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NEW YORK — The better department will get to know the iconic Calvin Klein brand once again come fall.

Calvin Klein Inc., whose products bearing the Calvin Klein name generate sales of $4 billion a year at retail, has partnered with Kellwood Co. on the design and production of the Calvin Klein women’s better sportswear line, which will relaunch at department stores nationwide beginning with the fall collection.

“This line is entirely iconic Calvin,” said Kevin Carrigan, creative director of the new better collection as well as of ck Calvin Klein, the bridge line produced by G.A.V. Carrigan said he went through the designer’s archives for inspiration for the new better line. “The colors are all tonal and very much in line with the Calvin Klein that we all know.”

The fall collection will showcase the first result of Kellwood’s full control of the better sportswear collection after purchasing G.A.V.’s interest in the business in September. In the original joint venture agreement, Kellwood handled distribution, fabric purchasing, production, warehousing and the entire financial side of the Calvin Klein better sportswear collection, while G.A.V. was responsible for design, sales, marketing and preproduction.

G.A.V. continues to produce the ck Calvin Klein bridge line, in a U.S. licensing deal directly with CKI, a division of Phillips-Van Heusen.

The initial Calvin Klein better line, which began shipping to stores in February 2004, didn’t perform as well as expected. Having gotten off to a slow start, the line purposely had limited distribution to about 150 doors, including selected units of Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s West, Marshall Field’s and May Co.

According to Stephen L. Ruzow, president of Kellwood’s Calvin Klein division, the line was relaunched in order to modernize the misses’ fit, lower the price range and fine-tune the apparel offerings. He has been able to lower the prices by manufacturing the collection in factories in Shanghai, Hong Kong and South Korea (Kellwood previously used many more factories throughout Asia), reducing the number of deliveries and increasing the fabric buys per delivery. The Calvin Klein showroom remains at 360 Park Avenue South here.

Calvin Klein previously was the highest-priced line in the better area. While jackets used to retail for $250, that same jacket can now be found for about $198. The retail price range begins at $28 for a knit top and goes up to $1,500 for a leather shearling coat, which will only be available in the department store flagships.

This story first appeared in the March 1, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Ruzow would not give expectations for first-year sales volume. However, industry sources speculate the business could eventually generate $500 million in retail sales. Ruzow said the Calvin Klein line will triple its number of doors with the fall season, but declined to say how many doors it plans to sell. Its biggest account is Federated, and the line will be sold in Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s West, Macy’s East and Macy’s North.

The line indeed showcases some of Klein’s favorite silhouettes from seasons past. There’s an updated sheath dress in wool accented with a skinny leather belt, a charmeuse shirt dress, slouchy cardigans, military jackets, various knit tops, a selection of cotton and Lycra woven shirts and suiting separates, all in colors like deep gray, cream, olive, purple and, of course, black.

After months of consumer research, Carrigan said the company has found that what the shopper wanted from the better line was a lifestyle collection that represents what the Calvin Klein design aesthetic has always been about: classic basics.

“If something is trendy, it relates to Calvin, it’s not trendy for the sake of it,” said Chris Jackson, who joined Kellwood as vice president of design for Calvin Klein from his post at DKNY.

Tom Murry, CKI’s president and chief executive officer, said he is happy with the outcome of the line.

“When you launch a line there is always going to be a learning curve,” he said. “We’ve certainly learned a lot and I think that Kellwood has learned a lot. Kellwood has gotten this line on track and the combination of the talent working on it will ensure its success.”

While Kellwood used to ship eight collections per season, it has reduced that to three deliveries a season, one shipment per month. Each shipment will offer the best-selling pieces in new fabric offerings, to make the customer feel as though her purchase has not gone out of style. There is also a program of black items, which will be on a replenishment system.

Ruzow said the line used to be separated in the casual and career sections of department stores, so if a customer was looking for a suit, he or she would have to go to a different area. Research showed shoppers wanted to see the line merchandised together.

“We found that most women don’t have a career closet and a casual closet,” he said. “They have one closet, so that’s why they wanted to shop in one department.”

Taking another step toward easier shopping, Ruzow said the company has also redesigned its shop-in-shops, with new fixtures and more mannequins to show how a look can be put together. Jackson will also appear in a DVD for sales associates, to show them how they can guide their customers in mixing and matching the pieces.

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