Women are definitely buying clothes to go out again, and contemporary firms are benefiting.
Brands are seeing sizable increases in the second half, opening brick-and-mortar stores while growing their e-commerce businesses, signing collaborations for new product offerings, growing internationally and adding new categories to the mix. While executives surveyed said the Delta variant is hanging over their heads and they are worried about things getting worse again, they are plowing ahead after several months of very strong business following a difficult 2020.
Dresses, blazers, denim and outerwear are among the categories driving brisk sales so far for fall. Occasion dressing is definitely having its moment as customers get back into the swing of things.
Here, a look at fall plans from four buzzy contemporary brands.
LoveShackFancy opened six locations during COVID-19 (two in California, two in Texas, one in Southampton, N.Y., and one on Madison Avenue in New York), and plans to open another six or so more in the next few months, including Coconut Grove in Miami, Charleston, N.C., Houston and Nashville, Tenn., according to Rebecca Hessel Cohen, founder and creative director.
She said the brand looks for stores that are in upscale neighborhoods with good school districts.
The company is continuing with several of its collaborations and has a new ski collaboration with Bogner that will be introduced in November. It is continuing its collaboration with Beach Riot for the second time, with a line coming out Sept. 9. It also recently launched a home collection consisting of bedding and wallpaper, and the swimwear, which it does in-house, has been doing well. One new category will be sunglasses, which are expected to be introduced next May or June. The company also is considering a footwear collaboration and eyeing a fragrance business.
Stacy Lillien, president, noted the brand saw a huge growth in its online business, which has been a big initiative during the pandemic. Overall, the brand looks to more than double its business this fall compared to a year ago.
The only category where it had to raise prices is cashmere sweaters, Lillien said. “The price of cashmere has significantly increased,” she said.
Hessel Cohen finds that young girls like to hang out in their neighborhood LoveShackFancy store, and the company is doing more trunk shows and activations to bring in new customers. It hosted a home garden event in the Hamptons and wrapped ice cream trucks for the Southampton opening. “We want LoveShackFancy to be your new girls’ hangout in your neighborhood. It’s like having a party for the local community,” she added.
The company does 30 percent of its wholesale business in Europe and is planning to expand that. It is looking to open a warehouse in Europe to have a bigger reach with its online e-commerce business. “A big priority is to reengage our international customer,” Hessel Cohen said. They expect to do more business with Europe and Asia and are still actively looking for the right store in London, which would be its first International freestanding store. The hope to open it by next summer.
Ramy Brook Sharp, founder and chief creative officer of Ramy Brook, said, “Business has been amazing. We’re doing incredibly well.” She said she’s having success in the brand’s store on Madison Avenue and the pop-up in Southampton. “Business is running nearly double compared to 2019,” Sharp said.
The brand is evolving in colors, design and categories. It launched denim and lounge and has shown increases in swim and cover-up collections. Another big opportunity is knitwear and sweaters, as well as the party occasion collection.
Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue asked the brand to develop an exclusive dressy collection to launch in November, which would be clothes a woman could wear as a guest to a wedding or bar mitzvah. “It’s the occasion wear that we skipped the whole year of COVID-19,” Sharp said. In addition to Saks and Bloomingdale’s, she has designed an occasion wear line for her stores and website. The lines will launch for holiday, but will continue throughout the year.
She added the pop-up in Southampton has been so successful the company is taking the concept to other cities. While it hasn’t signed any leases yet, it is interested in South Florida — Miami, Boca Raton and Palm Beach — as well as Aspen, Colo. She uses the pop-up as a test to see where the growth is for Ramy Brook. Over the past few years, the brand has invested in its website, and has put money in both the site and the marketing.
While Ramy Brook is not participating in Coterie this September, it did participate in Cabana in Miami where it opened business with new boutiques. She said the swim and cover-up business has become an all-year business. Overall, she said her wholesale business has been doing well. “Department stores are killing it and have increased their orders, and gave us more space on the floor. Saks gave us a big section on the fifth floor,” she said.
She noted that she’s always thinking about new categories, and that her perfume and candles are doing very well. “I have visions of things I want to do next, such as jewelry and shoes, everything to complete the outfit for a women,” Sharp said.
