By  on August 20, 2012

Project has a new fashion mandate for its women’s business.

Under the leadership of a new chief executive officer who has spent years in the fashion business working at Vogue magazine and consulting for IMG, the semiannual trade expo is launching its three-day edition in Las Vegas today with the initiative to not only woo more contemporary companies but also to reach the retailers and shoppers who covet such brands.

Steered by Tom Florio, the former publisher of Vogue magazine who, six months ago, became ceo of Advanstar Fashion Group — which includes Project, WWDMAGIC, Sourcing at MAGIC, FN Platform, Pool and a slew of men’s shows — Project has set an objective to grow the number of contemporary collections this year. Organizers are also paying attention to Millennials, the 79 million consumers between the ages of 16 and 34, as WWDMAGIC is heading toward the direction of exhibitors and products catering to Baby Boomers, aka the Millennials’ parents.

“The Millennial customer is very different from a Baby Boomer,” Florio said. “They have an incredible reference point. They are digitally and mentally more savvy than the Boomers.”

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To stay in synch with the Millennials’ interests, Project is hosting an eclectic mix of events that lean heavily on technology. Partnering with W magazine, it’s presenting a poolside runway show styled by socialite-turned-designer Minnie Mortimer at the Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas hotel for tennis-inspired brand Boast on Tuesday.

The blogger project curated by Marcus Troy is returning to the show for the third time, placing more emphasis on women’s brands instead of the men’s and dual-gender companies that were highlighted in the past.

Trendspotting firm Stylesight is broadcasting online, in real time, the trends for next spring and summer.

Plus, Project is introducing a program that allows registered retailers to prescreen collections digitally several months before an upcoming expo starts, review look books after a show and reconnect with exhibitors. While Project is rolling out this program at the current show, it’ll go into effect during next February’s edition.

Moreover, while price has come to the forefront in the aftermath of the Great Recession, Project isn’t going down-market with low-price vendors. As Florio put it, the cost of a product is not the primary concern for Millennials.

“I think it’s about value and design and make [and] the quality of the clothing,” he said. “We need to find the innovative brands…that are serving the market.”

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There are more than 90 new women’s brands at Project — including Erin by Erin Fetherston and Jay Godfrey — that represent about a quarter of the 380 or so brands in the women’s section, Florio said. Moreover, he expects 657 new contemporary retailers to attend the show this week. Retailers, new and old, are arriving to a women’s side that has been renovated with feminine flourishes, such as flowers, furniture and draping in a pristine palette of white.

“The whole contemporary market is expanding significantly,” Florio said. “It seems to be replacing the designer area. With retailers, you see what is happening with these collaborations, like Neiman Marcus and Target. The retailers are looking for more product and more brands in this area.”

Project’s revamp heralds an advent and exodus of brands on the show floor at the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Convention Center. While J Brand is decamping to rival trade show ENK Vegas at the Wynn Hotel, Whitney Port is unveiling her new jewelry line called Bits & Bobs, young contemporary brand BB Dakota is presenting a new made-in-Los Angeles denim line under the Dakota Collective label, and Paper Denim & Cloth is hailing its relaunch with a focus on nondenim products.

Certainly, Paper Denim & Cloth is mirroring Project’s efforts to update its long-standing image as a destination for designer dungarees.

“We’re trying to move away from a ‘denim’ section,” said Sunni Spencer, vice president of sales at Project, who is bolstering Project’s fashion array with her prior experience as a buyer for Bergdorf Goodman. “The way retailers merchandise their floor is the way we set up our floor.”

On the show floor, novelty, coupled with quality and value, is the key to standing out, according to exhibitors. Color and pattern continue to create a lively tableau, although ice cream-inspired tints such as pastels and sorbets are expected to have more longevity on the market than glaring neon hues.

Black Sheep, the Irvine, Calif.-based contemporary clothing brand that was launched last spring with wholesale prices running from $24 for T-shirts to $200 for leather and suede jackets, hopes to catch the attention of buyers with large exaggerated buttons on basket-weave pants and a white Empire-waist minidress with a canary yellow lining that’s visible through a large eyelet flower appliqué.

Harlyn, the new contemporary brand created by Los Angeles’ Bizz Inc., which also produces junior line Ark & Co. and young contemporary label Aryn K., is presenting its debut collection of vintage-inspired silk basics with interesting colors and prints, like a shift dress that modifies an Art Deco pattern to resemble a Sixties-era kitchen. Wholesaling from $49 to $119, Harlyn is targeting 25- to 39-year-old women who shop at stores like Anthropologie, Bloomingdale’s and Intermix.

Dutch-based G-Star Raw aims to build its American women’s business with a good quality-to-price strategy. Its entry-level retail price for jeans is set at $140, but items tagged between $160 and $180 make up the core of its sales. Women’s currently contributes 35 percent of its U.S. business, a figure the company hopes to increase through targeting women’s-only retailers and offering colors such as yellow, pink, camel and orange to complement its indigo denim.

“We’re definitely going to bring a strong denim message [to Project], maybe a little stronger than we have in previous years,” said Stuart Millar, ceo of North America for G-Star Raw. “The biggest challenge in the market is keeping the consumer engaged. It has to be a balance in the consistency of the offer and newness.”

For AG Adriano Goldschmied, a combination of quality, design and a strong emotional tie to customers has driven business. Sam Ku, creative director for AG in South Gate, Calif., said sales grew 47 percent this year from 2011. Among the new offerings that AG is showing at Project is an eco-friendly collection cut from denim that blends cotton yarn with fiber spun from recycled plastic bottles. The colors for the cropped boyfriend jeans, shorts and jacket are based on the colors from those bottles: mint green from 7Up and Sprite, light blue from water bottles and cocoa brown from beer bottles. Retail prices are $158 to $198.

For T-shirts and other pieces that consumers view as a commodity, pricing is a sensitive issue. However, denim transcends price at AG — its sweet spot for jeans is between $165 and $225 retail.

“Denim — it’s such a personal choice,” Ku said. “It’s the one item people have an emotional tie to. Price doesn’t make a difference. That doesn’t mean we’ll charge $500 for jeans. [But] people will pay for better quality and design.”

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