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Best & Co. Looks to Expand Scope, Maintain Tradition

With new collections planned, a wholesale rollout on the horizon and designer partnerships with Peter Som and Shoshanna, Best & Co. is heading into its next...

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With new collections planned, a wholesale rollout on the horizon and designer partnerships with Peter Som and Shoshanna, Best & Co. is heading into its next phase.

It’s been six months since FAO Schwartz acquired the 130-year-old luxury children’s brand and growth plans are under way. Catherine Moellering, president and chief executive officer at Best & Co., said they will be ready to wholesale the line starting with the spring 2009 season. To help prepare for the move, the company has just secured a new 25,000-square-foot warehouse in Clifton, N.J.

This space is significantly larger than the 1,700-square-foot warehouse the company was operating in Greenwich, Conn. This jump into wholesale will be a first for the brand, which has been selling exclusively in its own 4,800-square-foot freestanding store in Greenwich, as well as in its own shop on the top floor at Bergdorf Goodman.

“This gives us a chance to broaden our reach and look at new markets,” said Moellering. “But this will be done without taking it too far. We will still remain true to our heritage as an American luxury brand.”

In addition, Moellering said she is beginning to scout locations for more store openings, possibly first landing on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. She hopes to start opening more stores within the next 18 months.

Susie Hilfiger, who relaunched Best & Co. in 1997 and designed the namesake collection, sold the business to FAO Schwartz and is creative director.

To help build even more buzz, Best & Co. will partner with two designers — Peter Som, who will create a line of girls’, boys’ and infant apparel, and Shoshanna, who will create girls’ and boys’ swimsuits. Those collections will hit stores in October.

“I’m a new godfather to my friend’s baby girl, so babies have been on my mind,” Som said. “My line for Best & Co. will consist of chic mini-me outfits and signature styles of mine, which I will shrink down for girls’, boys’ and infants. Best & Co. is known for having the best quality and style, so I’m really happy to be partnering with such a great American luxury brand.”

Moellering said that while some pieces will retail at higher price points than some of their branded items, nothing will retail over $600. Prices are still being worked out for both collaborative lines.

“Peter is a master at creating beautiful clothes, so we thought he would be a great young American designer for us to align ourselves with,” she said.

Shoshanna Lonstein Gruss, who has a three-year-old daughter, Sienna, said she was flattered when Best & Co. approached her to do swimwear. This line will also mark the first time she is doing swim for boys’.

“As for boys’, it took some convincing on their part, but I’m now happy to be doing it,” she said. “This is a dream partnership since I love the brand and already buy it for my own daughter.”

Lonstein Gruss said her collection will consist of signature pieces such as with the blue-and-red gingham printed bikinis, sail boat-printed one-pieces and swim trunks. She also plans to make adult versions of the swimsuits, but those will only be available when she does trunk shows.

Before all of this happens in the fall, the first order of business for the firm is the launch of a layette collection, which will hit at retail in August. The line, which features cashmere sweaters, onesies and blankets as well as pima cotton onesies and accessories, will retail from $18 to $248 and is the largest collection of layette that the brand has ever produced. The collection, explained Moellering, was created paying close attention to vintage layette styles from the brand — using details such as signature pearl buttons, proper collars for boys’ and girls’ and the signature cream, pink and blue colors.

“Women used to sew their layette pieces at home for their babies,” she said. “We wanted the line to have that homemade feeling, but with the ease of modern fabrics.”

The cashmere, she said, is hand washable, which “makes it better for the environment, better for the baby and easier for the nanny.”

As part of the launch of layette, the company will partner with high-end stationary brand Mrs. John L. Strong, who will create a collection of Mrs. John L. Strong for Best & Co. stationary. The stationary will include birth announcements, nursery notes and play date invitations using Best & Co.’s signature layette colors and icons — a bunny for girls and a squirrel for boys, and a unisex Scottie dog.

The company has also begun to create a baby registry online at bestandcompany.com, which will be ready in August. The registry will have new, easy-to-navigate features and elements not seen in other registries.

Moellering said they have worked out a system on the site that will give Best & Co. staff the ability to find out the sex of the baby by contacting the doctor even before the child is born. This way, a woman can keep the sex a secret if she wants to, but her registry will preselect pink for a girl and blue for a boy. In addition, Best & Co. will be able to hold on to the merchandise until after the baby is born, when they will send it directly to the baby’s home. The registry will also offer advice, suggesting how many things a new baby will need, to make it easier for a new mom to pick items for her registry.

“Best and Co. continues to be the premier destination for high-quality, beautifully designed children’s apparel,” said Jim Gold, president and ceo at Bergdorf Goodman. “We are very excited about our partnership and the future of the business.”

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