From launching a single leather jacket 21 years ago, Aqua has grown into a “full lifestyle” label and Bloomingdale’s bestselling private brand.
“Aqua is about of-the-moment trends and always about the value,” said Denise Magid, executive vice president and general merchandise manager for ready-to-wear, center core, concessions and Bloomingdale’s Outlets. “We try to keep the price point extremely accessible. Different generations, Gen X, Gen Z, Millennials and Baby Boomers, are all shopping the brand. Every Bloomingdale’s store carries Aqua, and we also carry it digitally.”
Aqua offers dresses, sportswear, fashion accessories, footwear, jewelry, active, swim, sleepwear and girls. It began to expand in 2005, when select fashion accessories were introduced. Not long after, girls, jewelry, handbags and footwear were added. Swim and activewear were added in 2018.
“We will be introducing outerwear in a more meaningful way for the fourth quarter, and will be introducing a small group intimate apparel this month. We have even introduced a little bit of pet products,” Magid said.
At Kohl’s, Macy’s and Nordstrom private brands are in many cases in flux, getting revamped, repositioned and updated in efforts to resonate better with shoppers. At Aqua, however, no one is messing with the brand identity or image, and the performance has been solid. Bloomingdale’s won’t disclose what Aqua generates in annual sales volume, though it’s believed to be in the $50 million to $60 million range.
“Aqua is really what we consider a trend-driven, accessible contemporary brand,” Magid said. “It’s diverse in terms of the customer it attracts. It’s fun, of-the-moment, for the person who is really fashion-minded.
“There are items under $100. It’s strong value that allows customers to access some of the most exciting trends of the season. We do have a range, but you can get an incredible dress for $88 to $118. I’d say the sweet spot in dresses is $98. Dresses are a very significant part of the business.” More expensive gowns range in price from $248 to $328. Most of the rtwr is displayed in Bloomingdale’s sportswear department, while the higher-priced dresses and gowns are displayed in the eveningwear department.
Activewear ranges from $38 to $88; cashmere, $188 to $218; sleepwear, $88 to $98; swim, $48 to $98; shoes, $88 to $228; handbags, $58 to $128; girls, $42 to $98.
As far as designing, developing and marketing the Aqua brand, “It’s a Herculean effort,” Magid said. “We have a talented, dedicated Aqua team in creative direction, design and merchandising. But many people in our organization touch Aqua in different capacities. Fashion directors play a role with trend influence and a lot of our merchant teams in different product categories are involved as well. Aqua is a very important, significant piece of our business within women’s ready-to-wear and accessories.”
Magid said many customers visit Bloomingdale’s just to shop Aqua. “I don’t necessarily know that the customer sees it as a private brand, and we don’t present it as such. We treat it as a brand and it stands on its own. It fills a void in our assortment,” being an opening price point contemporary label, sold only at Bloomingdale’s, Magid said.
“It’s part of our DNA. It’s a differentiator. We are happy with its success. Aqua been growing exponentially and there is so much more runway with the categories we are introducing.”
One major growth strategy entails collaborations with third parties. “With Aqua we do all these limited-edition capsule collections partnering with cultural figures and top brands,” Magid said. Aqua has collaborated with Pendleton, Scout the City, Mary Katrantzou, Zendaya, Helen Owen, Mary Lawless Lee, Yigal Azrouël, Maddie & Tae, Zadig & Voltaire and Madeleine Thompson.
Earlier this year, Aqua teamed with Studio 189, founded by designer Abrima Erwiah and actress and activist Rosario Dawson, on a limited-edition collection. That collection features colorful, hand-dyed prints and styles produced by Studio 189 artisans in Ghana, including dresses, tops, skirts and swimwear — all designed to be mixed and matched.
On Sept. 6, an Aqua x Maeve Reilly collection launched at Bloomingdale’s. The 33-piece collection offers trendy fall, fashion-forward, mix-and-match pieces in colorful tweed prints and satin, including dresses, jackets, coats, tops, bottoms, sets, a catsuit, shoes, handbags and accessories. Sexy, feminine accents such as mesh, corsets and feathers are juxtaposed with structured blazers and tailored wide leg trousers. Reilly put her spin on Aqua’s longstanding line of tweed blazers and suiting separates, with a selection of bold tweed pieces in bright magenta and rich kelly green, which Bloomingdale’s pegs as two of the season’s hottest colors. Reilly’s clients include music stars, runway models, pop stars and celebrities, among them Megan Fox, Hailey Bieber, Ciara, La La Anthony, The Chainsmokers and Lori Harvey.
“Maeve’s special capsule has a lot of ‘get-ready-for-fun’ fashion with a night out flair, in conjunction with our 150th celebration,” Magid said.
“This collaboration is so exciting for me because I actually worked at Bloomingdale’s when I was 19,” Reilly said. “My inspiration was to create a collection full of staples that has something for everyone who wants to feel strong, feminine and sexy in their own skin. And because I am a stylist, I was conscious of creating super wearable pieces that can be styled in so many different ways.”
Other private brands designed, developed and sold at Bloomingdale’s include C Cashmere for women’s cashmere, Hudson Park in home, Moon & Meadow costume jewelry, Sky bedding, and The Men’s Store for menswear, and Bloomingdales’s Now in handbags. “We have private brands, throughout all the categories,” except in cosmetics.
Also, Aqua is not offered in men’s. “It’s not on our radar yet. There is so much more runway in the women’s space,” Magid said. “We still have more opportunities in shoes, handbags and jewelry.”
Asked if there is any thought of developing additional private labels, Magid replied, “Our goals are always customer-focused, to find where the need is and where we can provide value for our customers. We always look at the white space in our mix, which Aqua addresses. It’s an incredibly important brand within our women’s business and among the largest apparel brands,” at Bloomingdale’s.