SMALL STEPS FOR COAT MAKERS
Byline: Arthur Friedman / With contributions from Eric Wilson
NEW YORK — They may have been down, but they’re coming back.
After suffering through one of their worst two-year periods, outerwear firms are not exactly enjoying a blockbuster of a season. Still, the selling arc has a good six weeks to go, and vendors are pleased to see consumers once again buying jackets and coats.
Some executives point to pent-up demand for the uptick, while others claim the weather has been the key ingredient. Temperatures have been more seasonable this fall, after the extremely mild fall-winters of 1997-98 and 1998-99 brought coat sales to a halt.
Fabric and style development have become as important as brand building in outerwear, as basics have become laggards at retail. But having a recognizable name helps, and the big brands continue to take up most of the space in outerwear departments.
As for selling beyond the traditional department store, vendors report catalog business has been healthy, while some are starting to slowly get into e-commerce through their own sites or through e-tailers and said that will undoubtedly increase in the coming year.
At Herman Kay Bromley, this year saw a successful merging of two of the venerable coat houses and a solid fall retail performance, noted co-presidents Richard and Barry Kay.
The company now sports the Anne Klein and Albert Nipon brands in the upper echelon, better-priced Bromley brand and Jason Kole junior line, along with the moderate Herman Kay line.
“Anne Klein is our premier national brand, and with Kasper behind it now, the growth potential is great,” Richard Kay said. “We’ll be launching Anne Klein II for fall in conjunction with the sportswear launch. Albert Nipon is also growing beautifully and has great name recognition. With that said, Bromley has probably been our hottest division this year with its short, active wools, and Jason Kole is becoming an important presence in juniors.”
Barry Kay added that peacoats from various divisions have been a top look this year. Danny Fodiman, who heads the Albert Nipon unit, said there have been several hot bodies in wool this year in short and long lengths, while a Nipon Studio group of wool coats with fake fur collar and cuffs has been strong.
For Anne Klein, a selection of Italian wool and mohair blend tweed coats have been selling briskly. Richard Kay said he’s working on new wool fabric treatments for fall 2000. “Outerwear as a whole has been a lot stronger than last year, which was so tough because of the warm fall weather,” Barry Kay said. “This fall, we’ve had enough cold weather that even when we have a couple of warm days, the buying hasn’t dropped off too much.
“Based on the explosion of interest and business being conducted on the Web, it’s got to be important in the next few years,” Kay said. “I think outerwear is a good sell online. It’s visual and impulsive, and fit isn’t as much of an issue as it can be in other types of apparel. Our attitude is that we want to be wherever it is necessary to be to sell outerwear.”
The Kays feels this year will be the beginning of an up cycle in outerwear, which last peaked in fall-winter 1996-97 following the snowy winter of ’96.
At Amerex USA, fall retailing “has been excellent so far,” said Ira Ganger, president.
“Finally, there’s a strong coat season, even though the weather hasn’t been tremendous,” Ganger said. “The market is being driven by newness. In our Amerex divisions, berbers and boucles have been strong, as has nylon.
“In our fashion divisions — Mulberry Street, Misty Harbor and Jones New York Coats — satin and iridescents have done very well and Jones has sold a lot of velvet coats, fake fur reversibles and fake suedes. Fitted bodies or what everybody is calling contemporary have been important.”
Amerex’s Static junior line, going into its third year, will be the focus of an ad campaign for fall, Ganger said. He is in the process of choosing an agency.
William Dragon, chairman and chief executive officer of London Fog Industries, said: “The best news is that this year is better than last year. There has been enough cold weather that retailers are optimistic about the season.”
Dragon said the key styling issue for next year will be the continued move toward casual and how firms answer the call for what is being called “dress casual.”
He said another vital component for success in 2000 will be defining how LFI’s brands — London Fog, Pacific Trail, Towne, Dockers Outerwear, Levi’s Outerwear and Black Dot — will differentiate themselves through presentation, promotion and “the method in which we bring product to market.” This includes further exploration of catalog and Internet sales, most likely with existing customers such as Macy’s.com.
Dragon said LFI has made strides in its mission to refocus its resources on its trade brands and shed its retail operations, with the exception of a few outlet stores. For this reason, London Fog filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in September and is in the process of liquidating more than 100 stores. The company has also consolidated its sourcing and customer service operations, locating them all in Seattle, where the Pacific Trail division is based. This move and an overall downsizing of wholesale functions has led to a 30 percent decrease in overhead costs, Dragon said. He said London Fog should exit Chapter 11 “a much healthier company” during the first half.
The two brands with the biggest potential growth next year, Dragon noted, are London Fog and Black Dot. London Fog should benefit most from the renewed focus on wholesale brands. Black Dot, which has been a strong brand in the niche snowboarding apparel arena, is expanding into “wake, surf and skate” for next year.
Dragon said the brands are also having some success in marketing spring outerwear, long a dormant category through special packaging and presentation. For example, the Pacific Trail brand is testing some soft-shop concepts at May Co. stores for spring that combine outerwear with accessories such as hats and gloves.
For Fairbrooke Enterprises, “It’s been a good retail season that’s been picking up recently,” said Jaime Marshall, a marketing consultant for the firm, which makes the licensed Calvin Klein Coats, Donna Karan Signature, DKNY Coats, Isaac Mizrahi and Perry Ellis lines, and its own Drizzle and D2 brands.
Calvin Klein has scored with fashion basics like cashmere and wool toppers and maxicoats and with new leather offerings, while DKNY has been hot with bubble jackets and duffles. Drizzle, which has its bigger season with spring rainwear, has done well with reversible coats.
