Avril Lavigne Sings New Fashion Tune

Entertainer to sell rock-inspired line on Web site and in boutiques worldwide.

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LOS ANGELES — Avril Lavigne is getting ready for her solo act in fashion.

This story first appeared in the December 14, 2010 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Two years after launching her juniors line Abbey Dawn exclusively at Kohl’s, the entertainer is branching out on her own to sell her rock-inspired tops for men and women directly to customers on the Web and in boutiques worldwide.

Working with San Diego-based manufacturer Blank Generation, Lavigne is launching Abbey Dawn’s e-commerce site on Friday, a month before she begins wholesaling to shops such as Trash and Vaudeville in New York and the 14-store Blue Banana chain in the U.K. By introducing monthly mini collections of new product throughout next year, Lavigne is ramping up for the spring 2012 debut of a full-fledged juniors fashion line with sportswear, denim, swimsuits, dresses, loungewear, activewear, shoes and handbags.

“[Kohl’s] was a great way to start my line and a great home for it for two-and-a-half years,” said Lavigne, 26, curled up on a purple velvet couch before practice with her band in a San Fernando Valley recording studio. “The thing with me is…I really want my clothes to be available internationally.”

Abbey Dawn — the nickname Lavigne’s father gave her as a youngster — is overturning the established business model that ties a teen star to a single retailer. When Lavigne partnered with Kohl’s, she competed against Selena Gomez’s label, Dream Out Loud, at Kmart as well as Miley Cyrus’ collaboration with Max Azria at Wal-Mart.

With three albums that have topped more than 11 million in total sales, and newly divorced from rocker Deryck Whibley, Lavigne is raising her showbiz profile and trying to take control of her business, upping the price and quality of her products to appeal to an older customer. Although she loses the reach of Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based Kohl’s 1,089 stores in 49 states and misses out on the retailer’s marketing campaigns, the performer is using her music career as the stage for starting a global business. Her fourth album, “Goodbye Lullaby,” will be released by RCA on March 8 and a new tour should have her hopping across the globe well through 2012.

“I’m designing it for me, really,” Lavigne said. “I learned a lot about myself with designing.…The stuff I was really excited about [for Kohl’s] did well. It gave me the confidence.…You don’t have to be perfect. It’s about having fun. It’s a lot of fun. It’s another way to be creative. It’s all the same. It comes from me.”

The fashion also comes from her music. Lavigne took the title of her first single, “What the Hell,” from her coming album and scrawled it all over T-shirts for the line. In the 3-D music video that Lavigne will premiere Jan. 11, she and her bandmates are decked out in the Ts while diving off a stage, driving a yellow cab and rummaging through a fictitious boutique called Abbey Dawn. Missing no opportunity to promote her fashion brand, Lavigne stocked the boutique in the video with her Ts, the pink skull hangtags fluttering in front of the camera.

Out of the limelight since releasing her last album three years ago, Lavigne didn’t make this year’s Forbes Celebrity 100, which ranks celebrities based on earnings, press mentions, Web buzz and other factors. Britney Spears is sixth on the 2010 list with $64 million in earnings, Taylor Swift is 12th with $45 million and Cyrus ranks 13th at $48 million. Like Lavigne, Gomez didn’t make this year’s list either.

Erika Maschmeyer, an analyst who covers Kohl’s for Robert W. Baird & Co. in Chicago, noted Abbey Dawn has been a niche label in the retailer’s juniors department. “It’s not something that is dramatically important to the overall business,” she said.

Kohl’s didn’t mention Abbey Dawn as one of its strong brands during the company’s earnings call last month. The labels that were highlighted for good performance were Simply Vera Vera Wang, Mudd, Food Network and LC Lauren Conrad, Maschmeyer said.

In January, Proactiv Solution tapped Lavigne to join Katy Perry and other pop stars to promote the acne remedy. Her first fragrance, Black Star, introduced by Procter & Gamble Prestige Products last year, won the 2010 Cosmetics Executive Women’s Award for best women’s scent in the mass market. Lavigne unveiled her second fragrance with P&G, called Forbidden Rose, this past summer. The third scent from P&G is slated to launch as soon as next August.

Travis Anderson, the co-founder of Blank Generation, said his goal is to build a collection that emphasizes good design. Lavigne collected the funky shoes from Blank Generation’s Iron Fist brand before she teamed up with the company.

“We’re trying to establish Abbey Dawn as a brand above and beyond Avril Lavigne the personality,” said Anderson, estimating that first-year sales will be less than $20 million. “I’d like to establish it as a formidable streetwear line than a flash-in-the-pan celebrity line that goes in one retailer and out the other.”

Retail prices for Abbey Dawn run from $17.50 for the “What the Hell” T-shirt to $60 for a limited edition zip-up fleece jacket featuring a flashy screen-print collage mixing a lime green ghetto blaster and zebra stripes and an oversize hood lined with neon yellow leopard spots. The line will cost 15 to 20 percent more than what it sold for at Kohl’s, reflecting the outlay for new materials such as heavier fleece and details like black satin ribbons for the hangtags.

Also new to Abbey Dawn is a men’s section, which will cover basics, including Ts, hoodies and caps in a dark palette of gray, black, white and red, which is Lavigne’s favored hue for men.

“I think about my brother [Matt] and I think about my band,” Lavigne said. “It’s for the guy who’s into brands like Metal Mulisha — just edgier.”

Women’s fashion will make up the majority of Abbey Dawn. New items on the drawing board include high heels plastered in a skull print, studded handbags lined in zebra print and dresses inspired by pin-up girls. The full line will make its debut next June at the Bread & Butter trade show in Berlin. Retail prices will range from $20 to $40 for loungewear and activewear; $20 to $60 for wallets and handbags; $25 to $60 for dresses, skirts and pants; $30 to $50 for bikini sets; $30 to $80 for sneakers, platform heels and wedges, and $40 to $70 for denim. Anderson hopes to land Abbey Dawn in major department stores.

Lavigne, dressed in a black slouchy T from Abbey Dawn, leggings and Dr. Martens boots, provides strong clues on how the line will shape up. Her long blonde locks have been dipped in pink and green dye. The metallic skulls etched onto her black nails sparkle under the studio’s dim lights.

Since Lavigne broke out on the U.S. scene eight years ago as the anti-Britney Spears with kohl-rimmed eyes, flat-ironed hair, baggy pants and quirky ties, her personal style has evolved. “I wear more stuff now like tights [and] leggings,” she said, adding: “Dresses a little more; the T-shirts that hang off the shoulder. I guess you can say a little older.”

“The inspiration for my line comes from my personal style,” she said. “I’m designing the things I want.…I’m not a huge fan of floral. I like stripes and plaid and polka dots and allover prints of skulls.

“[Abbey Dawn’s] a brand that’s very bold and colorful.…It’s for that girl who has an edge and has fun expressing herself through fashion,” Lavigne said.

For the first year of wholesaling, Abbey Dawn is sticking with a limited group of boutiques for its graphic Ts, tanks, sweatshirts and hoodies. The e-commerce site will ship to more than 50 countries, including Japan, China, Australia, Canada, Germany, Italy and the U.K.

The Web is the preferred way of communication and commerce for Lavigne’s fans. Her Facebook page counts some 10.5 million fans, and, according to Nielsen SoundScan, she sold more than 6.1 million digital songs from her third album, “The Best Damn Thing.” Leading up to the new year, Lavigne will release the single “What the Hell” on iTunes on Dec. 31, the same day she’ll perform it on “Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve” on ABC.

“All my fans are online,” Lavigne said.

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