with a fur collar. I think stores were really attracted to the color so we decided to do it in white also,” Bendet said of the coat that retails for $267. “The Alice + Olivia girl isn’t going to wear a parka with a gorgeous pair of high-waisted black pants and a silk bow blouse this season.”

Lauren Moffatt, head designer and founder of Lauren Moffatt, was attuned to fine details such as hardware in gold and silver while creating outerwear pieces in her fall collection. To Moffatt, this category has always been important in her line because there isn’t an item in your wardrobe that you wear as a repeatedly as a coat.

“For fall, wool, fitted, peacoat-length styles will be really important, as well as the more traditional just below the knee length,” Moffatt said. “It will, however, be updated with darting, seaming and a general fit-conscious look.”

Nanette Lepore, who has included twice as many coats in her fall line than the previous year, said consumers’ desire for a more refined look is the driving force for the surge in contemporary outerwear. “There is a shift to a more polished look, and if you have more of a variety of coats and you put together a look that is more done, it gives a more sophisticated feel to your outfit,” Lepore said. The designer, who lets her personal style dictate her designs, said that a variety of coats in your closet makes your outfits more complete and fun.

“We have always sold or run a more special outerwear piece, and they have sold really well so I know there’s a market for it. Right now, jackets are our highest selling category,” Lepore said, citing a mix of outerwear, suit jackets, blazers and sweater coats. Long knit “luxury sweater coats,” which wholesale for $225, are consistently strong sellers for Nanette Lepore because of their comfort and practicality in a multitude of climates. Another style for fall is a tweed coat with a velvet collar, wholesaling for $291. Later in the fall, brocade jackets in a variety of colors and styles will be available, including a style in black, black and navy, gray with a painted-look design, and a crunched-up style, all wholesaling from $285 to $315.

Beth Bugdaycay, Rebecca Taylor’s business partner and chief executive officer of Rebecca Taylor, believes that consumers are so keen on jackets and coats because when a woman walks into a room during the winter months, the first thing you see is her coat. “We are fortunate to have the type of customer that has a ‘coat wardrobe,’ so she will choose a coat from her closet that complements what she is wearing inside,” said Bugdaycay, adding that she and Taylor are just responding to the demands of the market. The two increased the amount of outerwear in their 2006 fall line after selling out of coats the previous year.

Retailer Olive & Bette’s will carry three of Rebecca Taylor’s fall coats, including a black roll-neck coat, retailing for $558, a leopard swing short jacket, retailing for $455, and a dolman cardigan sweater, retailing for $400, according to a spokesperson for the four-unit retailer and Web site. The store will also carry outerwear from Theory, Trina Turk and Autumn Cashmere.

Kate Ciepluch, contemporary buyer for Shopbop.com, is also jumping on the outerwear bandwagon. “There has been a void in spectacular outerwear for a few seasons now. I usually see a puffy here and there and a run-of-the-mill wool coat, but it’s time for this category to be stronger and I went after it,” she said, adding that there is definitely a resurgence of classic silhouettes and leather jackets.

Noting that price point dictates the styles she chooses for the shopping Web site, Ciepluch purchased lower-priced bomber jackets by Marc by Marc Jacobs and more higher-priced versions by Hanii Y, as well as down jackets by ADD that retail for just under $400. Newcomers to the contemporary category, such as Mike and Chris and Rag and Bone have entered the market with strong identities as well, said Ciepluch.

The bomber jacket was also a popular style for Scoop, said Stefani Greenfield, co-owner of the chain, whose store philosophy is “having the ultimate closet.” Specifically, Lela Rose designed a shrunken bomber jacket in a gold matelasse brocade as a Scoop exclusive, retailing for $895, and Dries Van Noten did two shrunken, feminine versions of men’s styles, specifically in black and navy, retailing for $1,169 and $1,120, said Greenfield. Alice + Olivia designed a chocolate distressed leather jacket, retailing for $595, as well.

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