By  on March 9, 1994

NEW YORK -- After testing Sahza, a new bridge collection, in 14 Saks Fifth Avenue doors last fall, GFT USA Corp. expanded the line to 17 Saks doors and 29 specialty stores for spring. Now, for fall, it is rolling it out to about 150 specialty store and major retail doors.

Sahza was created as a designer collection at bridge prices, said Marilyn Kawakami, fashion and merchandising director of GFT Donna SpA, based in Turin, and Gaetano Sallorenzo, who as executive vice president of GFT USA's women's import division oversees Cidat (Valentino), Ungaro Inc., Sahza and private label.

Sahza's name is an important element in what Kawakami and Sallorenzo see as the collection's success: global appeal.

"We didn't want to have an Italian name so everyone would think of this as an Italian collection," said Sallorenzo. "Sahza has a bit of a European feeling but there's no cultural significance."

The collection is meant to be a way to "broaden GFT's portfolio" to include more merchandise at non-designer price points, said Kawakami. She described the line as a hybrid of American and European influences, pointing to the way, for example, American manufacturers can turn orders quickly, ship merchandise in groups and merchandise collections in shop concepts.

The European influences are in the fabrics and broad assortment of colors available for each group in the collection. Kawakami, who was once president of Anne Klein II, was a major force behind the launching of that collection.

Sahza was test-launched in Europe and Asia two seasons prior to its fall 1993 test here. It was developed as part of a new umbrella at GFT called Autentico Femminile, which will eventually incorporate two other lines: a modern fashion group with a focus on novelty, with the working label of Siyou, and a modern classifications group with the working name of Essence. Both collections are being tested now in Europe and may be shown here in the fall. Sahza was created to be the trend segment of the umbrella and will show new trends through the use of innovative fabrics and shapes. Six groups will be shipped annually.

"Everything we do is for a global market, although we take into account the local trends in each of our markets," said Kawakami. "But you know, our roots and background are all high-end, which speaks very much of the Eighties. The bridge concept is very Nineties."Kawakami and Sallorenzo conceded that the bridge market had a tough time in 1993, but they are convinced that if the issues of appropriate pricing and quality maintenance are addressed, there is still room for growth in the category.

The line is produced in Italy. It wholesales for $175 to $280 for jackets; $82.50 to $140 for trousers; $65 to $190 for skirts; $62.50 to $140 for blouses; $80 to $130 for vests, and $230 to $475 for outerwear.

Rose Marie Bravo, president of Saks, praised the quality of the Sahza collection. She noted that the firm is one of the new bridge lines with which she expects to build business.

"We had a smashing success with the test," Bravo said. "It's very well made and has a sophisticated European appeal. But it's really the quality that's wonderful." Sallorenzo said the growth plan for Sahza is to keep distribution focused on specialty stores and majors that are used to handling upscale collections.

Because the line is being produced for retailers on a global scale, specialty stores do not have to worry about minimum orders, said Kawakami. "We are not necessarily looking for a huge volume in the U.S. because we're looking at an overall worldwide volume," he said. "We want to target the best stores here, those that have the ability to sell this type of merchandise. It is in this arena of retailers, when you hold the clothes up to many of the American collections, that it is a value."

Cynthia Denton, women's sportswear buyer for Stanley Korshak, Dallas, said the fact that Sahza is going to have limited distribution appealed to her as a specialty store buyer. The line arrived at Korshak's two weeks ago and has been selling well, she said. "The fabrications are fabulous, and the styling is very simple and European," she added. "It fits in well with the other European collections we have. And it's a true bridge price point."

Sallorenzo said the line's wholesale volume reached about $10 million last year, with the U.S. accounting for about 15 percent of the sales. The U.S. and Germany are vying to be Sahza's biggest sales generators. With the increased distribution this year, Sallorenzo expects to double the volume in 1994.In-store shop programs will be offered to retailers globally, as their inventory of Sahza builds. The first shops are planned to roll out in European stores this fall.

"The Europeans don't normally have shop concepts," said Kawakami. "In many ways, the Europeans are behind the Americans with merchandising. And the idea of bridge is a relatively new concept to the rest of the world. It really began in America."

Kawakami pointed out that the line is going to focus much of its promotional budget on in-store events, rather than on national advertising. It conducted wardrobing seminars at Saks stores. "We've always thought we need to get the distribution and the product right," she said, "and if we're on target, then we'll back it up with some advertising. But since this is not meant to be a broadly distributed line in all of the majors, we'd rather build alliances with our particular retailers in ways that are helpful to them. They might prefer doing a mailer to specific customers."

"If we're looking to be a small, refined resource," added Sallorenzo, "then a different marketing strategy can be necessary."

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