Kasper Takes Swing at Sportswear

NEW YORK — Kasper, which has built its reputation as a dominant player in the suit market, is taking another shot at joining the sportswear major leagues.<br><br>While not abandoning its more traditional jacket-wearing customer, the New...

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From left, Kasper’s team: Eric Kristjanson, Gregg I. Marks, Hae Won Song and Sharyn Feller.

Robert Mitra and John Aquino

NEW YORK — Kasper, which has built its reputation as a dominant player in the suit market, is taking another shot at joining the sportswear major leagues.

This story first appeared in the September 18, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

While not abandoning its more traditional jacket-wearing customer, the New York-based company will launch the more stylish and item-driven Kasper sportswear line this spring, the culmination of months of intensive work and refocusing the line to attract and keep a new and familiar audience.

“We’re going after the sportswear market and we’re looking to be the hottest sportswear company around,” said Gregg I. Marks, president, at the company’s showroom at 1412 Broadway for a recent preview of the collection. “We’re going into a zone that doesn’t exist. Customers don’t want moderate, but they can’t afford better, so we’re focused on updated clothing at closer-to-moderate prices.”

The collection, which spans about 300 pieces, focuses on career separates, such as novelty fabric jackets, pants and skirts. Lace-up pants, denim jackets and pants with top-stitching, T-shirts and embroidered knit tops are also featured. Fabrics include tweeds and stripes, washed linen and stretch gabardine. Prices wholesale from $19 for knit tops to $59 for fully lined jackets.

Retail industry experts estimate the line should do about $50 million in first-year sales volume.

“These are sportswear pieces that work together or work as separates,” said Sharyn Feller, division head of Kasper. “This is a lifestyle collection, with a bent toward what has traditionally been career in the past. People’s lives are not strictly career or casual anymore and they like their career to bleed into casual and vice-versa. So we’re trying to create a collection that can accommodate both parts of the woman’s lifestyle.”

But this is not the first attempt Kasper has made at cracking into sportswear.

The company launched Kasper & Co. in 1999, but Marks said it lacked a true sportswear spirit and was mostly suited separates. So, to start the new Kasper sportswear line off fresh, the company will drop the “& Co.” and just go by Kasper.

“We think people understand the Kasper brand and we’re just building more of a brand awareness that will coincide with our national campaign for spring,” Marks said.

Kasper ASL, which includes the Anne Klein division, had sales of $383.9 million for the year ending Dec. 29, with the Kasper brand making up more than half the sales. The company has said it plans to change the name to the Anne Klein Group when it emerges from Chapter 11.

The goal is to open the sportswear line in about 500 retail doors, including Dillard’s, Saks Inc., Federated and Nordstrom units and will launch an ad campaign next spring. Feller said the target customer is modern and aware, but not cutting-edge trendy.

“Before, the brand was much more suit-driven, so we tried to give her what she didn’t already have,” said Feller, who came on board in March to help launch the sportswear line. “We merchandised the line so that it has a younger appearance, more current. But it all depends on how it’s worn — there’s no age.”

Even if the updated Kasper does carry more of a hipper look now, Marks noted that it will not forget its loyal, suit-wearing customer. Rather, he said the line, which now allows customers the freedom to mix and match jackets and pants or wear the complete ensemble, is a reflection of the more interesting way people are dressing.

“The clothes are evolutionary, not revolutionary,” he noted.

Kasper sportswear designer Hae Won Song, who joined the team in June, said her goal was to infuse a more relaxed, feminine look into the line, with softer and sportier jackets that could work from day into evening. She and Feller traveled the globe searching for fabrics and inspiration to finish the first collection. Eric Kristjanson, design director at Kasper, also collaborated on it.

“All my past experiences came down to this one job and were put to the test,” Song said, who came to the company from Ralph Lauren. “Jackets are important and that was what carried the line, so we took it one step further by adding sportswear with more versatility. The customers are used to having sportswear that had a suit-like feeling and I don’t know if they wore it any differently than how they bought it. So we tried to give them options and different fabrics.”

Meanwhile, Cindy Cherry, a buyer for career at Parisian stores, said Kasper has really improved its collection and is looking forward to spring deliveries.

“Kasper in the past has been very traditional and they’ve kind of stepped up to a different taste level,” Cherry said. “We sell jackets and suits and they do well, but they’ve gotten more updated and added a lot of layering pieces. Spring should be much stronger for them. The only drawback is they have a lot of product and I’m not able to buy everything.”

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