Fashion Coterie: It’s in the Details

Designers plan to lure retailers with new twists.

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WWD Coterie issue 02/11/2009

With the economy in recession and retailers being more selective than ever in what they buy, exhibitors at the upcoming Fashion Coterie are hoping to entice buyers with broadened collections, updated details and colors — and sharp pricing.

This story first appeared in the February 11, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Stores will certainly have plenty to choose from as Elyse Kroll, executive director of ENK International, promised the show will be as large as it has always been, showcasing hundreds of brands. The three-day show, which will run Feb. 22 to 24, is so large that the collections will be placed throughout two locations on Manhattan’s West Side — the Show Piers and the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center. It will also be merchandised in a fresh way with contemporary labels at the Piers (newcomers will be at Pier 90) and better sportswear vendors mostly at the Javits Center.

“Some people have taken smaller booths to save a little money, but it will still be a big show,” Kroll said. “Early registration shows that we are already expecting some very good traffic. For the fashion industry, I really believe this will be the most upbeat event we’ve seen in a long time.”

Kroll said that it’s important for exhibitors to realize the need for new merchandise in these tough economic times.

“ENK will bring the buyers, but it’s really up to the designers to provide things that the stores want,” she said.

Kroll said she has also been working closely with the city of New York to make things easier, more cost effective and productive for the retailers who have committed to coming to town for the biannual show. She said she’s working with hotels on special rates and with restaurants to extend their restaurant week deals. She’s also trying to get more buses to shuttle buyers between the Javits Center and the Piers.

“Anything we can do to make things easier, we will do,” Kroll said. “Everyone is tense these days and everyone can feel it. We feel it when we are updating our lists and removing people who are no longer in business. It’s really clear to us now that only the strong will survive this. But in order to stay strong, retailers will have to buy new. It’s the only way to get people shopping.”

A slew of new brands will be front-and-center, in addition to a special Made in Italy section highlighting about 20 Italian companies who are new to the American market.

Milan-based Moschino will officially mark the launch of Love Moschino, the line formerly known as Moschino Jeans. After 20 years, the company has decided to change the name to broaden the mix into a full lifestyle assortment. “We feel it is the right moment for our debut at the Fashion Coterie,” said Lucy Knight, sales director at Moschino. “Our aim is to build brand awareness and introduce the collection to a wider array of top-tier stores across the country.”

Taking inspiration from classic details of British clothing, Knight said key looks for fall include riding pants paired with shrunken military-inspired jackets. There is also an array of skirts, sweaters and accessories adorned with the Union Jack. Dresses and skirts feature oversize bows, neckties and other playful details. The Love Moschino collection wholesales from $50 for a signature T-shirt to $498 for a lamb leather double-breasted bomber jacket. Average wholesale price points fall between $75 and $260.

“We are enthusiastic about the new name,” said Massimo Braglia, chief executive officer of Sinv SpA, Moschino’s parent company, along with the Aeffe Group. “Love is a universal word, with a meaning that is positive, unambiguous and understood all over the world. This is a concept that Moschino has in its DNA and that perfectly expresses the values of the fashion house interpreted in a modern tone. In essence, Love Moschino pumps new blood into a brand that was already very strong.”

For New York showroom owner Cynthia O’Connor, making sure her brands are on top of their game is key to a successful fall season. In business for 16 years, O’Connor said she feels strongly about the collections she will have at the show, including bags from Kooba, Botkier and Rebecca Minkoff, as well as Kara Janx and Julie Brown, a contemporary designer with whom she recently began working.

“Some people are thinking that the answer is to lower their prices,” she said. “But I really do feel as though there are a lot of those luxury shoppers who are heading to the contemporary floors, so there is an opportunity there.”

O’Connor said designers shouldn’t be thinking about simply lowering prices, but rather to offer sharper price points and good quality product that will entice stores — and consumers.

“The luxury sector is going to have to adjust its prices to survive,” she said. “But the contemporary people have had to be sharp all along, since there’s so much competition in that market. In bags, you will start to see a trend in smaller bags, which makes it a little easier to lower the prices, but as far as clothing goes, it’s staying competitive with the market.”

O’Connor said that since the economy has been in a recession for such a long time at this point, all the stores she works with have their expenses and inventories in line.

“Now we’ve just got to get people shopping again so business will go back to normal,” she said. “My schedule indicates that people will be at the Coterie. I have hundreds of appointments scheduled this month in the showroom and at Coterie. People I haven’t seen in a while are showing up, which is a good sign.”

New York-based handbag and contemporary sportswear designer Rebecca Minkoff said she will be showing her pre-fall collection of bags since retailers have been buying so close to season.

“We usually bring our September deliveries, but this time we will have June, July and August, so we can maximize those collections at the show,” she said. “We are really focused on offering great value and we worked on getting the line to where almost everything is below $255 wholesale.”

Minkoff said her collection is full of rich colors in various styles, from a small card pouch to a full-on studded leather hobo bag. The majority of the line wholesales from $135 to $240. Her sportswear collection, however, will not be at Coterie, as she is still looking to keep the distribution of that collection small and in demand.

Minkoff said her goal at the Coterie will be to offer each retailer a unique partnership opportunity.

“We want to do whatever we can to help our stores make their businesses stronger,” she said. “We can help by sending out mailers, we will fly our sales people to the stores to do special sales clinics with their people, and I am willing to do as many trunk shows as humanly possible. It’s more important now than ever to make our partnerships as strong as they can be.”

For Qi Cashmere, Jean Kolloff, president, said her company is well-positioned to deal with the challenging economy.

“As a cashmere company, fall is our big season and our primary focus,” Kolloff said. “Price is a big issue for us, but we have really thought long and hard about how we can offer the best product at a good price — and get the customer to pay full price all at the same time.”

Kolloff said that when working on the design of the fall collection, they looked at the line in terms of “buckets of value.” She said they worked closely with their factories overseas, found new ways of sourcing fabrics and procuring good quality, affordable cashmere to keep the prices on the lower end of the spectrum. For this fall, prices are down about 10 percent over last fall.

“The customer is thinking three times over if she should buy the item or not,” she said. “So we have to give her a real reason to buy. It’s about the price, the stitch, the color, the shape — if she knows she can buy a cashmere sweater for $75 at Uniqlo or H&M, then we have to offer her something even better, something she will want more.”

For fall, the Qi line wholesales between $25 and $200 and offers an array of items including capes, oversize wrap sweaters, cardigans, turtleneck dresses, hoodies and cashmere T-shirts. The color palette ranges from a deep purple and burnt orange to a more subtle black, white, gray and beige. Although Qi sells in about 600 doors including Barneys New York, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdale’s, Kolloff said she has lost about 20 percent of her specialty stores, which have shuttered over the past year.

For Kristi Kaylor, president of 6126 by Lindsay Lohan, the upcoming Coterie will be the first one for the Los Angelesbased leggings brand. The company will have an array of new styles at the show including soft leggings with lace trimmings and satin stripe tuxedo styles. There are houndstooth leggings and pinstripe styles in colors like black, chocolate and gray. There are also new color combinations such as black leggings with a subtle red stripe down the back.

“Fall is all about classic, timeless glamour,” Kaylor said. “Lindsay is always coming up with new ideas for the leggings, the possibilities are endless. We have a strong presence on the West Coast, so it’s our hope to make our business as strong on the East Coast.”

The collection wholesales between $24 and $52.

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