By  on January 29, 2009

Hartmarx Corp.’s Chapter 11 filing may have thrown a monkey wrench into the planned launch of a Dr. Martens men’s apparel line this fall.

HMX Sportswear, a division of Hartmarx that includes the Monarchy, Ted Baker London and Jack Nicklaus businesses, was in the midst of showing retailers its first licensed Dr. Martens young men’s line when the company filed for bankruptcy protection late last week. The line is slated to launch at retail in August, but the potential sale of Hartmarx assets could delay or jeopardize that initiative.

Still, for now the company is moving forward with the venture, according to Homi Patel, chairman and chief executive officer of Hartmarx. “There will be no interruption, and the launch will continue as planned,” he told WWD. Hartmarx on Monday received the approval of a Chicago bankruptcy court to begin using its $160 million debtor-in-possession financing facility, which allows the men’s suit maker to continue day-to-day operations.

Northamptonshire, England-based Dr. Martens inked a deal with HMX Sportswear in April to create and distribute the moderately priced young men’s collection, aimed at North American department and specialty retailers. A women’s line is planned for 2010. The new lines would mark the return to the apparel business for the iconic footwear brand, after it eliminated its own money-losing apparel line in 2002.

David Suddens, ceo of R. Griggs Group Ltd. and Airwair International Ltd., the two sibling companies that own Dr. Martens, said he hopes the agreement with HMX Sportswear advances successfully, but he is in the process of assessing options if it does not. “We just received a fax about the bankruptcy filing and haven’t had time to have a conversation with Hartmarx,” he said. “We are in a neutral stance right now, and in the process of figuring out where this all might leave us.”

The Dr. Martens initiative is Hartmarx’s latest effort to diversify from its core tailored clothing heritage. The strategy included the August 2007 acquisition of premium denim and sportswear maker Monarchy and the 2006 purchase of contemporary knitwear brand Zooey.

Dr. Martens, which was founded in 1960 and is known for its antiestablishment, punk rock image, is intended to fill a void in the young men’s market, according to Eric Prengel, group president of HMX Sportswear. “There’s nothing in the young men’s market now that is about that rock ’n’ roll lifestyle,” he explained. “Everything is urban or surf and skate. There is lots of rock ’n’ roll in the premium market, but this new line is much more affordably priced.”

Jeans in the Dr. Martens lineup will retail for about $65; polos for $40 to $45; wovens for $60; fleece for $69 to $89; T-shirts for $30 and outerwear for $120. The line is designed by Jerry Kaye, the former creative director of Perry Ellis, who joined HMX Sportswear in May. Signature Dr. Martens motifs in the collection include “McMartens Tartan” plaid linings on jean cuffs, Union Jack appliqués on button-front shirts, military details and yellow taping on knit and woven tops that recalls the bold stitching of Dr. Martens boots.

Prengel declined to provide a sales target for the apparel launch, but said he hopes to be in 150 to 200 doors this fall, with target stores including The Buckle, Macy’s and Dillard’s. Coinciding with the apparel launch is a line of Dr. Martens bags and belts from licensee Tandy Brands Accessories, which will first ship to stores in the spring.

Dr. Martens footwear rings up about $120 million in wholesale revenue worldwide, according to Suddens, with the U.S. accounting for more than half of that figure.

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