By and  on September 14, 2007

PARIS — Even esoteric designers like Yohji Yamamoto are joining the contemporary stampede.

Yamamoto is launching his youngest, most affordable offering yet, called Coming Soon. The "supercasual" collection, licensed to Italian manu­facturer SINV SpA, is designed to propel the Japanese designer into the big-volume leagues. The partners, who signed a 10-year pact, expect that the women's and men's collection has the potential to generate wholesale volume of 200 million euros, or $276 million at current exchange, over the length of the contract.

Yamamoto's new line is the latest sign of a vibrant market for designer second collections — often positioned in the hot contemporary zone and aimed at aspirational customers. During the past year, the likes of John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Vera Wang and Daryl Kerrigan all have entered the fray with lower-priced collections. Meanwhile, Giorgio Armani, Chloé and Dolce & Gabbana all have fine-tuned or repositioned their second brands in recent years, seeking to kick-start growth and access a broader base of consumers. And brands such as Quiksilver, Imitation of Christ and Hollywould are jumping into the contemporary market, which has been a popular category at retail from Dallas to Dubai.

Designer firms — recently focused on ultraexpensive, exclusive products in a booming luxury climate — are now keen to reach younger customers, too, and are less reticent about assigning licenses for the sportswear category. For example, Galliano partnered with IT Holding's Ittierre unit, a pioneer in launching designer jeans and younger lines in the early Nineties, while McQueen signed up with SINV, which also produces and distributes See by Chloé, Moschino Jeans and Red Valentino.

"See by Chloé will be a major priority for us in the coming years," Ralph Toledano, chairman and chief executive officer of Chloé, said Thursday. "In the last two years, the See by Chloé growth has been really impressive."

Toledano said he would soon extend the See by Chloé brand into new categories, unveiling an in-house leather goods line in January and a footwear collection in July. "Sunglasses will probably be the next project," he added.

Massimo Braglia, ceo of privately owned SINV, said the company shifted its focus in recent years to fashion-driven collections, a move which drove 2006 revenues up 44.5 percent to 164 million euros, or $226.3 million. Sales are projected to climb to 175 million euros, or $241.5 million, this year.But the fact that Yamamoto and SINV decided not to use the designer's name on the Coming Soon label suggests that it is creative content, and not only the status factor of a label, that is driving the second-line business today. "We believe that the design should be more than enough," Braglia said.

Yamamoto's first Coming Soon collection, with some 350 references and an emphasis on jeans and knitwear, will be unveiled to the trade in January during men's fashion week in Milan.

"It should be quite an affordable line. It's young and contemporary," Braglia said. "I think a line like this could have a really great potential."

In an interview, Keizo Tamoto, Yamamoto's executive vice president and ceo, said Coming Soon is targeted at young consumers looking to trade up from streetwear to "something with a little bit of elegance, a more simple way of dressing."

Tamoto allowed that Yamamoto's signature collection, mostly tailored, is often so singular that, "if you buy a Yohji jacket, you need Yohji pants and maybe you need also a Yohji shirt and shoes. It's a very dangerous line." By contrast, Coming Soon is described as a mix-and-match collection of easy-to-wear styles, from blouson jackets to T-shirts and accessories.

The partners said the new line could be sold in as many as 800 doors in Europe, mostly independent specialty stores, which compares with about 250 for Y's, Yamamoto's main sportswear collection. In America, Braglia is gunning for about 100 select department stores and specialty retailers over three years. Yohji Yamamoto Inc. will handle Japanese distribution.

Prices have yet to be finalized, but Tamoto said most jeans would retail from 150 euros, or $207, to 230 euros, or $317, with knitwear averaging from 120 euros, or $165.60, to 200 euros, or $276. T-shirts will start at about 70 euros, or $96.60.

Over the past five years, Yamamoto has been broadening the reach of his brand with new apparel lines and product categories, including his Y-3 sportswear collection with Adidas, his luggage and accessories line with Mandarina Duck and his fine jewelry with Mikimoto.

Yamamoto also has been expanding his retail network, with his largest store in the world slated to open later this month in Antwerp, Belgium, showcasing his signature line, the Y's range, fine jewelry and Limi Feu, the collection of his daughter, who is showing her spring collection during Paris Fashion Week. Next up is a unit on Gansevoort Street in New York's Meatpacking District, slated to open in January, followed by a three-level unit on Rue Cambon in Paris in March.Tamoto noted that sales of Yohji Yamamoto and Y's in Japan have remained unchanged for the last few years, at around 9 billion yen, or $77 million. International sales total about 4 billion yen, or $34 million, including retail and wholesale.

While Yamamoto, 63, might not be considered a top-of-mind designer for young people, SINV executives said they were attracted by his international design credibility and the appeal of Japan's anything-goes, youth-driven fashion culture.

And the Y-3 project underscored Yamamoto's keen instincts, foreshadowing tightening links between fashion and sport, Braglia said. "He understood first the potential of shoes and now how sport and fashion could be mixed together," he said.

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