Calvin Klein Trades Up

Calvin Klein is the latest designer firm to enter the super-premium jeans business.

The company’s denim licensee, Warnaco Group Inc., plans to unveil a line called CK39 for spring retailing at next week’s WWDMAGIC show in Las Vegas. The line, which includes women’s and men’s styles, will be priced above the core status-priced CK Jeans collection and is targeted to a higher tier of retail distribution.

The new product will carry retail prices of $145 to $225. That would suggest a wholesale price range of around $70 to $110, but the firm declined to provide specific figures. By way of comparison, the core Calvin Klein Jeans line retails from $49 to $99.

Colleen Kelly, president of Calvin Klein Jeans, said in an e-mail statement provided by a spokeswoman that the line would appeal to “an established Calvin Klein designer consumer who is currently not able to purchase a pair of jeans” at stores where they typically shop.

She said the line is intended to evoke the simplicity of the original Calvin Klein Jeans shown in ads featuring Brooke Shields in the early Eighties, in which she famously said, “Nothing comes between me and my Calvins.” The line will include four key fits: a boot-cut, a “lean” style, a trouser cut and a boyfriend style, in denim and nondenim fabrics.

The firm is aiming for initial distribution in about 100 to 120 specialty and department stores, but Kelly said the product will not be offered to existing Calvin Klein Jeans accounts. The firm declined to provide a sales projection. Last year, Warnaco’s sales of Calvin Klein Jeans products came to $282.7 million, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

The premium and super-premium jeans business has taken off in recent years and has attracted lots of publicity, with brands such as Seven For All Mankind, Diesel and Citizens of Humanity driving price points past $100 and even $200. But that niche remains such a small sliver of the overall jeans business that major market research firms no longer try to measure it. STS Market Research, based in Cambridge, Mass., reported that 3 percent of the $5.6 billion worth of women’s jeans sold in this country went for $50 or above.Still, the apparent rise in demand for high-end products has left Calvin Klein and its competitors in the status category, roughly defined as $50 to $70 at retail, seeking a piece of the pie. Polo Jeans Co. and Tommy Jeans have also upgraded their product offerings over the past year. — Scott Malone

Mudd Grows Up

Three months after gaining a new majority owner, junior jeans line Mudd is ready to update its image.

The line, which launched in 1996, is looking to boost its appeal with older teen shoppers, and plans to introduce new packaging and labels at next week’s WWDMAGIC show in Las Vegas. The new materials will start to hit stores for spring retailing.

“We found out we were very strong with 12- to 14-year-olds and just OK with 15- to 20-year-olds,” said Dick Gilbert, chief executive officer of Mudd USA. “At that point, I decided to change our ways…we were getting stuck in the young end of the junior spectrum.”

To develop new graphics and imagery to support an older image, the New York firm hired brand consultants Graj & Gustavsen. Simon Graj, ceo of that firm, said he believed Mudd’s image problem was clear.

“Once you start selling a younger customer, you lose the cool factor, which Mudd was on the verge of doing — then you’re in trouble as a business,” Graj said. “From Mudd’s perspective, they needed a graphic concept. From our perspective, they needed a brand, a real brand image.”

Graj said the core qualities of the Mudd brand will now be that it is “from the earth” and “from the heart.”

The changes being made to Mudd’s signs and packaging are subtle, but Graj and Gilbert said they are important. The cartoon characters and flowers that once decorated marketing materials are being removed, to be replaced by subtler pictures of rocks and earth. The Mudd brand name will continue to be presented in a font that resembles typewriter text, but now it will be surrounded by a heart.

The design of the clothes will not be changed, Gilbert said.The brand’s current TV advertisements, which were developed in-house independently of the Graj & Gustavsen project, also reflect an older image. Airing this week and next on MTV, the WB and BET to support back-to-school selling, they show a young woman getting up in the morning, going through her day and flirting with a young man in an office.

“The guy’s got whiskers,” Gilbert pointed out, as evidence of the older appeal — namely that older teen girls are more likely to be attracted to older teen boys, who are more likely to have beards than the young boys. “We’re not going to lose the younger shopper, because there’s no 13-year-old that doesn’t want to look like her 18-year-old sister.”

Steve Seidman, chairman of InGroup Licensing, which manages Mudd’s 16 licensed categories of merchandise, including hats, shoes, eyewear and outerwear, said the new imagery will be introduced to licensees at WWDMAGIC. Licensees will be expected to phase in the new look — and sell off their old products — over the next 12 months.

“Everybody will be up to speed by back-to-school 2005,” Seidman said.

In May, Mudd sold a majority stake to investors Tack Fat Group International Ltd., a publicly traded apparel maker based in Hong Kong, and Windsor Garment, a Chinese apparel company. Those two firms aim to expand the brand internationally and grow it from its current sales volume of $500 million — a figure that includes the sale of licensed products — to the $1 billion mark.

Mudd has also built up its management team this year, promoting Pam Prahl to the new post of chief operating officer. Conrad Lung, an owner of the New York importer Sunnex and of the Go Silk bridge line, also has come on board in an executive capacity, though he does not use a title.

Gilbert founded the Mudd brand eight years ago after pulling the plug on his former Zena jeans business, which has since been relaunched as a misses’ line. Mudd, along with rivals Paris Blues and LEI, reinvented the junior moderate jeans business in the late Nineties by creating stronger brand images than had previously been available for $30 jeans. — S.M.

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