By  on February 11, 2009

With all categories of Nine West united under a single creative director for the first time, the $1 billion brand is hoping to double its sportswear business over the next 18 months, even viewing the economy as an opportunity for growth.

Creative director Fred Allard, who returned to Nine West as creative director of accessories and footwear in November 2006 and added oversight of sportswear last summer, is striving to translate fast-fashion from vertical retailers into the department store wholesale model, when Nine West sportswear relaunches for fall.

“Cheap can be really chic and cool — there are people trading down now,” said Allard, who succeeded Mark Mendelson as chief merchant of Nine West sportswear. “I walk the floor of department stores, and so many brands are targeting exactly the same thing — which is what we used to do. There’s a hole for fashion there.”

The French-born Allard started his career as Paris-based Stephane Kelian’s head designer at age 22. Eight years later, in 1993, he joined Nine West, where he worked until he returned to Europe in 2005 to lead the design at Castaner, a niche shoe company known for its espadrilles, before returning to Nine West two years ago. Allard said he brings that small, upscale designer perspective to the more mainstream Nine West.

“Today all the inspiration for big companies comes from small designers,” he said. “Our girl is forced to shop bigger brands for prices, but she’s more informed than ever and she wants the fashion from the small brands.”

Nine West parent company Jones Apparel Group Inc.’s size gives the brand an advantage in negotiating lower prices, Allard said, adding the brand further dropped prices 10 percent for fall to range from $30 to $65.

Nine West sportswear is currently in about 350 wholesale accounts, including Macy’s and Dillard’s, but the company projects it can be in twice that many doors by 2010. The company thinks sportswear offers one of its biggest areas of growth, though it does not break out the portion of volume apparel contributes to the brand, best known for its footwear.

The relaunched line has three sub-categories: foundation (key basic items), fashion core (the biggest part of the collection) and mega-fashion (like a satin jumpsuit for fall). The fall collection is full of feminine prints, knits cut in novel ways and core pieces in trendy cuts. More trend quotient is injected into a line a Jones spokeswoman admitted had fallen behind the customer.

But while the brand is striving to be more fast-fashion focused, the plan isn’t to make Nine West a contemporary label.

“Our customer understands the brand range of age and body type that Nine West footwear addresses,” said Susan Metzger, chief executive officer of the women’s wholesale sportswear division at Jones. “So it’s important to have a sportswear collection that can still address that broad range.”

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