By  on May 10, 2007

Vera Wang can't believe the prices.

"I say, 'Tell me how much that's going to cost?' And they say $60 for a dress," said the designer about her new line Simply Vera Vera Wang, an exclusive with Kohl's Department Stores. "Is that not amazing? I think it's so cool."

Simply Vera will be unveiled tonight at the Altman Building in New York, and it hits all of Kohl's nearly 1,000 doors in the first week of September in what will be the moderate department store's largest launch in its history.

The product delivers edgy fashion at the moderate level, with "Vera-isms" like tulle detailing, roses and ruched belts — "things that have become our signatures," in Wang's words — evident throughout the dresses, coats, silky tops, shoes and scarves. "I don't underestimate the client. There are tons of women out there who will like these things," Wang said. "More and more, anything is possible at that level."

A brocade car coat will retail for $138 and a silky dress goes for $128, while most of the line will sell for $30 to $70.

"She has incredibly high brand awareness and it all came down to women saying, 'I can't afford it,''' said Kevin Mansell, president of Kohl's, in August when the deal was announced.

While the line is item-driven to hit on Kohl's traditional core sellers — from polos to sweater coats — Wang said she put Simply Vera together as a collection.

"They let me do what I wanted, and then we went back and merchandised," Wang said. "This isn't St. Petersburg from January" — referring to the Russian inspiration in her fall 2007 ready-to-wear collection — "but it is conceived of as a collection."

The collaboration with Kohl's includes apparel, jewelry, shoes, hosiery, intimates, belts, handbags, home and, come the third delivery, eyewear. Simply Vera product — whether jewelry, shoes or bedding — will get prime real estate in each department within the stores, as Simply Vera is Kohl's highest-priced brand.

Before Simply Vera, Ralph Lauren's Chaps was the store's highest-priced line and biggest launch in its history. Wang, who does a contemporary Lavender line in addition to Collection, said she looks to Ralph Lauren and his model of segmentation as she enters the mass market."One of my mentors, Mr. Lauren, has always been able to mix high, low, medium and everything in between," Wang said. "It's important to delineate between the lines, but Ralph's vision never moves. He never compromises whatever price point he does. You can't ask this to be Collection, but you can still have design. If you do anything you do at any price point well, then you don't compromise your name at all."

Simply Vera will feature the "greatest hits" from Wang's Collection and Lavender lines, "when we're done and have totally moved on." With research and design work already done, the items can be made more economically for the Simply Vera line with fabrics that cost less than $15 a yard — rather than $150 a yard for Collection. Kohl's developed some fabrics at that price level to emulate fabrics Wang gave them.

"Once we've done it in Collection, we can't do it again there, nor can we do it in Lavender," Wang said. "When you do that much development and you have a very small rtw business and no one wants to see it again at that level after they have seen it once, it's such a waste it makes me sick. This line also allows us to do basic things that are simpler — great things, but they wouldn't be enough for the runway."

Unlike the Lavender label that is targeted at a contemporary customer, Simply Vera is "ageless" and "swings both ways," said the 58-year-old designer, adding that dressing her daughters, 13 and 16, and herself, was her inspiration. The fit is more forgiving than contemporary lines, and sizes range from 2 to 16, or small to extra-large.

Kohl's, the $1.1 billion moderate retailer, is using vendors — including, for apparel, Haim Dabah's Regatta Pacific Alliance — plus economies of scale, to allow Wang to create product at price points she cannot reach in her current lines. The designer's existing bridal, rtw, Lavender label and licenses generate wholesale sales of $225 million. Her fragrance, licensed to Coty Prestige Inc., does about another $120 million at retail, according to sources.

Her Collection line retails from $395 to $5,000 and is sold in 100 doors; her Lavender label ranges from $180 to $1,000 and is sold in 300 doors, and her bridal gowns sell in 100 doors and start at $2,500."We are the ones who steer the design, but there's a cast of hundreds working on this," including Wang's in-house team of about a half-dozen people, Kohl's in-house team dedicated to the Simply Vera line, and all of the vendors manufacturing the products, said Wang. "We don't have the resources and manpower. Kohl's is enabling me to do that."

Wang had long wanted to create a more accessibly priced line and, for two years, potential partners, including Liz Claiborne Inc. and Jones Apparel Group, courted Wang, until she signed with Kohl's in August.

Neither Kohl's nor Wang would disclose contract details or project volume for the lines, but industry sources estimated it could become a $500 million business and that Wang could get $100 million over the length of the contract, which Wang called "the beginning of a collection — not a guest appearance."

Wang is investing the money from the Kohl's deal into her retail business, in the U.S. and abroad, beginning with a Mercer Street store here scheduled to open in September, followed by a Los Angeles store and perhaps a Paris store, the latter likely with a partner.

When the Kohl's deal was announced, the collection was introduced as Very Vera by Vera Wang, which the designer called "a working title." Wang denied the change had to do with pending trademark litigation with VEW and VWK Licensing, which alleged that the Very Vera and Simply Vera marks infringe on the "Vera" trademark owned by Atlanta-based The Vera Co. Wang also dismissed charges made in press reports this week that her husband tried to intimidate representatives from the other Vera.

"There's been a big thing about the name from the beginning," Wang said. "There are many Veras in the world, and you would be surprised at how many of them want to design things. I can't change my name. On this line, my name is right there: Simply Vera by Vera Wang."

Wang will make cameo appearances in the advertising, which will include television commercials and print ads. Kohl's declined to comment on marketing dollars, but called Simply Vera "the largest launch in our history."Wang said she has been approached to do bridal on the mass level, though not by Kohl's, and although she wouldn't discount doing a bridge line or breaking into other segments going forward, she was focusing on her three existing segments in the near term.

"This is not just signing and walking away with the money," said Wang, who called her time commitment on Simply Vera huge. "The money allows me to invest back into the core company and enables me to build a platform in my own stores around the world. This is an incredible opportunity for me to move to a whole new platform of brand awareness and create a far more recognized name. Everyone eventually has to reach the public in order to survive."

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