By  on November 7, 2006

On Election Day, Kellwood Co. is throwing a party with its own take on democracy.

Kellwood tonight will launch Democracy — once a sportswear label — as a better dress line.

The $2 billion manufacturer acquired the company in 2000, but last year discontinued what was a better-to-bridge sportswear collection. This reincarnation has no connection to the original brand — rather, Kellwood chose the label because the vendor owned the name, which executives think has relevant connotations.

"Democracy is perfect, because this line is about the freedom to dress and be who you want to be," said Jim Weinberg, chief executive officer of Halmode Apparel, a division of Kellwood.

The company declined to provide volume estimates on either the old or new Democracy lines.

Launching for March delivery, the modern-fit dresses will wholesale for about $70 to $100. No orders have been taken yet, and the party and runway show tonight will officially introduce the line to retailers from better department and specialty stores. The 20 looks in the first delivery fall into three families: evening, daytime and day-into-evening dresses.

"Today's customer is different — she wants versatility in what she wears and how she wears it," Weinberg said. "It's hard to pigeonhole the line between daytime and evening, better and contemporary."

The idea came late this summer, and Kellwood moved quickly to capitalize on what it predicts will be a five-year dress cycle that is now finishing its first year. Dresses for the rest of the company are exceeding projections this season, according to Weinberg.

The Democracy launch reflects Kellwood's goals of cultivating better and wholly owned brands. As part of an ongoing strategy to balance its moderate portfolio with destination brands, Kellwood has been building higher-profile lines through acquisitions and licensing. It bought contemporary resources Phat Farm in 2004 and Vince this fall. Through licensing deals, Kellwood relaunched the Calvin Klein better women's sportswear line this season, is relaunching O Oscar as a better line exclusively with Macy's for spring and recently won the license for the ck Calvin Klein bridge sportswear line to relaunch for spring 2008.

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