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This story first appeared in the July 23, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
That was the prevailing message at The Collective and Blue, where vendors presented items designed to persuade stingy consumers into opening their wallets.
“We have bottomed out and I’m convinced of a rebound, but this is going to be an item-driven business,” said Nelson Suriel, business development manager for tailored clothing veteran Jack Victor. “It’s about giving retailers something they can sell.”
The old chestnut about “giving consumers a reason to buy” felt freshly relevant as vendors pushed their newest and most eye-catching garments.
Bag and accessories maker Moore & Giles took the mandate to stand out quite literally, ditching the customary white booth for a sparkling 1973 Airstream trailer, which glinted under fluorescent lights at Pier 94.
“If there was a year to do something different, it’s this year,” said creative head Heather Dillard of the Moore & Giles’ sleek mobile booth.
The American manufacturer had new products to dangle in front of retailers, too: an inaugural range of belts.
Classification players, generally known for making conservative styles, also seemed more willing to take risks with their product.
Tailored clothing vendors emphasized sport coats. Peerless Clothing presented a strong range of sportswear-inspired cotton and metal jackets as well as a military-esque cotton and nylon blazer with mesh lining.
“The message has been about soft coats, but we want to offer designed jackets that guys really want to wear,” said Jim Petrino, Peerless’ brand manager for DKNY.
The manufacturer’s Calvin Klein white label collection had a similar emphasis on wardrobe pieces like the nylon blazer with zipper pockets and throat clasp. Even the suits were designed with hanger appeal, as in the off-white cotton peak lapel that adorned the booth’s entrance.
Fanning consumer desire was another call out at Jack Victor, which, like Peerless, spotlighted special coats, including an evening-friendly black jacket with grosgrain tipping and the indigo jacket patch pocket and rust pick stitching. That brand also unveiled its slimmest suit body yet — the Y — in a bid for a more advanced customer.
Even classic outerwear maker Rainforest added noteworthy styles to its lineup, including a department store friendly version of the nylon blouson, which has permeated the contemporary market, and a seam-sealed, active-inspired lightweight parka. Both are significant departures for a company known for casual microfiber jackets.
But not everyone was feting new spring product. There were plenty of fall goods on hand for immediate purchase from brands looking to cater to inventory-averse retailers.
Denim brand Howe, in its debut at The Collective, was booking fall orders primarily. “The days of prebooking are over,” said national sales manager Matthew Meyers, who cited opening-price blazers and vintage graphic Ts as strong sellers. “We want to offer retailers something that has already been tested.”
Ditto for French Connection, which previewed its spring collection (think loose, frayed and paint-splattered sportswear inspired by artists) but booked fall goods such as double breast-pocket wovens and cropped wool jackets.
Overall, it was a show where specialists stood to capitalize. The tight offering of solid linen shirts and vintage print swim trunks at French brand Havacoa drew crowds, as did the relaxed madras shorts at Tailor Vintage and the simple but trend-right leather braided jewelry at Tateossian. “Traditional stores, which in the past said no to us, are giving us a try,” said managing director Robert Tateossian, who noted the show had been among the best for the brand.”
Blue, which hosted established premium brands like Converse by John Varvatos and newcomers like Incorporated by Operations, also tended to present more focused collections.
Theory, in developing its classification businesses, gave focus to its sportswear collection, which showed loose and layered pieces for the casually elegant man. Crushed cotton jackets, slub Ts, and airy knits made for a wardrobe for the urban beach bum. “We’ve been taking more risk with the product,” said senior account executive Alexa Geovanos, citing knee-skimming sweaters. “People have really been drawn to both color and novelty this season.”
Focus was also the watchword at Gant, which presented its most focused and legible collection of its contemporary label Rugger yet. The color-blocked striped knits, short-sleeve vintage polos, sun-bleached Ts and washed oxfords told a concise story of modern preppie Americana. Gant’s custom bicycle — the result of a recent collaboration — also was on display.
“This is one of the best shows we’ve had,” said Douglas Geller, Gant’s director of marketing. “Retailers seem like they want to get back to business and like that we are presenting a clear point of view.”
Geller reinforced what will likely be a guiding principle in retail for the months ahead: that consumers may be ready to be seduced by apparel again, but only the best vendors in each class will get the opportunity to do the courting.