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With its name conjuring images of young ballerinas, it may be hard to believe Danskin is 125 years old.
The New York activewear company opened its birthday year with the disclosure that Iconix Brand Group Inc. had purchased its namesake brand for $70 million. The second half of the year will feature anniversary marketing and products, including fall launches of the girls’ line Danskin Girl and the contemporary line Danskin 1882 — in honor of the company’s founding year.
“We don’t want to be thought of as a 125-year-old company,” said Carol Hochman, Danskin’s chief executive officer. “We want to be perceived as young, fresh and modern.”
The company started as an importer of hosiery and dancewear from Europe. Some things have stayed the same — Danskin still has one of its “very first customers, Baum’s Dancewear in Philadelphia, which you can attribute to great customer service,” Hochman said.
More than a century later, Danskin has expanded and evolved into an estimated $200 million wholesale business that does about 70 percent of its sales in activewear, which it launched in 1980. With activewear, legwear, dancewear, yoga apparel and fitness equipment, the Danskin brand sells in better department, specialty and sporting goods stores, in 15 Danskin boutiques and at danskin.com; the Danskin Now line of apparel and fitness equipment is sold at Wal-Mart.
“The brand does not just live in the dance studio,” Hochman said. “Though the product has evolved and the company has evolved, our DNA has stayed true. Dance is feminine, and we’ve instilled femininity into our products, whereas all of the other active apparel players come from male heritages.”
The Iconix deal will not change that, said Hochman, who added she and the rest of the Danskin team would continue managing the production of Danskin products, which Iconix is licensing back to the firm.
“Nothing is going to change here,” she said. “Iconix helps us in the back office, adds marketing and brings new people with a new infusion of ideas, which I think is always healthy. It also raises our profile as a company and brand; so many people are watching Iconix, and now we will be part of it.”
Iconix ceo Neil Cole echoed that sentiment. “Danskin is an iconic brand, and we are thrilled to be celebrating their 125th anniversary together,” Cole said in an e-mail. “The Danskin business is doing great and we plan on keeping continuity of the band by working closely with Carol and her team.”
That attention comes at the right time, as Danskin launches anniversary marketing efforts this fall. The details have yet to be completed, but a lot will revolve around the number 125. For example, the company plans to produce 125 limited edition pieces in cashmere, such as a ballet wrap or tracksuit, which will be worn by celebrities and sold at auction; the 125th customer purchasing online may get the purchase free, and in stores, every 125th customer will get a prize.
The girls’ line is a nod to the brand’s position in youth dance studios, and Danskin 1882 is a “boutique line for specialty stores,” said Hochman, who “will be happy if it does 20 percent of what the athletic line does.”
The impetus for Danskin 1882 came from the success last year with leggings, which doubled production from the million-plus pairs in normal years. The leggings were picked up by specialty stores, including Henri Bendel, encouraging Danskin to expand into a contemporary, higher-end market.
Danskin 1882 is wholesaling from $11 to $50 and has been picked up by specialty retailers such as Fred Segal.
Elements of the brand’s heritage will appear throughout all Danskin’s lines. Hangtags that identify pieces in the fall collections will be modern versions of “the icons of our history — not going back 125 years, mostly back to the Seventies and Eighties,” Hochman said. For example, the bodysuit will be reinvented and new fishnet capris will be in the dance line in honor of Danskin’s invention of the fishnet tights at the turn of the century, she added.
Danskin enjoyed a golden age and created some of its most memorable looks during the Seventies and Eighties. Sifting through the company’s history, Hochman highlighted the disco era that spawned activewear; the Jazzercise era that brought women to the gym; Donna Karan’s 1985 debut of “seven easy pieces” that encouraged sales of bodysuits, leggings and tights, and “this year was pretty damn good with all of these leggings.”
“It’s so interesting, how apparel has evolved,” Hochman said. “We’ve casualized our work wardrobe, which in turn has played a huge role in the casualization of our weekend world. And while a lot of apparel has gotten very expensive, activewear has stayed at an affordable price range.”