By  on June 29, 2009

Ellen Tracy knows that in a slow retail season, a fresh approach can spark sales.

The brand, which is being modernized under new ownership and leadership, challenged the junior class of Parsons The New School for Design to reinvent its classic white blouse in a contest for scholarships to support their senior thesis. Fifty students submitted sketches, Parsons narrowed the field to 10 and Ellen Tracy and Bloomingdale’s selected the five winners. Then Ellen Tracy manufactured the five blouses and shipped them to Bloomingdale’s stores.

“They sold out even before I was able to put them in the windows and celebrate these kids,” said Stephanie Solomon, Bloomingdale’s vice president and fashion director for women’s ready-to-wear and accessories. “The idea of supporting up-and-coming designers via an established brand like Ellen Tracy is very compelling to our customers. When I was judging the sketches, I could see there was some major talent.”

Remiel Wai Kar Loh won the $5,000 first prize for his architecturally seamed blouse, priced at $178 and considered the look that most embodied the Ellen Tracy spirit. “I wanted to create something comfortable that elongated the women’s body. It’s halterlike, and with the collar stand, it looks crisp and clean,” Remiel said.

“They all sold well,” said Mark Mendelson, Ellen Tracy president and chief executive officer. But the runaway best seller, he noted, was David Marshall’s flirty petal camisole, priced at $198, with a few hundred sold outright and a reorder for 600 more placed by Bloomingdale’s. Marshall took second prize, a $2,500 scholarship. The other winners were Min Sun Kim, Melissa Marcial and Catherine Wong, who each won $1,000.

The project enabled the students to work with Ellen Tracy patternmakers, muslins, models and samples. “They saw their designs coming to life,” said Susanne Klevorick, creative director of Ellen Tracy.

As far as the finished product, “You wouldn’t have known these were student designs,” Solomon said.

“Keep in mind, they were really collaborations,” Mendelson added. He described the white blouse as a wardrobe staple that often needs to be replaced. “Women want them all the time.”

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