By  on July 7, 2009

First-rate service, customized designs and sharper prices are among the tactics ready-to-wear labels are putting into play in response to the economic downturn.

Stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue are requesting that designers offer a wider range of prices and more specialized styles, and designers are willing to oblige. Vera Wang, Lela Rose, J.Mendel, Maria Cornejo and others have repeatedly emphasized that now, more than ever, is the time to collaborate with retailers to determine exactly what they need, what is selling and what can be built upon.

In an effort to be more strategic, some designers, such as Cynthia Rowley and Unis’ Eunice Lee, have been quick to dive into social media. Others, like Oscar de la Renta, continue to build their international presence. A multiregional distribution partnership with the Dubai-based Retail Arabia International is de la Renta’s latest pursuit.

Fresh off the positive buzz generated by its guest designers, Lutz & Patmos has tapped Natalia Vodianova, who demonstrated her own creativity with a dress that can be worn in two drastically different ways.

A little ingenuity goes a long way in these sobering times. And many executives aren’t banking on an elastic rebound by the economy.

Haresh Tharani, chief executive officer of Tharanco Group, which houses labels such as Poleci and Doo.Ri, among others, is not counting on consumers to soon abandon their tightened spending patterns.

“This is the way things will be for the near future,” Tharani said. “Consumers only buy now when they absolutely need something. Shopping used to be a matter of passion. Now it’s a combination of passion and need. We are planning our production so that it is more buy now, wear now.”

Tharani expects the third quarter will be “a little difficult” because of consumer buying patterns, but fourth-quarter sales should be “pretty decent” with sales 3 to 5 percent higher than the same period last year. Overall, his company’s annual sales should be flat compared with 2008, but Tharani is still on the lookout for acquisitions in the luxury and accessories sectors.

Speaking about the men’s shows in Milan, Tom Murry, ceo of Calvin Klein Inc., was quoted as saying, “Our basic operating assumption is that the economy will remain this way for the next five years, and any upturn will be a surprise gift.”

Executives are making adjustments. J.Mendel president Susan Sokol said the label’s distribution has jumped to 60 stores from 19 by offering a broader-priced collection that includes more daywear, a new resort line, showing the collection during Paris Fashion Week, championing the brand with Bergdorf Goodman and collaborating with Subversive Jewelry’s Justin Giunta, among other things. In addition, a J.Mendel boutique is to launch this month at Harrods, and the resort collection is being sold in Milan during the next two weeks.

“Gilles [Mendel] very much wants to make women feel beautiful in his clothes,” Sokol said ofthe label’s designer. “In these difficult times, that philosophy is even more valued than before.”

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