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The Bold & the Boring

The WWDList: Which brands are boring and which get girls’ engines racing? A survey reveals the top 10 in each category.

More than 4,000 women aged 13 and older were asked to choose the most directional and the most boring brands from a master list, compiled by NPD Group, of its top 120 brands in the U.S. And in a generation gap, urban-inspired fashion and surfer chic led the trendy column, while nostalgic names dominated the dull list.

MOST TREND SETTING

1

FUBU

Urban-rooted fashions have been embraced by retailers and consumers alike, with brands like Fubu now hanging in Macy’s junior departments. Fubu last year launched a home collection, another sign that urban-rooted brands are heavily concentrating on marketing to the masses.

2

EXPRESS

Express began reengineering its businesses in July 2002. Michael Weiss, president and ceo of Express, a division of Limited Brands Inc., said Express has the potential to be a $5 billion mega-brand. In the last year, styles have been geared to a younger crowd, one that’s not afraid of showing a little skin.

3

ABERCROMBIE & FITCH

Abercrombie & Fitch is being challenged by American Eagle Outfitters, Gap, Banana Republic and J. Crew. Still, A&F hasn’t lost its edge in the fashion department, with a Vintage collection featuring cargo pants and sheer graphic T-shirts.

4

CALVIN KLEIN

Phillips-Van Heusen Corp., which Wednesday closed its deal to buy Calvin Klein Inc., is looking to capitalize quickly on its new investment with a women’s better-priced sportswear collection and men’s line, not to mention Klein’s uncanny talent for striking a chord with young customers.

5

BILLABONG

Billabong has street cred with surfers and those who want to look like them. The company sponsors the Billabong Pro in Maui, where Layne Beachley recently claimed her fifth world title. Billabong has also branched into swimwear and hired its first swim designer, Mandy Robinson, a veteran of Quiksilver.

6

DKNY

Fred Wilson, Donna Karan International’s new ceo, restructured the company in September and installed Mary Wang as president of DKNY. Karan’s appeal continues to resonate with trendies; she’s infused her secondary line with references to everything from streetwear and hip-hop culture to New York.

This story first appeared in the February 13, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

7

ROXY

Roxy continues to bank on its surfer-girl identity. Like Billabong, the company has placed an emphasis on swimwear with Seventies screen-print looks. Another key trend is the use of heavier fabrics, including sweater-like knits, terry, stretch corduroy and faux suede.

8

MUDD

Junior jeans resource Mudd Inc. launched its first TV ad campaign in December in an effort to increase the brand’s profile. The directional jeans company dabbles in unusual finishes and embellishments. Mudd had a wholesale volume of $300 million in 2002, including licensing royalties.

9

ZANA-DI

Although not as enthrenched as LEI, Mudd or Paris Blues, ZANA-DI has been gaining momentum. The company’s jeans have a certain je ne sais quoi. Take the X style, for example, which features cutout jeans with open sides. J.C. Penney carries ZANA-DI alongside the big three.

10

BANANA REPUBLIC

While Banana Republic was taken to task for becoming somewhat staid, the brand has never forsaken handbags inspired by European designers, and kinder, gentler interpretations of key runway trends. The Gap division appears to be on target to log $2 billion in sales for 2002.

MOST BORING

1

ALFRED DUNNER

Alfred Dunner has been around long enough to have seen the insides of dressing rooms of upscale specialty stores and now J.C. Penney. The brand features classic styles embellished with flowers and other dowdy touches in figure-forgiving fabics.

2

COVINGTON

Sears considers the Covington private brand a linchpin of its apparel offerings along with Lands’ End, which is being introduced into stores. Covington, since its September unveiling, has brought in sales of more than $200 million. The collection gets high marks for salability, but is too safe to be interesting.

3

KATHIE LEE

Kathie Lee was once the most powerful apparel player at Wal-Mart, but the massive retailer was twice burned in the Nineties for sweatshop sourcing of the Kathie Lee label. In the last three years, Kathie Lee’s business has shrunk considerably and now seems most prevalent in plus sizes rather than misses’.

4

DRESS BARN

Dress Barn sells well-priced apparel, such as a three-piece pant suit for $119 or a double-breasted glen plaid suit for $99. Some styles are up-to-date, but jeans that button above the hips make the store anathema to those young enough to be able to find their waists.

5

KATHY IRELAND

Kmart Corp. recently received Chicago bankruptcy approval to renew licensing agreements with several key vendors, including Kathy Ireland World Wide. But the brand doesn’t have the oomph it once did and experts agree that Kmart could use the boost a fresh face would provide.

6

RUSSELL ATHLETIC

Russell, which celebrated its 100th birthday in 2002, launched a Vintage Varsity collection drawing on its heritage. Styles resemble original apparel from the last century and there’s a collection of Russell Athletic: 1902 items made with faded varsity colors. Perhaps the company should have looked toward the future instead.

7

LESLIE FAY

Leslie Fay’s volume bottomed out at $125 million after it emerged from Chapter 11 in 1997. It’s grown to an estimated $212 million, far from its peak of $850 million in the early Nineties. The brand specializes in suits for ladies-who-lunch, but the Cheesecake Factory, rather than La Grenouille, is more their ticket.

8

JUST MY SIZE

Sara Lee’s Just My Size brand is best known for intimates in plus sizes. There’s also apparel and swimwear, all perfectly presentable, although unremarkable. Hasn’t anyone told the company that plus-size girls just want to have fun, too?

9

FRUIT OF THE LOOM

Fruit of the Loom filed its reorganization plan in March 2001, then languished in bankruptcy proceedings until a Delaware court in January 2002 approved Berkshire Hathaway’s $835 million acquisition of its operating assets. So far, Warren Buffett, Berkshire’s ceo has done little to rejuvenate the meat-and-potatoes brand.

10

KORET

Kellwood Corp.’s moderate brands include Sag Harbor and Koret. The latter has a new president and chief executive officer, Fred Smeyne, a seasoned apparel sales and marketing executive, who will try to breathe new life into a brand that’s been kicking around almost as long as Joan Collins.

SOURCE: NPD GROUP, A PORT WASHINGTON, N.Y.-BASED CONSUMER RESEARCH FIRM