BETTER’S REVOLUTION: SIX NEW LABELS TO LAUNCH
Byline: Anne D’Innocenzio
NEW YORK — Who’s going to buy all those new clothes?
That will be a key question over the next six months and beyond, as the better market becomes inundated by about half a dozen additional players. Their goal: to redefine the career market, which according to its critics has been looking too stale.
Most of the new-product blitz will hit next fall, with five major launches. The sixth is planned for spring 2001.
For fall, Anne Klein Co. — under its new owner, Kasper ASL — is launching Anne Klein 2 in 225 doors, while Kellwood Co. is coming out with its licensed Perry Ellis collection. The line, a key element of an ambitious relaunch of the women’s business, is slated to be in 150 to 180 doors. Then there’s Jones Apparel Group, which acquired Nine West Group in July and is coming out with a career line under the Nine West label for fall. Levi Strauss & Co. will unveil Slates for Women in 300 doors for fall. It is being designed by Janet Howard, who had been in the contemporary market.
Also for fall, Tommy Hilfiger, who offers better casual sportswear for women under the label Tommy Hilfiger, will introduce a career version. For Spring 2001, Liz Claiborne Inc., which has the license for jeans and activewear under DKNY, plans a career version. When the line is named, “DKNY” will be part of the label. It is slated to be in 250 doors,
These launches, expected to be backed by major outdoor and print ad campaigns, are all aimed at seducing customers, primarily from the 20s to early 40s, who have bypassed the department stores in favor of specialty store chains such as Anne Taylor and Banana Republic.
These collections are out to rewrite the career code for the working woman by offering a blend of contemporary looks with traditional styling. They focus on sleek stretch jackets and modified boot-cut pants. The versatility of the looks, which can be mixed and matched, is a vital element.
Targeting better career makes the most sense, according to sources. The bridge zone is not only pricy for the mainstream consumer but is still troubled; moderate has become increasingly price-sensitive, and contemporary focuses on items of the moment. Furthermore, the better area has been the most vulnerable for department stores, which have seen heavy competition from a variety of specialty chains.
“Everyone is jumping on the bandwagon,” said Andrew Jassin, a partner at Jassin-O’Rourke Group, an apparel consulting company. “It is my belief that stores will take an over-assortment of brands and let the good ones float to the top. Let the bad ones disappear.”
But while department store executives welcome the newness, they acknowledge that finding room for all the new lines will be challenging. Already, some store executives, who did not want to be named, expressed some concern over some of the samples they have seen. And, they say, the new offerings have to be good enough to justify their clearing some floor space.
“It’s wishful thinking,” said Kathy Bufano, executive vice president of merchandising at Macy’s East, adding that the suppliers can’t expect stores to take in all the new labels.
“We will be evaluating each line,” she said. “You can’t buy everything.”
Bufano added that she has looked at the concept boards of Anne Klein 2 and Nine West, but has not yet seen the others. However, she said it is too early to make a decision.
“I have to see the collections,” she said.
“It’s going to be a challenge finding room for all the labels,” said Frank Doroff, executive vice president of merchandising at Bloomingdale’s.
However, vendors are unfazed, and believe stores will find space.
“We are giving them an offering that is new and special,” said Denise Seegal, president of Liz Claiborne, referring to the licensed career collection with DKNY.
Seegal recalls that a couple of years ago, there was a blitz of status denim launches, and stores were complaining about space. They found room, though at the expense of smaller players, according to sources.
Industry sources believe the flood of new labels in better could well have the same effect.
Take Sandy Baldanza, who in June closed Baldanza Ltd., a full career collection, in part because of the new competition. Now, he is going after the classification business under the umbrella name Cyberwear Inc. The firm’s first launch is New York Shirts.com, which was shipped to 450 doors last month. It is slated to be sold online next year. Baldanza said he wants to also develop knitwear and pants.
“All the competition coming in, combined with poor sales of coordinated clothing, made it impossible for me,” Baldanza said.
At least one industry observer wonders whether the major traditional career brands — Jones and Liz Claiborne — will remain valid.
“I’m not sure what effect all these new lines will have on Jones and Claiborne’s trademarks,” said one industry observer. “The daughters of these baby boomers are not buying the brands.”
Over the past year, these big guns in better have armed themselves by rapidly acquiring new brands that appeal to the Gen X and Gen Y customers, but observers are not sure whether they will be able to protect their real estate for their own traditional brands.
Officials at Jones Apparel and Liz Claiborne claim their moves to expand into new younger lines will not cannibalize their businesses.
“Jones is the backbone of the baby boomer audience,” said Jackwyn Nemerov, president of Jones Apparel, whose Jones brand is expected to reach $800 million at wholesale this year and top $1 billion next year.
“We believe in the personality of Jones. This is not a conflict,” she continued.
She added that the Nine West apparel line appeals to a woman who has more of a fashion style. That line could be a $1 billion business within the next couple of years.
Overall, Jones Apparel is expected to reach $4.5 billion next year, driven in part from volume from the company’s acquired Nine West Group.
Claiborne’s Seegal said there might be some cannibalization, but in the long run, the company’s “power of the total portfolio” will be enhanced.
“We will be able to leverage the business for growth,” she said. “The lines are targeted to a different customer. The Liz Claiborne collection offers soft, modern looks, but the consumer is not trendy.”
Company officials believe the licensed career business under the DKNY name could generate several hundred million dollars within the next couple of years.
Seegal added that the company’s licensed DKNY collection of jeans has not cannibalized the company’s Liz Jeans.
Claiborne is also coming out with a licensed Kenneth Cole NY contemporary collection of clothing for fall 2001.
As for the validity of the Claiborne brand, Seegal said: “We have revitalized the brand. We continue to evolve our product in key product categories, such as stretch and new twinsets.”
She said Claiborne’s career business remains challenging, but sees structure coming back, a development expected to help the business.
Executives say they are differentiating themselves from the pack. Claiborne’s licensed DKNY career collection is using the New York City career woman as its muse, and will offer a generous dose of black. Perry Ellis is focusing on color, particularly periwinkle, reflecting the spirit of the late designer. Hilfiger’s collection, according to sources, has the designer’s imprint, but offers a sophisticated approach.
“What Anne Klein offers is a great name,” said Gregg Marks, president of Kasper, adding that some of the other labels haven’t been in the career business.
The goal, Marks said, is to woo the customer who has been shopping at Banana Republic, Anne Taylor and Club Monaco.
“The look is modern,” he said. He added that the Anne Klein 2 logo is new, and uses the Arabic number instead of the Roman number it once used.
For fall, the company is also introducing a bridge-priced collection under Anne Klein, slated to be in 100 doors, Marks said. As for Anne Klein 2, jackets, he said, will account for 30 percent of the collection. They will retail up to $200. They won’t be structured, but will be relaxed, offering lots of stretch and sleek silhouettes, he said.
Stores will preview Anne Klein 2 in February, and the line will be launched in July. Anne Klein officials are meeting with retailers to develop in-store shops that will range from 500 to 800 square feet, