Jovine Reclaims a Knit Niche

Four years after closing her signature bridge sportswear business, Andrea Jovine is picking up where she left off with a line of bridge-priced knits.

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NEW YORK — Four years after closing her signature bridge sportswear business, Andrea Jovine is picking up right where she left off.

This story first appeared in the February 24, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

In a temporary showroom at 80 West 40th Street here, Jovine is bringing back a collection of bridge-priced knits that echo the signature look she once built into a $75 million business of subtly detailed sweaters and jackets aimed at women who were looking for a comfortable way to approach career dressing. But there is also a new emphasis on woven pants and jackets designed around the core knit components, reflecting an evolution in the way bridge customers have been dressing during Jovine’s hiatus.

“My whole perspective on the industry is different today,” Jovine said. “Life in general is different. The only thing that is the same is the customer.”

Returning to her career as a fashion designer is a bittersweet moment for Jovine, who is 48 and started her first signature line of knits in 1983, originally focusing on the better-priced category, but eventually moving into bridge during its boom later that decade. Jovine and her late husband, Victor Coopersmith, had started that business together and then closed it in 1998 because of financial problems and chargebacks stemming from the fallout of the bridge market, just weeks before his untimely death while swimming in Lake Powell, Ariz.

Until now, Jovine has spent her time designing interior spaces and raising a son. As the bridge market began to rebound during the past year, however, the designer said she was approached by several companies looking to revive her brand, which once stood alongside Adrienne Vittadini, Ellen Tracy, Ellen Fisher, Dana Buchman and Anne Klein as the pillars of that category.

She ultimately reached a licensing partnership with International Women’s Apparel, the women’s division of Chicago-based Hartmarx Corp., which Jovine said offered the best production ability and connection to department stores, which she was looking to develop. Hartmarx also makes Austin Reed, Ted Baker, Alex and Hawksley & Wight under its IWA umbrella.

“It’s taken me a very long time to figure out whether I wanted to come back to this business,” Jovine said. “But having been out for a couple of years, I became a consumer again, and that’s how I realized there were so many things that I wanted, but I could not find out there in the stores.”

Tom Hall, president and chief executive officer of IWA, said he was familiar with Jovine’s earlier work and felt that knit dressing in the bridge price category represented an opportunity to rebuild a branded label.

“That niche has not been filled since Andrea left the industry,” Hall said.

The company has not yet determined its exact wholesale prices, but Hall said they would remain in the bridge range. He also could not provide a first-year projection since the exact plans for the Jovine launch will be dependent on its support from department stores.

“We went into this saying we want to match up with people who want to zero in on a working relationship that would be beneficial to all working parties, who would support the line all the way down to building relationships with the consumers,” Hall said. “We are meeting with people and discussing this one day at a time.”

As for Jovine, her passion for creating never really faded, although as she and her customers have gotten older, her inspiration has changed, too.

“The aging Baby Boomers are looking for modern, forward, hip-looking clothes,” she said. “I still believe in that customer profile, but with more options and categories, like creating a knit sweater that works over woven pants, instead of all knits. It’s just a more modern way of dressing.”

Jovine’s return is driven by a separates point of view, with more narrow cuts and details that play with a more youthful attitude toward the bridge market than she has in the past. Some sweaters are sold without sleeves, while Jovine also has mixed stretch fibers with merino wool to create body-hugging jackets and a dress with shirred details on the sides. That reflects her own attitude toward dressing and how Jovine feels her customers have changed as well. There also are more details such as collegiate stripes and bullet-snaps on the side of a sweater, or an abstract Asian motif printed on the back of a blouse.

“I think she’s gotten younger in the mind-set,” Jovine said. “We as a culture have gotten younger. We’re listening to the same music as our children and going to the same restaurants. Clothing has to follow suit. We’re just exposed to everything today and I don’t think we want to get old.

“The way I personally dress now is not a designed point of view. What I pull out of the closet, what I’ve accumulated along the way, are the things I have acquired because I love them. It’s the way I like to dress, and the way I like sdto live.”

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