By  on July 2, 2007

NEW YORK — More than two years after acquiring ski-maker Rossignol, Quiksilver is finally showing off the brand’s long-awaited apparel collection.

The men’s and women’s sportswear line, based around an active mountain lifestyle, will hit stores in spring ’08. With its hundred-year roots in skiing, the spring/summer collection represents Rossignol’s debut in the warm-weather market.

Jose Garcia, Rossignol’s vice-president of the soft-goods division for North America, described the line as “athlete-driven.” He explained, “After they’re done skiing or snowboarding, they don’t stop. They continue to participate in mountain activities year-round.”

Thus, the apparel is divided into three categories: Backcountry, which offers true technical product, such as brushed fleece and waterproof river shorts; Adventure Travel, for performance products that are more fashion-oriented; and Life, a stylish lifestyle line with an eco-friendly bent, designed for before-and-after mountain activities.

Garcia believes the collection’s sweet spot is its balance between fashion and technicality. “There’s an opportunity for premium outdoor brands to cater to both the performance and casual sportswear sides of the business.”

Garcia’s goal is to retail the line at specialty stores and sport shops, as well as entering the higher-end department store channel, where Rossignol has only existed in limited collaborations with high-end brands. Prices start around $25 for an organic cotton T-shirt or $50 for a yarn-dyed, striped rugby shirt, and reach up to $325 for a waterproof Gore-Tex jacket.

“It looks pretty good for a first go-around,” said Tricia Casale, manager and soft-goods buyer for Princeton Ski Shop, who checked out the line for her Northeast chain of specialty stores. “The majority of skiers are outdoor people and they really want fashionable lifestyle apparel. That category is huge right now.”

With its lifeblood in apparel, Quiksilver has been buzzing about Rossignol’s soft-goods potential since it acquired the brand in July 2005. However, the beleaguered Rossignol hard-goods business, further complicated by unusually warm winters, has required nearly all of Quiksilver’s attention since the brand came onboard.

Only in recent months did Quiksilver hire Garcia from Columbia Sportswear to head up the Rossignol soft-goods effort, based in the just-opened Quiksilver/Rossignol Mountain Center facility in Park City, Utah. Still, Quiksilver executives have ambitious goals for Rossignol’s apparel business, which thus far has been just a smattering of outerwear and base layers. Quiksilver has forecast the category to grow from its current $50 million in sales to $100 million by 2008 and $150 million in 2010.

That growth, though, is dependent on Rossignol’s brand recognition at retail, particularly in the summer market. While Rossignol is a household name for skiers, those outside the sport may not yet know the label. “I think the product will be good because Quiksilver does a great job with apparel,” explained Jeff Van Sinderen, an analyst at B. Riley & Co. “But we’ll have to see how the customer embraces it since it’s more of a winter-sports brand. I think it would be easier to build a business around apparel in the winter first.”

Analysts are also skeptical that the apparel category will balance out the flagging hard-goods division. “I don’t think the soft-goods business can save the hard goods,” said Jeff Mintz, an analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities. “It really has to go the other way—the ski business has to pick up for the apparel business to work long term.”

Whether or not the apparel business is well received, Van Sinderen believes that Rossignol will more than likely be eventually divested by Quiksilver—either in part or as a whole. He pointed to last week’s Quiksilver purchase of the remaining 36 percent of the struggling Cleveland Golf brand—which analysts speculate is a precursor to its eventual sale later this year—as a sign that Quiksilver is ready to aggressively deal with its poorly performing hard-goods brands.

Rossignol, Van Sinderen said, “will probably go next, either just the hard-goods business,” or—if the buyer wants the entire package—“the soft-goods business as well. It would be great if [Quiksilver] could retain the Rossignol apparel division, since I think there is a real business to be done there. But you can’t have a good apparel business if the hard-goods business is not good.”

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