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Vera’s Latest Move: Contemporary

Vera Wang is adding another category by making a move into the contemporary area, one of retail's hottest, with her Lavender Label.

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NEW YORK — With bridal and ready-to-wear under her embroidered and beaded belt, and a more mainstream line on the way for Kohl’s, Vera Wang’s résumé just keeps growing.

Now the designer is adding one more category by moving into the contemporary area — one of retail’s hottest — with her Lavender Label. When Lavender was launched for spring 2005, it consisted mainly of cocktail and evening dresses and was sold in dress departments, but Wang is repositioning the line for spring into a contemporary collection replete with separates.

Wang said she had always aimed to enter the contemporary scene because she liked the idea of a collection that maintained her artisanal aesthetic, but was more approachable in its pricing than her main line.

“It makes me so happy that people can buy Lavender, whereas Collection is for the very few,” Wang said. “I like to see Lavender grow because I think it’s realistic and relevant. Collection is relevant because not one of the ideas for the other lines would come without it. With Lavender, I am hoping we can develop a vocabulary, which I think is there already, and take it further.”

Wang explained the diffusion line had its origins, albeit conceptual, in the bridesmaids’ category. The designer had once dabbled in lower-priced bridesmaids’ dresses, which became a costly venture, and plans to extend it into more of a secondary dress collection eventually fizzled. When Susan Sokol became president of Vera Wang Apparel in 2004, the idea was resurrected, and Lavender Label was introduced.

“When we first launched Lavender, we saw that there was a void in the space of modern dresses at this price point,” Sokol said. “As the business evolved, and dresses as a classification soared, we wanted to leverage our knowledge of dresses, and we decided to add separates to really capture the contemporary space.

“It gives us the ability to build volume,” she added.

For spring, the company is doubling the number of pieces to about 120, including separates, which will account for 25 percent of the overall designs. Wang’s aesthetic vocabulary in her runway rtw collection is also present in Lavender. Pieces include metallic jackets, cotton brocade coats, textured organza camisoles and crinkled silk charmeuse dresses with ruffle details. Looks have been styled to mix fabrics and patterns, such as a cotton brocade coat paired with a textured organza floral top and lamé shorts. Details range from beaded rosettes that adorn cardigans and dresses to delicate panels of pleated fabric on tops — in short, “Vera-isms,” according to the designer. “I love very strange details, like pleating and tucking and strange ways of creating ornamentation and mixtures of fabrics,” she said, explaining a “Vera-ism.”

While Collection can be more exaggerated, Lavender distills the trends and makes them more approachable to a younger clientele. Comparing Collection with Lavender, Wang drew an analogy with Prada and Miu Miu.

“I buy from both and I would like that to be the case for Lavender as well,” she said. “I would like women to feel that they can raid both lines. Certainly in the fabrics and certain fits, Collection will be far more experimental and forward, which it has to be to stay alive. Lavender benefits from all the development we do for the Collection.”

Lavender is available in about 300 doors, including Bergdorf Goodman, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Harvey Nichols in London, Lane Crawford and Joyce in Hong Kong and e-tailer Net-a-Porter.

According to Sokol, the collection, which was sold on the sixth floor at Bergdorf’s, is moving to the contemporary 5F department come this resort season, and she indicated there are similar conversations with other specialty stores to make such moves. In contemporary, Wang will come into an already crowded marketplace with limited remaining real estate. Wang has the benefit of an already established designer name, and a brand awareness that can only grow once her Very Vera by Vera Wang line launches at Kohl’s in fall 2007.

Wholesale prices of the Lavender line range from $85 to $175 for tops, $135 to $225 for jackets, $135 to $220 for skirts, $160 to $450 for dresses, and about $300 for coats. Sokol said that over the next three years, the potential for Lavender could reach $100 million at retail.

Wang and Sokol agreed the line’s nature lends itself to such extensions as accessories and fragrance.

“For me, Lavender was always something I had always wanted to do, because it’s very frustrating to make clothes and put so much into them, and then no one ever sees them, or they are so expensive it’s hard to sell them unless you have your own stores,” Wang said. “With Lavender, for the most part, it’s a younger client because of the price point. There isn’t the level of investment dressing that Collection can be. It’s a bit more whimsical, and it’s a bit easier.”

The company is also tinkering with the branding. Until now, the diffusion line was delineated from Collection with a purple-colored label. “We are now taking it to another level, also by giving it a stronger brand identity, which we hope to have in place by fall 2007,” said Sokol, declining to disclose more details.

As for Wang, she is already working on a retail concept that could incorporate the contemporary line as well as Collection and is looking for real estate that could accommodate the two.

“The store concept is coming,” the designer said. “How I am doing it is still up in the air. We would probably have a store that is half Collection and half Lavender, so that we can start bringing the overall vision together.”

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