Cinq à Sept
“Our business has been sensational since April,” said Jane Siskin, founder of Cinq à Sept. “I’ve been really pleased to see how good the business has been. It’s been an anomaly. We are selling occasion and dresses, but right now our blazer business is on fire, which is really interesting. I don’t know if it’s being worn as a third piece with shorts and a strappy sandal. Cool girls are wearing it that way,” she said.
The five-year-old brand is experiencing good momentum. “I’m really conservative in the buy plan for the back half, my biggest problem right now is I don’t have any dresses to show the buyer. People bought it aggressively coming into the season having that big ‘What if?’ hanging over our head. We were pretty much sold out to the piece the month of July and August, and have a little bit of a better situation for September and the holiday season. Honestly, we were playing it very close to the vest, and from a supply chain standpoint, things are moving a little more slowly than I would like. The Italian fabrics and yarns are running late, leather is running late. There are a bunch of challenges from fabrics in Europe. The suppliers also took a conservative approach.
“Now with this Delta variant, we’re trying to take each day as it comes. We have enormous plans for spring based on a stellar performance this past spring. I feel like I’m caught in a canyon between two big mountains. One is great business that I just want to continue to build on, and the other is this scary moment we’re having with the resurgence of COVID-19. It’s a very interesting place to be right now,” she said.
Cinq à Sept will be having a spring presentation on Sept. 8 at a new restaurant called Saga, on the 65th floor of 70 Pine Street. It has a 360-degree terrace that wraps all around the building. “We’re excited about it. It’s not as exciting as it was two months before the Delta variant,” Siskin said.
Cinq à Sept has two parts: Cinq à Sept, the collection, and Cinq à Sept Tous Les Jours, the casual part. “That has been so strong for us the past six months that we’re really looking to blow that up for spring of next year,” she said. The denim is a polished denim that looks crisp. It’s all fashion bodies. “We’re trying to intensify on the things that have been successful. We are working so hard to intensify these categories, staying focused is our best bet,” she said.
Cinq à Sept is looking for its first retail location this spring. “The brand’s gotten to the point now where we have to stake our claim and tell our story the way we want it to be told,” she said, adding, “It will be an unexpected location or perhaps partnering with other categories, just thinking about things in a more creative way.”
“Department stores that we do business with have really stepped up their game and are working really hard to engage the customer. We do have to step up our game and give our customer a reason to shop in our store,” she said. “I don’t want to compete with them. I want to enhance each other.” She is looking at locations in New York City.
As for current business, the bestsellers have been occasion dresses, ranging from a silk charmeuse minidress to midi-cotton stripe dress, also a lot of casual dresses. Also selling well are the blazers. The core business is called the Khloe, which sells for $395 in crepe, and comes in black and ivory and seasonal core colors that have been “shockingly good.” She said the company’s embellished blazers, which it is known for, sold all through COVID-19, and sales have gotten better. She’s doing well with denim and fashion tops.
She said freight costs have gone way up, as well as raw materials. “We’ve really worked hard to maintain our price points,” she said.
She has another brand, Likely, which is occasion dresses. During COVID-19, it didn’t do well because no one was buying occasion dresses. “Now Likely is killing it,” she said. The dresses are at a lower price point than Cinq à Sept, averaging $248.
Cinq à Sept will open an international office in Paris in October, and she has hired someone to represent the company.
She said the biggest challenge right now “that feeling of uncertainty. Right now, Chinese New Year is very early next year.” It is Feb. 1, and factories shut down two weeks prior. Usually they shut down Jan. 30. “Having everything delivered for the first quarter is a challenge. We’re being faced with buying fabric and projecting these deliveries and that ‘what if’ complicates it. We’re always cautiously optimistic. We’re more cautiously optimistic.”
“We’re very fortunate that we have a very positive outlook despite the challenges that we’re obviously facing with the Delta variant. We are seeing a very strong business across the board, which started in the second quarter for us. At this point, we expect to be about 15 percent above our original plan for this year, which is a material lift from 2020. What’s most exciting is we’re at least 20 to 25 percent over 2019, which was a great year for us,” said Stephanie Unwin, president of Veronica Beard.
