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A Busy Cynthia Rowley Teams With Belk

The designer discusses her line for the regional department store, her plans for a Madison Avenue flagship and expansion into South Korea.

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NEW YORK — “Massification” isn’t something that worries Cynthia Rowley.

Rowley points out that 12 years ago, she launched Swell by Cynthia Rowley, a home line with a smattering of apparel, just for Target. It had a three-year run. “I did Target two years before Isaac Mizrahi,” said Rowley. “People said it would be the end of my career.”

In the small showroom in the back of the Cynthia Rowley boutique on Bleecker Street, there’s a vibrant array of her prints, dresses, sportswear outfits, footwear, artwork on the walls, a serving table with cups and saucers that bear her signature and colored wet suits that she launched with Roxy and then on her own in 2011. She’s most proud of those, being a “surfer girl” on the Montauk beaches.

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The 54-year-old contemporary designer plans to create additional swim and activewear, such as boardshorts and rash guards, and says she’s working on “a secret category — a riff off the wet suit,” although that’s just one of several Rowley rollouts in the works.

On tap: A four-level, 2,400-square-foot townhouse off Madison Avenue in the 70s for retailing and an art gallery that will open in November, provided the lease gets signed in the days ahead.

In October, Rowley heads to Japan to celebrate her 10th anniversary in business there, with two days of public appearances, a fashion show and a dinner party with Elle Japan. Rowley has about 50 in-store shops primarily in Isetan and Takashimaya, and a flagship in Aoyama through a partnership with Itochu Fashion Systems. “The Japanese are loyal to the brand and more experimental with the way they dress. There’s a free spirit across a broader demographic,” said Rowley.

In November, she’ll open a flagship in Seoul in partnership with Seokyung, and possibly two shops-in-shop, the locations of which are still to be determined. The company will also start selling on CJO, a Korean home shopping channel and Web site.

In the spring, Rowley will launch Cynthia Cynthia Rowley, an exclusive collection for Belk Inc., the regional department store based in Charlotte, N.C., and a retail neophyte in designer collaborations. Belk’s done only one other, with its Sophie Max by Leon Max collection.

“Even though Cynthia is not from the South, we like her style aesthetic. Color, print and florals are very dominant,” said Kathryn Bufano, Belk president and chief merchandising officer. “There’s a very feminine twist and dresses are a big piece of her collection.”

Cynthia Cynthia Rowley will be launched in March in 149 Belk doors, representing close to half the chain, and will include apparel, handbags, jewelry, scarves, accessories and small leather goods, priced $80 to $200. The collection will be displayed in 500- to 700-square-foot shops generally, though some could be as large as 2,000 square feet. Shoes will be added in fall 2013.

“I am designing every single piece,” Rowley said, while the products will be manufactured through Li & Fung.

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Print Edition by Cynthia Rowley, a separate collection based on runway prints and set at a slightly lower price point, initially launched at Cynthia Rowley boutiques and 150 Macy’s doors, and will be available at retailers including The Bay and Lord & Taylor beginning in the spring. DreamPop by Cynthia R., a collection of clothing and accessories for girls ages eight to 12, was launched this fall exclusively at 560 J.C. Penney doors, with accessories to be added in 2013.

Rowley’s wet suits have been rolled out as a separate assortment to retailers such as Kirna Zabête, Shopbop, Moda Operandi and Saturday Surf.  She also has licenses for eyewear with B. Robinson, hosiery with United Legwear, shoes, home decor with Michael Miller, Band-Aids with Johnson & Johnson and sewing patterns and trims with Simplicity. Shoes and handbags are produced in-house. A digital marketing and social media strategy was developed about seven months ago in conjunction with the relaunch of their Web site.

The Cynthia Rowley business is expected to be in excess of $100 million in 2013, with 60 percent of the revenues in licensing, 25 percent in wholesaling and 15 percent via retailing, according to Peter Arnold, who has been Rowley’s president for six years.

“We are not just slapping our name on things,” said Arnold. “We are doing it deliberately. There is a strategy and always a reason why we do something new. Either Cynthia wants to be first or believes there’s room for good design.”

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