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.

BRAND AND DELIVER

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.”

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