A continuous stream of new looks aids cash flow in the contemporary category.

Novelty, fashion and constant newness have become common currency for players in the contemporary category.

With color, fresh silhouettes and vintage graphics giving women a reason to buy, vendors are reporting increased sales over last year. Lines are also reaching out to new markets, introducing new products and divisions with more sophisticated upper-end product to set them apart from mass-market resources.

For the fast-paced, highly competitive

category — and the fickle contemporary consumer — brand-building strategies are also a must. Companies are employing creative marketing plans, from grassroots campaigns to celebrity product placement, to build brand awareness.


At French Connection U.K., sales of women’s apparel, which accounts for 35 percent of the total men’s and women’s sportswear line, increased 20 percent over last year, according to Dina McCaffrey, vice president, wholesale, for the London-based global company.

Novelty and color have driven sales, along with quick reaction and replenishment of strong sellers, said McCaffrey. Skirts, always a big category for French Connection, have been especially strong this year, as consumers have embraced them. McCaffrey said skirts will continue through fall, in longer pencil shapes and tweeds, and into next spring, in feminine pleated and embellished styles. Color will also be important through spring 2005, but in more muted earth tones rather than last year’s brights.

With established online sales and a catalogue distributed in Europe, French Connection will test its first U.S. catalogue this fall.

The company is also working to grow its French Connection U.K. line, a group of logo-driven sportswear and denim marketed under the controversial acronym FCUK.

“Specialty stores have loved it, but because of the possible dyslexic reading of the name, department stores have been more afraid of it,” said McCaffrey. “It’s become our biggest challenge, getting department store distribution [of FCUK].”

Along with traditional advertising, the company is expanding its grass-roots campaigns, including street marketing teams, ads on city buses and tie-ins with movies, celebrities and music, such as its participation in MTV’s “Rock the Vote.”FASHIONABLE ICONS

The same sort of strategy applies at Catch a Fire, a sportswear line designed by Cedella Marley, daughter of the late reggae legend Bob Marley. The New York company hired a public relations firm six months ago, solely for product placement with celebrities and musicians. Since then the line has received editorial coverage in Glamour, YM and the forthcoming Suede, and celebrities such as Ashlee Simpson and Carmen Electra have been seen wearing the clothes.

The line began in 2002 with Bob Marley-inspired T-shirts ($15 wholesale) and now includes vintage concert T-shirts from the company’s archives. T-shirts are 40 percent of the collection, which has expanded to include more denim, sportswear and jackets, some in leather or tweed, that wholesale for up to $200.

“We’re going after a higher-end, sophisticated customer, and urban stores are crossing over and trading up,” said Karen Greenberg, manager. “Jackets, many with leather or floral patches, have become as successful as the original T-shirts.” Sportswear and jackets maintain the musical message. Pockets and linings often feature Bob Marley’s image.

Iconic images are also the foundation of Awake, a licensed sportswear division of JEM Sportswear in Los Angeles. With Disney and vintage Barbie licenses for sportswear, the company will also launch sportswear with characters from the classic comic strip Peanuts.

Like its other licensed product lines, JEM’s Vintage Peanuts line is a high-end presentation. Specialty Indian and Egyptian cotton is used, with novelty in vintage-inspired washes, embroidery and treatments such as heat seals. Wholesale prices run $18 to $40.

“We have to be trend-right, and offer unique features not found in mass markets,” said Jeff Marine, president of JEM Sportswear. “We have to keep new and fresh, and offer the fashion and quality to set us apart from lower-end product.”


Brand identity and brand extension — through the unconventional process of an apparel line spawned by cosmetics — is the keystone of Femme Arsenal, New York. Launched five years ago as a cosmetics line, Femme Arsenal has expanded to include an apparel collection for spring 2005.Parent company Marc Ecko Enterprises, which bought the line in 2002, produces what began as a small fleece group in 2003 and has expanded to 40 styles, including outerwear, tanks, skirts and pants. A new French terry group, lined with cotton jersey, includes short-sleeved hoodies and dresses, with graphic print details. The collection wholesales from $22 to $45.

The line mixes luxury design and street influences with irreverent takes on iconic designers, such as a Chanel-inspired fleece blazer lined in leopard print. Unexpected applications include bandeau tops that double as belts and reversible print/solid tube skirts.

Sales are expected to double from $1 million in 2003 to a projected $2 million this year, according to Jessy Klein Fofana, director of operations.

Lifestyle branding, or presenting all categories unified under one brand, is an idea that works especially well for the company’s 200 specialty store accounts, which include Fred Segal in Los Angeles. Some smaller specialty stores can present the brand in complete display vignettes, said Fofana. The message of the line as “the thinking girl’s brand” targets women 17 to 32 who also appreciate brands such as Miss Sixty or Diesel, she added.

As part of the brand extension, the original cosmetics line is also growing, with the spring 2005 introduction of a “lifestyle/wellness” brand. Accessories, including bags, hats and socks, which retail from $30 to $300, are also part of the lifestyle concept.

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