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Project Preview in Las Vegas: Welcome to the Club

Citing exclusivity, Project vendors aim to offer trend-right, proprietary items.

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Sundek’s cotton shorts.

Robert Mitra

Diesel’s cotton shirt.

Diesel’s cotton shirt.

Thomas Iannaccone

Loomstate’s cotton shorts.

Loomstate’s cotton shorts.

Thomas Iannaccone

Appeared In
Special Issue
WWD Project Preview issue 08/27/2009

To aid buyers scouring Project in Las Vegas for the perfect items to fill their stores, show founder Sam Ben-Avraham is thinking like a retailer.

With about 800 brands, split nearly evenly between men’s and women’s, spread over a trio of halls spanning 120,000 square feet at the Sands Expo & Convention Center, Ben-Avraham is focusing on what is important to shopkeepers: exclusivity and trends.

“Right now, everyone in retail is trying to differentiate themselves from their neighbors and department stores,” he said.

Ben-Avraham should know. When he’s not presiding over Project, he serves as president of New York-based specialty store Atrium. That means he sees firsthand how every business is trying to survive in a protracted economic slowdown that has not only curtailed retailers’ budgets for both purchases and travel, but also forced buyers, when they are ready to place orders, to wait as long as possible before meeting manufacturers’ deadlines. And then the retailers often opt instead to write orders for merchandise that can be delivered within a couple of months.

To entice retailers to buy for spring, Project will unveil a section, dubbed Special Cut, in which 18 exhibitors have created special pieces available only to buyers attending the three-day show that kicks off Sept. 1. L.A.M.B., Gwen Stefani’s fashion label, whipped up a towering platform pump shrouded in creamy satin, while Ever attached a hoodie to a slim moto jacket for men, and Twelfth Street by Cynthia Vincent added edge to a tunic vest’s feminine poppy print with a big zipper.

“This is a test that we did, and I think we definitely want to take this to the next level,” Ben- Avraham said

Despite the sprawl and size of Project, several startups are using the expo as a launch pad for their new lines. Mike Lanes, an actor and drummer from Los Angeles, is taking a crack at the ultracompetitive women’s premium denim market with an eponymous jeans line wholesaling from $88 to $95. The Santa Monica, Calif.-based jewelry brand King Baby is branching into women’s apparel with Queen Baby, a line of T-shirts, Henleys, rompers and leather motorcycle jackets, all wholesaling from $25 to $600.Established companies also plan to unveil new offshoots.

AG Adriano Goldschmied, the South Gate, Calif.-based premium denim brand, will integrate khakis into its vintage-inspired AG -ed grouping, and Affliction, the mixed martial artscentric brand from Seal Beach, Calif., will aspire to better fashion via Affliction Black Premium, which aims to fill men’s spring wardrobes with Supima cotton T-shirts, leather motorcycle jackets and high-end jeans. Even a socially conscious brand like Apolis Activism hopes to maintain its momentum with hand-made leather belts, linen-cotton scarves and a new basics label called Standard Issue at Project.

 

“If you’re a focused, intelligent men’s line, your business is up,” said Apolis creative director Raan Parton, noting that sales at his privately held company have doubled from a year ago.

While Ben-Avraham pointed out that Project is not a denim show, the majority of the leading jeans makers will display their wares there. Genetic Denim softens a denim blend with hand-sanding and brushing to cut into comfortable sweats and hoodies. Among the innovations from Citizens of Humanity are distressed railroad-stripe denim; back pockets on jean jackets; bleached white denim, and a pliant fabric with 40 percent stretchability that is ideal for legging jeans.

Vintage looks remain in the forefront of denim trends. Vintage Laundry spices up its weathered washes with animal patches, and, two years after the subbrand AG-ed made its debut, AG Adriano Goldschmied nearly tripled the number of stockkeeping units for the vintage program. Buoyed by AG-ed’s popularity, AG Adriano Goldschmied saw its wholesale business surge more than 40 percent in the first half of this year.

“Even in tough times, we have to continue to innovate and provide customers a reason to buy,” said Sam Ku, design director for AG Adriano Goldschmied. “People are tighter with their money. Why would you buy something that you already have in your closet? It has to knock your socks off.”

In addition to creating eyecatching designs, it’s more important than ever to offer prices that align with retailers’ budgets. Isabel Lu, a year old contemporary label from Los Angeles, ensures that wholesale prices for its silk chiffon jackets enhanced with foil treatment and other romantic pieces range between $40 and $88 to retail for less than $200.

 

“Price points are the big issue these days,” said Sophia Kim, designer and co-owner of Isabel Lu, which is sold at Kitson, Diavolina and Nordstrom. “For the contemporary world, they really like the embellishment. They want more for their money.”

Even in accessories, which, along with shoes, comprise a third of Project’s exhibitors, designers stick to a certain threshold.

“For us, the magic [retail] price for handbags is under $500,” said Lisa Izad, owner of Tylie Malibu in Santa Monica. While the nine year-old brand has chipped away a little at its profit margins to keep prices reasonable, it also amped up the pizzazz — for instance, piling on neon piping and studs on its motorcycle-inspired collection, christened Runaway. “When we are designing, we try to figure out what gives you bang for your buck,” she said.

That lesson also was learned by Germany’s George Gina & Lucy, which entered the U.S. market in 2008, five years after being started in Europe, where it sells almost a million bags annually. It merged value and versatility in a new beach bag that can double as a shopping tote. Trimmed with leather, the woven nylon bag is the first from the company that doesn’t feature its signature lock. The move results in a cleaner look and lower price point.

“Our most important goal is to gain new stores and to show the customers we already have that we constantly surprise and come up with new designs,” said Marian Temmen, product manager for George Gina & Lucy. “We really want to push our brand.”

 

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