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Denim Dish

Lee Denim Day Taps Applegate<br><br>Lee Jeans has signed actress Christina Applegate as the celebrity spokeswoman for this year’s National Denim Day event, which raises money for research into a cure for breast cancer. Applegate, best known for...

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Lee Denim Day Taps Applegate

Lee Jeans has signed actress Christina Applegate as the celebrity spokeswoman for this year’s National Denim Day event, which raises money for research into a cure for breast cancer. Applegate, best known for playing Kelly Bundy in the Nineties hit TV show “Married with Children,” has some personal experience with the disease — her mother, Nancy Priddy, is a survivor.

The event, which has been held each October since 1996, has raised $36.7 million for the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation over its history. This year, the company aims to raise $6.5 million through the Oct. 10 event, according to Kathy Collins, vice president of marketing for the Merriam, Kan.-based division of VF Corp.

At a party in Times Square Tuesday night revealing Applegate’s involvement, the actress said in a videotaped statement that the $6.5 million target is an achievable one. “I think we can do even better than that,” she said.

Gordon Harton, president of Lee, said the company chose to enlist Applegate as its celebrity spokeswoman for this campaign because of her family experience with breast cancer.

“At this point we have a lot of people coming to us,” he said. “We look for someone who seems to have a personal interest.” Collins agreed, saying, “We thought she had a really compelling story.”

She added that Applegate also fits into Lee’s current marketing push. It’s launching the “One True Fit” line for fall retailing in an effort to attract a contemporary shopper closer in age to the 31-year-old Applegate and somewhat younger than the brand’s current core female customer base.

Applegate will appear in a print ad campaign in August and September promoting the event. National Denim Day works by recruiting companies to allow their employees to wear jeans to work for a day, in this case Oct. 10, in exchange for a $5 donation to the Komen foundation, which funds research towards a cure for the disease. Last year, about 1.2 million workers participated.

Also at the party, which attracted a crowd of retail and textile executives, Lee unveiled its fall TV ad campaign.

The women’s ads, to break during the Emmy Awards set for Sept. 21, focus on the “One True Fit” line. The four ads feature women in comfortable settings, trying on clothes, playing the guitar and lounging with a beau. The tag line “Find Your…” runs across the screen and is slowly filled in with choices including “center,” “excuse,” “soulmate” and finally “One True Fit.”

The ads, created by the company’s longtime agency, Fallon Minneapolis, will appear on network TV, primarily on Fox and NBC.

Harton said he liked the campaign because, “It’s very personal. It really brings the product to her.”

In the men’s ads for Lee Dungarees, the brand’s mascot, Buddy Lee, will return in a more prominent role after taking a back seat to product in last fall’s campaign.

“Because our consumer demanded it, we wanted to put Buddy Lee front and center,” said Collins.

In this campaign, the 14-inch-tall doll stars as one half of a pair of city detectives who run through a somewhat unclear mission involving car chases, explosions and a hall of mirrors, reminiscent of the recent film “The Fast and the Furious.” Each of the two spots ends with Buddy and his partner surrounded by a gaggle of beautiful women, while some onlooker comments, “I gots to get me some of those jeans.”

To distract the executives in the room from what Harton acknowledged was “a very difficult market,” Lee brought in comedian Tracy Morgan of “Saturday Night Live.”

Despite the weak retail environment, Harton said he’s been pleased with the brand’s performance of late.

He said garments with stretch fabrics are selling well at present and added that, partly because of the cool weather on the coasts, capri pants have been performing better than shorts.

“As we go into fall, people will be more interested in basic fabrics and finishes,” he predicted.

— Scott Malone

Levi’s Signature Heads North

Continuing its push to extend the reach of its soon-to-be-released mass market brand abroad, Levi Strauss & Co. said this week that Wal-Mart Stores would begin carrying the Levi Strauss Signature brand in its Canadian division as of October.

Levi’s plans to begin shipping the Signature line to Wal-Mart’s U.S. stores this month, as reported. The Signature line is a lower-priced product that features the Levi Strauss name but not other trademarks like the Red Tab or pocket arcuate. In April, Levi’s said it expected to begin selling the brand to European retailers early next year.

Rick Weinstein, vice president and general merchandise manager for the 213-unit Canadian operation of the Bentonville, Ark.-based retail behemoth, in a statement called the Signature brand “a great fit for Wal-Mart.”

“It delivers the quality, style and affordability our customers have come to expect from us,” he added.

Richard Deck, sales director at Levi’s Richmond Hill, Ontario-based Canadian arm, said the extension of the Signature brand into Canada reflects Levi’s “goal to sell where people shop. Mass is the largest and fastest-growing retail channel and Wal-Mart plays a very important role there.”

Levi’s said it would initially launch the women’s and men’s Signature apparel in Canada, and follow up with children’s wear next year. The company also said it’s seeking to distribute the brand in other Canadian retailers.

Levi’s executives have said they expect the Signature brand to generate hundreds of millions in sales annually once it gets going. Market observers have called those projections conservative and suggest the brand could easily pass the billion-dollar mark. Whether the brand will find distribution in the U.S. outside Wal-mart, which company officials have said they plan to do, remains to be seen. Observers said many other retailers may be reluctant to go head-to-head with Wal-Mart.

—?S.M.

Axis of Pants

The King of Swaziland may want to reconsider his country’s export strategies, in light of his moral opinions.

In a radio address last week, King Mswati 3rd cited women’s pants as one of the causes for trouble in the world today.

“The Bible says curse be unto a woman who wears pants and those who wear their husband’s clothes,” he said, according to multiple wire-service reports. “That is why the world is in such a state today.”

But the King neglected to mention that women’s pants represent 14.3 percent of Swaziland’s apparel and textile exports to the U.S. In the year ended March 31, the landlocked sub-Saharan African country shipped $14.8 million worth of women’s and girls’ pants to the U.S., up 118.1 percent from the prior year, according to U.S. government figures. Those exports exceeded the country’s shipments of men’s and boys’ pants, which came to $13.9 million for the same period.

Swaziland is among the countries covered by the Africa Growth & Opportunity Act of 2000, which extended duty- and quota-free access to the U.S. market for apparel made in that region that meets certain conditions.

Calls to the Swaziland Embassy in Washington to explain the pants contradiction were not returned.

—?S.M.

A Seven Experiment

While other boutique retailers are tightening their reins in response to the economy, Seven New York, a haven for offbeat chic on New York’s Lower East Side, is doing just the opposite. It commissioned international designers from Imitation of Christ to Paper, Denim & Cloth to “express their purest creative vision, free of commercial constraint” in the form of one-of-a-kind items for the boutique, according to Joseph Quartana, co-owner and buyer.

Three-fifths of the rolling For Seven New York collection, which bowed this spring and averages $750 an item, has come in so far. Pieces generating the most positive response include London-based Preen’s tiered skirt of painted, recycled men’s flannel shirts and Paris-based Bernhard Willhelm’s canvas tote featuring a nude woman of patchwork and yarn, all of which the designer handembroidered himself.

The boutique has revenues of about $500,000 a year and Quartana said he expects the For Seven New York line to generate sales in the tens of thousands of dollars. Seven New York is not related to the Seven for All Mankind and 7Seven jeans lines.

Quartana described the collection as a good way for designers to test run a look or carry out a single idea that doesn’t work within their collection.

“Our original mission as a shop was to be a laboratory of experimentation,” he explained.

— Rebecca Kleinman

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