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Four of a Kind

Four familiar athletic brands are trying to make a comeback in the U.S. Here’s how.

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NEW YORK — With old-school appeal showing no signs of letting up with teenagers and Baby Boomers, four familiar brands are trying to make a comeback in the U.S.

Three of those labels — Fred Perry, Hummel and Kappa — hail from overseas and first dug into the athletic market decades ago. The fourth, Le Tigre, started up in the Seventies as a more affordable alternative to Lacoste polo shirts. Each brand had a few golden moments, but saw their veneer become dull after American sneaker giants stormed the market in the Eighties.

Now they’re making a bid for American shoppers who are already hungry for lesser-known labels. For Gen Y, they provide an alternative to what’s out there, and for Boomers, they offer a flashback of nostalgia. These brands also have revved up their fashion quotient to appeal to women who want something stylish to wear at night, not just something to wear home from the gym.

Here’s a look at the foursome:

Fred Perry

Hometown: London

Founded: 1936

Roots: The brand’s namesake was the first and last British man to win Wimbledon. Known to be a sharp dresser on the courts, Perry started the company after arranging to use Wimbledon’s laurel wreath logo on his polo shirts.

U.S. Base: The Avalon Group in New York.

Poster Boy: The late Fred Perry, pro tennis player and sports commentator.

Glory Days: In the Forties, Perry doled out branded sweatbands to top tennis players and later offered polo shirts to BBC cameramen who taped him wearing one during his broadcasts.

It Will Cost: $17.50 to $65.

Game Plan: Available in 140 stores in the U.S., the brand is going after style-conscious stores like Fred Segal, Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue. Ads are running in The Face, Fader, Vice and Interview magazines. With two stores in England and one in Japan, the company is scouting for a space downtown in New York. Women’s apparel is expected to increase from 30 to 40 percent of all U.S. sales within the next two years, said John Kalupa, co-owner of the Avalon Group. Worldwide wholesale volume is $130 million.

Kappa

Hometown: Turin, Italy

Founded: 1916

Roots: Started as an underwear manufacturer before branching out into sportswear in the Sixties.

U.S. Base: Reda Sports in West Easton, Pa.

Poster Girls: Pro soccer twins Margaret and Jennifer Tiejen and Julie and Nancy Augustyniak. Look for their scrimmage on the “Today” show on June 16.

Glory Days: Sponsored Florence Griffith-Joyner, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and the rest of the U.S. Women’s Track and Field team from 1983 to 1986.

It Will Cost: $12.50 to $24

Game Plan: Women’s apparel relaunches at retail this fall. First-year projected wholesale volume is $500,000, said president Craig Scott. “Our logo is our biggest strength. We’re the only company to have a male and female, which stands for equality, on its logo,” said vice president of sales Frank Battle. “We always say, ‘Before there was Title IX, there was always Kappa.’”

Hummel

Hometown: Aarhus, Denmark

Founded: 1923

Roots: Soccer shoes and apparel were the genesis for the company. Today, Hummel footwear, athleticwear and sportswear is sold in 24 countries, with the U.S. in the midst of relaunching women’s apparel with more of a fashion slant.

U.S. Base: Hummel America in Colmar, Pa.

Unofficial Poster Girls: Nelly Furtado, Gwen Stefani

Glory Days: In the Seventies, Hummel enlisted standout soccer and handball players to wear the product and promote the brand. In 1974, Danish handball players Jørgen Vodsgaard and Max Nielsen did just that and helped sharpen the company’s focus on interesting design and better quality.

It Will Cost: $18 to $69.

Game Plan: Hummel’s classic looks continue to be a drawing card with stores like Urban Outfitters, but the brand’s fashion group is a selling point with specialty stores such as Amy Chan and Barneys New York. Look for trunk shows when the label debuts this fall at Saks Fifth Avenue stores. The company’s new women’s design team has come up with slender silhouettes and embroidered items that play off the brand’s athletic heritage. Creative director Jeanette Bronée said a New York showroom or temporary space in the Paramount Hotel is expected to bow in the next few months. She’s also busy placing product with artists, musicians and stylists.

Le Tigre

Hometown: New York

Founded: Late 1970s

Roots: Early on, the brand was pitched to the masses as an affordable alternative to Lacoste polo shirts.

Unofficial Poster Boys: Tom Hanks’ character in “Bachelor Party” and LL Cool J in his early days.

Glory Days: In the high-flying Eighties, polo shirts with the company’s signature tiger were spotted on high schoolers with their Members Only jackets and even Ronald Reagan and Wilt Chamberlain.

It Will Cost: $8 to $14.

Game Plan: As a teaser for this spring’s relaunch in specialty stores, Le Tigre is sending 500 limited-edition shirts to stylists, publicists and members of the media. Instead of banking solely on the polo shirt for its success, the company has drummed up some updated pieces like halters, tube tops and tanks. Even though interest among moderate specialty stores is said to be “overwhelming,” the brand plans to stave off that distribution route initially, in favor of more fashion-conscious stores like Barneys Co-Op, Bloomingdale’s and Urban Outfitters. Old hang tags and Eighties-oriented photos will be used at retail to tout the brand’s roots. Co-owner Ryan O’Sullivan, a former investment banker, said he is looking into using Reagan’s photo for “The Gipper Collection” and Chamberlain’s image for “The Player Collection.” First-year projected volume is 500,000 units, he said. “We want to hit the retro nerve,” O’Sullivan said.

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