Unwin said the brand has been able to pivot to the customer’s new lifestyle. “It took about six months to get there because of the development cycle. We were racing around trying to make it happen and it paid off. It’s twofold. Our core ready-to-wear business has a more casual element to it. We also leaned into dresses, which has been an important classification and we are finding our customer is coming back for wear-to-work, which has always been a strength for us with our jacket as a hero piece to the collection,” Unwin said.
Additionally, Veronica Beard launched jeans a few seasons ago and has developed a following for its denim, T-shirts and casual knits. She said they are a “top three” denim brand for its partners. The denim jeans average around $225. She wanted it to account for 25 percent of its business this year, and it’s actually 28 percent.
Veronica Swanson Beard, cofounder, said the company took the opportunity during COVID-19 to open more stores. It opened six stores in the past year (Nantucket, Greenwich, Conn., Georgetown, Boston, Chicago and Southampton), and has two openings planned for fall, in Atlanta and Palm Beach.
“As our e-commerce has been flourishing, we definitely saw foot traffic coming back. There’s nothing like trying something on in the dressing room and really understanding what you’re buying. We’re very positive about retail,” said Swanson Beard.
She noted that the company’s footwear, done in partnership with Caleres, has done really well for them.
Veronica Miele Beard, the other cofounder, added, “We built our brand on helping our woman get ready. We were able to adapt in the pandemic. What we all noticed was you felt better when you got up and got dressed.” She said they had their moment of selling sweatpants and had their moment of not selling sweatpants anymore. “The mentality has changed. This fall is about getting back to your life. Women who are moving and shaking and make it happen in their own lives,” she said.
She said the dickey jacket, which put the brand on the map, still lives. “Outerwear was huge during COVID-19 since we were all living outside,” she added.
This week, the company rebranded its core collection to “Cult Classics,” and is relaunching its signature pieces with new campaign imagery.
Asked if prices overall are going up for fall, Unwin said, “We have maintained them, which is not to say there isn’t pressure on margins. Unfortunately, we’re subject to all the same challenges that other brands and businesses are facing.”
She said shipping costs are four times higher. It used to be $2 or $2.50 a garment, now it’s $10 a garment. “Boat options are very difficult because ports are full,” she said. “There’s a lot more demand than supply. There are real COVID-19 challenges, whether in Vietnam or India, or Peru, we’ve had issues with all our manufacturers. Our production team is maneuvering. We’ve always manufactured in New York and we’re continuing to do so.”
She said some things that might have been made overseas are now moving to New York. The cost of manufacturing in New York is higher. “We’re maneuvering but not at the expense of our customer. We have maintained prices,” she said. “There is margin pressure, the good news is the construct of our business, 17 retail stores by the end of this year, and we have a strong e-commerce business and strong retail partners. The change in the channel mix has enabled us to be more direct-to-consumer than what was once a primarily wholesale business. It’s now almost an even split.” Two years ago, it would have been high-60s wholesale.
She said COVID-19 aside, they have invested in their direct-to-consumer business. “We have really bolstered our team and invested heavily in our tech infrastructure — data warehouses, mobile experiences, re-platforming digital marketing partners and platform. International shipping is something we’re launching for fall. We’ve overhauled all of our e-comm imagery, and working on the merger of the online and offline experience,” Unwin said.
Turning to the biggest challenges now, Unwin said, “One of the biggest things for us over the next four months and over the last 12 is we’ve been right-sizing our inventory. We had a glut of inventory coming out of 2020 because of all the cancellations and the issues we had with department stores and their scaling back. Then we came into spring, and were very cautious with inventory and we didn’t have enough inventory. We could have had so much more. We’re really looking at our inventory position for fall and taking thoughtful risks on key styles. We’re revisiting the way we’re buying for our direct channels and also marketing. If we need to recut with the problems that we’re having with supply chains that turnaround time is a challenge for us. How do we get back into, and how do we adequately project our needs?” she said.
She said they recut for fall about four times. “We tried to jump on it really early. It does take us up to 12 weeks to turn something around.”
Veronica Beard is having a presentation on Sept. 9 during New York Fashion Week. It will be a smaller, more focused group of buyers and editors. The new campaign for this year is “Make It Happen.”