Marshall said the Calvin Klein business continues to be segmented into mini-collections such as casual, luxury and modern classic and will add to its leather component. In Donna Karan, the signature line will concentrate more on classics and DKNY will focus on more trendy merchandise and will expand its bridge selections into more opening-price-point styles.
“We’re very excited about the relaunching of the Perry Ellis sportswear collection with Kellwood, and we think it should boost our outerwear sales, as well,” Marshall said. “Our philosophy for next year is that we have some of the strongest brands in the market, and that while its always important to have great styling, it’s even better to have a recognized name attached.”
Morty Holtzman, president of Harve Benard, said: “Last fall was so crummy; this season has been tremendous in comparison. We did have cooler weather early this year, and even though there was a lull in early November, it picked up through the end of the month. We’ve done well with ponchos and precious-fiber coats.”
For fall 2000, he said more sportswear-oriented jackets and coats are being added to the signature line and the Benard Holtzman secondary collection that can sell in sportswear areas early in the season and then switch to outerwear departments after the summer. Similarly, for spring the company is focusing on lightweight packables and nylon and polyester all-weather outerwear.
As for online retailing, Holtzman said he was hesitant to “infringe on the stores we sell with anything that competes with them.”
That’s one reason the firm closed about 45 outlet stores several years ago, he said.
Rick Insley, recently promoted to senior vice president of sales, marketing and merchandising at Woolrich, said: “We’ve had a tough outerwear season, quite frankly. The pre-season bookings were down because of the warm winter last year and the heavy-outerwear sales have been difficult. Retailers have been very cautious about the category.”
Insley said on the plus side, there haven’t been many order cancellations and there have been some nice reorders, both contrary to last year.
For 2000, Woolrich is designing its outerwear in conjunction with its sportswear. Insley said this is meant to sell more outerwear in sportswear departments, which has become a key trend in stores, and designing with more lightweight goods like microfiber and nylon using little or no insulation.
A new multimedia ad campaign is also planned for next year. Dubbed “Think Outside,” Insley said “it will be part of a new vision bringing us back to the outdoors, which is what we know best.”
“It will be a combination of thinking about the outdoors and thinking outside the box in terms of traditional styling,” he added.
Sanyo Rainwear said spring bookings have indicated a potential turnaround is in store for 2000.
“The majority of our orders are in and for the majors and specialty stores, I’ve had a lot of significant increases,” said Lisa Francisco, national sales manager.
Bright fashion looks have helped drive spring gains, which have been boosted at Sanyo by the hand of design consultant Stephen DiGeronimo, according to Francisco. The Sanyo collection included a few traditional trench styles, but Francisco said the focus on fashion looks helped attract customers during a soft time in the market.
Sheer-coated organza jackets in colors like bubblegum pink, lilac and apricot have been strong styles, led by lightweight zip-up jackets and reversible looks.
Jeanette Nostra, president of G-III Apparel Group, said leather outerwear sales have been more robust than in recent years, despite some unwanted warm spells.
“The demand for leather was very strong and continues to be strong,” Nostra said. “It has been anointed as a fashion must-have. Raising the profile has certainly helped leather at retail better than it did in past years.”
In addition, Nostra detected that retailers have begun to reconsider spring as a viable but brief outerwear season.
“With this shift in climate, there seems to be more of an appetite for spring outerwear,” she said. “Leather is a natural candidate because of the natural porosity of the skin — it’s breathable.”
Fitted jackets, notably in zip-front scuba silhouettes and blazer looks, have been strong throughout G-III’s divisions, which include house collections Siena and Siena Studio, plus licensed lines for Nine West, an aspirational brand geared toward heartland customers; Kenneth Cole Reaction, a lifestyle brand, and Kenneth Cole New York, which is more contemporary and urban.
Within the Nine West division, Nostra said G-III plans to launch a capsule group of wool coats for fall 2000. Susan Roessle, who has worked for G-III for nine years, was also recently promoted to vice president of Nine West Outerwear and is responsible for that division. She was a sales manager in the Nine West and Colebrook divisions of the firm, but was promoted to the new position to handle expected growth there and will report to Nostra.
“Siena Studio has also enjoyed great success in leather sportswear and separates this season,” Nostra said. “Leather pants — be they hip-huggers, five-pocket jeans or tab closures — have been fabulous. We are very satisfied with their performance at Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom.”
Listeff Fashions, maker of La Nouvelle Renaissance and LNR better leather lines and Winlit, a contemporary collection, launched a licensed line for Ellen Tracy at bridge prices at retail this fall. It has exceeded expectations and is projected to continue showing healthy growth in 2000, said Richard Madris, executive vice president.
Listeff also signed a deal with Guess Inc. to produce a women’s leather line for fall 2000 retailing, which would join a licensed Guess men’s collection already made by the firm. The women’s license had previously been held by Northshore Sportswear.
Madris said 1998 “was not a stellar year in any form of outerwear, but leather rose to the top in terms of pure fashion direction.” He said, “Consumers recognized leather as a trend coming from the runways and sportswear collections.”
From the Ellen Tracy line, kimono and A-line jackets were top sellers from the fall collection, retailing from $700 to $800 apiece. Looking to spring, Madris predicted relaxed blouson styles in pale oyster tones would be important test looks for fall 2000. Fur trims have been particularly important in the LNR lines.
“People didn’t necessarily plan the leather category as up, but we are running well ahead of anticipated figures,” Madris said. “The leather business will be very strong going forward. Stores are anxious to get the momentum going toward fall 2000.”
Incorporating the brand names into Listeff’s product mix has also helped the firm’s forecast for 2000. Madris said bridge customers have begun to conceive outerwear departments as destinations for Ellen Tracy coats, a similar expectation he has among contemporary customers for the Guess launch.