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VERNON, Calif. — Steering away from a lifestyle-centric image, Lucky Brand is moving toward a more real and relevant look with the introduction of new denim fits and an advertising campaign shot by Carter Smith.

This story first appeared in the June 8, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Seventeen months after chief executive officer David DeMattei joined the Liz Claiborne Inc.-owned unit, Lucky is tweaking what it realizes works best for the brand — and for sales.

“It’s about returning us to a best-in-denim company,” DeMattei said. “We focused [in the past] on the lifestyle aspects of the brand, starting with the bottom. Now we’re really focusing on denim.”

In other words, Michael Griffin, executive vice president and product director at Lucky, said, “We’re a denim brand that sells amazing fashion, not a fashion brand that sells amazing denim. The denim sells the fashion.”

The heightened emphasis on denim follows the previously announced expansion of a higher-priced, artisan-inspired line called Lucky Legend for fall.

In the new ads photographed by Smith, who is working with the brand for the first time, Lucky tries to live up to its tag line: “A New Movement in Denim.”

Models Tasha Tilberg, Hanne Gaby and Noah Mills are lounging in a sparse white room infused with warm light. Pairing lace tops and chambray shirts with clean, dark denim, they make sure to give an unobstructed view of the jeans, from the waist to the hem. The images will be published in September and October issues of Vanity Fair, Glamour, InStyle and Elle, among other magazines.

“We were covering everything before,” said Patrick Wade, Lucky’s executive vice president and creative director, who oversees marketing and visual merchandising.

While the previous ads were what he dubbed “too costumey and not real enough,” he said the new campaign aims to be “more real, more sexy, more how people dressed.”

One thing Lucky learned was that its customers are older and want a curvier fit. To appeal to those consumers, the designers created four new fits — a skinny with a 12-inch leg opening, a boot, a flare and a higher-rise boot — out of superstretchy denim integrating as much as 29 percent stretch.

Both the new fits and the ad campaign are aimed at getting Lucky back onto the growth track after a tough 18 months. Lucky’s sales fell 8.9 percent to $83.5 million in the first quarter ended April 2 from a year ago, due to decreases in its wholesale operations and outlet business. In 2010, Lucky Brands’ net sales declined 12 percent to $386.9 million compared with 2009.

Still, in an earnings conference call with analysts on April 27, Liz Claiborne ceo William M. McComb expressed confidence in reviving Lucky’s jeans market.

“The denim business is back to hitting very high metrics that we haven’t seen in three and four years, in terms of weekly dollar volume in women’s,” he said.

DeMattei, echoing McComb’s sentiments, said, “We’re starting to see momentum build. We’re seeing it in our traffic numbers and our sales numbers.”

In other developments, Lucky is relaunching handbags for fall and restarting the children’s business for holiday.

Designed by Allison Engel, who also oversees jewelry for Lucky, the handbag division will feature 40 new styles, ranging from a hobo bag accentuated with a laser-cut feather pattern and a shoulder bag pieced together from corduroy patches. Retail prices run from $100 to $198.

The children’s business, which stopped in late 2009, will be reintroduced in 10 of Lucky’s stores, as well as its catalogue and e-commerce. Rooted in denim, the children’s line incorporates jeans embroidered with flowers, patchwork Western shirts and Navajo-style ponchos. Prices range between $20 and $148 at retail.

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