NEW YORK — Anthony Ottimo, president of Billant Apparel, has one resource not available to everyone — nostalgia.
“The throwback brands work because they give consumers that warm feeling inside,” Ottimo said from the Billant showroom at 1411 Broadway in Manhattan. In early 2004, Billant acquired the licenses for three brands from the Seventies: Huk-A-Poo, Nik-Nik and Fox (now called Retro Fox), and plans to relaunch each of them for spring.
Ottimo is hoping to join the ranks of other Seventies brands that have made big comebacks such as Penguin, Lacoste, and Le Tigre. “One brand has to help the other,” Ottimo said. “We have to become a destination in a department store. One brand on its own won’t do much.” He predicts the wholesale volume for Retro Fox will reach $40 million in 2005; Huk-A-Poo to reach $30 million in 2005 and Nik-Nik to top out at $7 million in 2005.
J.C. Penney created the Fox brand and widely distributed the label in the Seventies and Eighties. Ottimo discovered Penney’s had abandoned the trademark, so he trademarked and copyrighted the logo last August.
Ottimo obtained the Nik-Nik license from Harold Schulman, president of HMS International, who owned the label and the designs. A similar agreement was worked out with Dan Stone, the original owner of Huk-A-Poo. Ottimo said he signed confidentiality agreements and could not disclose any figures involved with the sale.
Retro Fox will stay true to its preppy collegiate roots. The collection will center around key pieces like polos, argyle vests, and tweed jackets, and, of course, will feature the darting fox logo. The wholesale price range of the collection is between $29 and $225. “It’s important to get the logo back in front of people,” Ottimo said.
Huk-A-Poo, the Seventies club kid’s answer to the Fox, will return as the same slim-fitting, funky-patterned shirts, but the fabrics will be updated — no polyester and certainly no spread collars, Ottimo said. The wholesale price range of sports shirts in the collection will be between $45 and $60. The higher-priced Nik-Nik collection will include wovens, knits, sweaters, blazers and a denim collection. The wholesale price range of Nik-Nik will be $95 to $300. All three collections will be available in department and specialty stores in the spring.Ottimo likens the current retro brand phenomenon to the urbanwear market of five years ago. Ottimo in 2002 helped launch rapper-actress Eve’s clothing line, Fetish, thus brokering the licensing agreement with Ecko Unlimited earlier this year. The logo, he believes, was of utmost importance to the urban customer then as it is for the retro enthusiast of today.
“The urban customer doesn’t have much overhead,” he said. “He’s not buying a big house or a nice car to show how much money he has. He shows his worth in the clothes he wears.”
Ottimo also believes that urban markets are trying to cash in on the popular collegiate preppy looks by introducing polo shirts and sweater vests into their collections. But Ottimo believes urban companies will have trouble finding consumers who will follow these clean-cut trends. “Kids aren’t going to follow these companies when they try to do something preppy,” he said. “They look to these brands for something else.” He admitted that he didn’t think urban brands would be able to sustain longevity for much longer.
“There’s going to be fallout. They’ve had a good run. Now it’s time for the animals."
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