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Taking New Directions

NEW YORK — Three sportswear makers — Olsen Europe, Harvé Benard and SoHo Compagnie — are aiming to boost their presence by expanding distribution, launching a new division and reviving a brand.<br><br><br><br>OLSEN...

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NEW YORK — Three sportswear makers — Olsen Europe, Harvé Benard and SoHo Compagnie — are aiming to boost their presence by expanding distribution, launching a new division and reviving a brand.

This story first appeared in the October 9, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

OLSEN EUROPE

Based in Hamburg, Germany, Olsen Europe is hoping to make a bigger impact on the U.S. market with a plan to increase doors through enhanced marketing and advertising efforts.

Known for its knitwear, the company has annual sales now at $6 million in the U.S., and the goal is to double its volume over the next two years and reach $30 million within five years.

Bolstering the growth plan, Olsen has opened a New York showroom at 212 West 49th Street, and in Dallas at the International Apparel Mart.

“Up to now, our sales in the U.S. have really been an afterthought,” said Lyn Baskett, vice president of merchandising and marketing at Olsen Europe. “Now we are really trying to penetrate more markets.”

While the better-priced sportswear line was first introduced in the U.S. nine years ago, Baskett said the North American unit was owned by a private investor, only to be regained by the parent company two years ago.

Baskett said the American line is different from the German collection in that it is more focused on fashion. “In general, it looks more fashionable, and also with the differences in climate, we have made specific things just for the U.S. and adapted the line to fit the climate here,” she said.

Each collection features classic trousers and blazers, as well as denim pants, zip jackets and trendier items like ruffle blouses. Fabrics include cotton, rayon and silk. Prices wholesale at $11 for a cotton loose-fit T-shirt, $68 for a cotton Lycra stretch trouser, $63 for a linen bell-sleeve shirt and $123 for a denim blazer.

Until recently, the line has only been sold in boutiques and Baskett said the goal is to expand further into department stores, with initial entries into Nordstrom and Dillard’s this fall. “We are also looking at opening freestanding stores,” she said.

Next year, the company is budgeting about $1 million on advertising and marketing to get the message out in consumer magazines. So far, it has been limited to trade publications, Baskett said.

“The early response about Olsen from consumers has been good,” Baskett said. “We have developed a core of strong, independent customers, but we still think there are more people out there we’re not tapping into.”

Jennifer Donecker, owner of Doneckers in Ephrata, Pa., said: “We carry Ellen Tracy and Dana Buchman, but Olsen is a bit more European and not so predictable. A lot of customers have heard about it and once they buy it, it seems the word-of-mouth continues.”

HARVE BENARD

With the notion “the world is dressed in black,” the better-priced career and casual sportswear maker has introduced a line called Nero, an all-black collection of bottoms and jackets.

The seasonless microfiber line, featuring 40 interchangeable black core sportswear pieces and 12 black dress styles, is launching for fall retailing. There are 14 pants styles, 22 skirt styles, three jackets and a fluted-sleeve blouse. Pants silhouettes range from slim and cuffed to straight leg, wide or ultrawide, with high waists, low waists or no waistband. Design details include side-lacing, hip-to-hem pleating and sash waists.

“I just got back from Europe and everyone was in black, from Paris to Milan to East Berlin,” said co-owner and design director Bernard Holtzman, at the company’s showroom at 205 West 39th Street in Manhattan. “Even in Middle America, they’re wearing black bottoms with a colorful top.”

The target audience is a woman 35 to 55 years old, with merchandise designed for a comfortable fit, Holtzman said. While the silhouettes will be current, Holtzman said he wants to avoid dramatic style changes from one season to the next.

“I don’t want it to be so current that you can read September 2002 or November 2002,” he said. “We’re selling to women who have their own style and own mind.”

Prices wholesale at $47 for pants, $75 for jackets and $87.50 for a long dress with side details. While the line is still new, Holtzman said he estimates it could account for about 5 percent of the company’s annual volume, currently at about $100 million.

Owner Maxine Cole of Little Marcy’s in West New York, N.J., said of Nero: “It’s a great sportswear group. It fits well and my customers love it.”

Cole said she ordered 120 pieces and 80 pieces have already sold in the first month. She added: “The value is there and it’s made well.”

SOHO COMPAGNIE

After being off retail shelves since 1998, St. Michel Sportswear is reintroducing SoHo Compagnie as an updated, moderate brand for spring, with early glimpses bowing for holiday.

“The general business environment has been tough, but we’re seeing a strong resurgence in the woven area and there’s such a large need for updated sportswear in the misses’ zone,” said Amit Datwani, vice president of SoHo Compagnie.

The spring collection features 80 pieces, including cargo capri pants, flat-front pants, skirts, shorts, embroidered tops, vests and tunic tops. Current trends such as drawstring pants, zippers, lace, crochet and ruffles also will be included. Fabrics are all cotton, and stretch will be introduced for fall. Fifty percent of the line will be made in India and the remainder in Hong Kong and China.

The label is black, with the words SoHo Compagnie written in white. The target customer is 24 to 50 years old, with an emphasis on the plus-sized market. Sizes will range from 2 to 16, and also 16 to 24.

“With the trends that are happening right now, it’s a very good time for India in terms of the work, the embroidery and the detailing,” Datwani said.

Wholesale prices are $8 to $14 for tops, and $8 to $18 for bottoms. First-year sales goals are set at $3 million, and the plan is to open in 15 retail doors, with an emphasis on department stores.

The company has a showroom at 1407 Broadway in Manhattan, where a team of four designers and merchandisers work on the line.

“Every weekend, we’re out shopping the stores,” she added. “We do research through magazines and then we hit the streets, whether it be New York, Miami or Paris. Our designer is in Italy right now researching, putting fabrics together and looking out for trends.”

Owner Maxine Cole of Little Marcy’s in West New York, N.J., said of Nero: “It’s a great sportswear group. It fits well and my customers love it.”

Cole said she ordered 120 pieces and 80 pieces have already sold in the first month. She added: “The value is there and it’s made well.”

SOHO COMPAGNIE

After being off retail shelves since 1998, St. Michel Sportswear is reintroducing SoHo Compagnie as an updated, moderate brand for spring, with early glimpses bowing for holiday.

“The general business environment has been tough, but we’re seeing a strong resurgence in the woven area and there’s such a large need for updated sportswear in the misses’ zone,” said Amit Datwani, vice president of SoHo Compagnie.

The spring collection features 80 pieces, including cargo capri pants, flat-front pants, skirts, shorts, embroidered tops, vests and tunic tops. Current trends such as drawstring pants, zippers, lace, crochet and ruffles also will be included. Fabrics are all cotton, and stretch will be introduced for fall. Fifty percent of the line will be made in India and the remainder in Hong Kong and China.

The label is black, with the words SoHo Compagnie written in white. The target customer is 24 to 50 years old, with an emphasis on the plus-sized market. Sizes will range from 2 to 16, and also 16 to 24.

“With the trends that are happening right now, it’s a very good time for India in terms of the work, the embroidery and the detailing,” Datwani said.

Wholesale prices are $8 to $14 for tops, and $8 to $18 for bottoms. First-year sales goals are set at $3 million, and the plan is to open in 15 retail doors, with an emphasis on department stores.

The company has a showroom at 1407 Broadway in Manhattan, where a team of four designers and merchandisers work on the line.

“Every weekend, we’re out shopping the stores,” she added. “We do research through magazines and then we hit the streets, whether it be New York, Miami or Paris. Our designer is in Italy right now researching, putting fabrics together and looking out for trends.”

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