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Reaction Finds a Better Home

Kenneth Cole Productions and Bernard Chaus are banking on a big response to the spring launch of Kenneth Cole Reaction.

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NEW YORK — Come spring, Kenneth Cole is hoping to create a big Reaction in the better sportswear department.

Kenneth Cole Productions Inc. and Bernard Chaus Inc. are ready to launch the Kenneth Cole Reaction apparel line for spring 2006. Chaus holds the license to manufacture and sell women’s sportswear under the Kenneth Cole Reaction label. This is the first time the company is launching sportswear under the Reaction brand, which already has shoes, bags, eyewear, a fragrance and outerwear.

But the launch of Reaction apparel signifies more than just a new clothing line for Kenneth Cole.

“You will begin to see Kenneth Cole New York becoming more high-fashion, aspirational and more architectural in design,” said Doug Jakubowski, senior vice president of Kenneth Cole Reaction. “That line will move into the bridge area and into our 60 retail stores, while Kenneth Cole Reaction will be the better brand for our department stores. It’s all about raising the bar of the whole brand. It also makes clear that these lines are two points of view that can be under one roof, but not confusing to the consumer.”

Paul Davril Inc., Kenneth Cole New York’s women’s and men’s wear licensee, will launch Kenneth Cole Reaction men’s sportswear, also for spring.

The first delivery of Kenneth Cole Reaction, which will hit retail floors in January, is a tight mix of nautical-inspired elements with feminine touches such as a silk georgette top paired with a shrunken pea jacket and cuffed denim knickers. The following deliveries, which will be made monthly, include safari jackets in olive green and khaki, sequined tanks, jersey dresses, casual and dressier knit tops, cotton shorts and bubble skirts.

“Kenneth really likes that mix of rustic with shine, tailored looks with feminine elements,” said Judith Leech, executive vice president of design at Chaus, who also is heading up design at Reaction. “It’s better sportswear with that contemporary flair.”

In addition to the fashion pieces shipping monthly, the line includes an “essentials” collection that retailers can replenish as needed. This group includes more simple careerwear such as a traditional black suit, tan coat, woven tops and basic pants.

The line wholesales from $30 to $95 and, according to David Panitz, chief operating officer at Chaus, the company expects to reach between $20 million and $30 million in first-year wholesale volume. The company aims for the Reaction line to be sold to its existing accounts of better department stores and select specialty retailers such as Nordstrom, Macy’s East, Macy’s West, Dillard’s and Marshall Field’s.

“Our goal for Reaction is to be that brand for the urban contemporary-minded consumer,” Panitz said. “And at this price point, there’s a huge opportunity for this brand.”

In addition to apparel for the Reaction brand, Kenneth Cole Productions Inc. hopes to launch both home and tabletop collections for spring. Those deals are close to being signed.

Besides the Kenneth Cole Reaction, Josephine Chaus and Chaus collections, Bernard Chaus Inc. produces Cynthia Steffe and Cynthia Cynthia Steffe.

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