By  on April 15, 2010

Men can now cinch up their ties while they’re sipping mint juleps during the Kentucky Derby.

As part of a newly launched marketing initiative surrounding the storied race, Churchill Downs Inc., which owns the Derby and its sister race, the Kentucky Oaks, is seeking partners for a high-end apparel license as well as other products to appeal to racing enthusiasts. One of the first initiatives in the program is a men’s necktie, designed and produced by the Washington-based Charles and Patrick. The tie, which retails for $93.50, is available in two patterns and four colors each, and is available on the Kentucky Derby Web site. There’s also a bow tie for $65.

“With the Kentucky Derby, it’s all about women with the great hats and sundresses,” said Brent Patrick Keuch, creative director of Charles and Patrick. “But what do the men have?”

The silk Derby ties are designed to be worn “multiple times,” Keuch said, not just on race day. “You can really wear them with anything,” he said.

Keuch said plans are to expand the offering next year to include a women’s silk clutch designed from the same tie fabrics, as well as printed silk scarves.

“We believe there’s an opportunity to grow our brand from an image and financial standpoint,” said Julie Koenig Loignon, vice president of brand development and marketing for the Kentucky Derby and Churchill Downs Inc. Although a significant portion of the company’s revenues comes from wagering, she said, Loignon believes licensed products, sponsorships and TV tie-ins can also provide a revenue stream. “There are a lot of women fans of horse racing, but we’re underserving that customer.”

Right now, the bulk of the Derby-themed merchandise is centered on event T-shirts, some outerwear and a few equine-style jackets and vests, as well as glasswear and other souvenirs.

To create a more lasting business, the company has developed an “icon mark” that will be used annually. In the past, the logo was different every year. “It was nice to change it,” said Casey Cook, vice president of brand development and licensing, “but it really dated it. We wanted something that was as stellar as the Masters mark.”

That mark may one day find its way onto luxury apparel. Cook said Churchill Downs is “actively looking for apparel partners” to produce a men’s and women’s Derby-inspired collection. “It would be very spring focused,” she said, “something you’d wear to the Derby, but it would also [encompass] the equine lifestyle, which has a very specific look.” The collection could also be used on fall goods, she said. “We would like a partner to focus on a year-round business.” Cook said, adding she envisions the Derby line being sold in high-end retailers.

In addition to apparel, Cook said she is looking for licensees in health and beauty aids, cosmetics, fragrances and jewelry.

The Kentucky Derby, which began in 1875 and is held on the first Saturday in May every year in Louisville, Ky., is the oldest continuously held sporting event in the country. “We’ve got one year on the Kennel Club,” Loignon said.

The Run for the Roses is “tradition based,” she said of the Derby, but has an aspirational component with its colorful fashions and hats. “We call it stylish indulgence,” she said, noting the race is a “real spectacle where you can watch 250,000 people get wild and frisky.”

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