"New York is so fresh at the moment," Strenesse creative director Gabriele Strehle said a few days before her Sunday show at Bryant Park. "I have had the chance to watch the people and I realized that it just seems so much freer here. It all feels so positive." It's a sweet sentiment, but Strehle didn't move her show here simply to enjoy the view. A move to the Big Apple generally indicates a shift in business strategy, and this one is no different.
The German label has become internationally recognized since it showed up on the Milan runways in 1996. Strehle is now looking to bring her designs to an even wider audience. From a business point of view, the New York show serves to underscore the commitment the label has and the growth potential its executives see in the American market.
"New York was absolutely a strategic decision for us," chief executive officer Peter Kappler said. "We would like to increase the recognition level of the label in the U.S., and want to bring the brand closer to the independent stores. The show is a good tool for us to do that." Currently, the U.S. represents less than 5 percent of Strenesse's overall revenue, which Kappler would like to increase to 10 to 15 percent.
Sunday's show was ostensibly the first step toward that goal. As she has in the past, Strehle worked in several men's wear references — crisp, white cotton voile shirts, wide-legged cuffed trousers and single-breasted jackets that fell to mid-thigh. However, the designer's strongest pieces were undeniably the very pretty dresses that made up a good third of the 37 looks. Though some were quite heavy on detail, none seemed overwrought or difficult. The same, however, could not be said of her choice to cut tailored pieces in stiff and easily wrinkled organza.
In the U.S., wholesale prices range from $50 to $650 for tops, shirts, jackets and dresses. For the fiscal year ended May 31, Strenesse had net sales of 84 million euros, or $104.3 million at current exchange. The company has eight freestanding boutiques in Germany and two in Italy, but there are no plans for stores in the U.S. yet. "At the moment, we want to develop our business with local retailers," Kappler said. "But we wouldn't count out opening stores in the future."Strenesse is sold in 80 U.S. department and specialty store doors, such as Bergdorf Goodman, Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom, Stanley Korshak, Mitchells of Westport, Conn., and Richards in Greenwich, Conn., as well as neimanmarcus.com. Kappler expects the company to expand its presence here to 150 doors within five years.
Kappler conceded the strong euro continues to be a challenge, but the company is able to support the U.S. division by offering competitive prices and to be able to deliver earlier than they do in other markets. "We have now understood the demands of the U.S. market," Kappler said, "and we have been able to adjust to its needs."
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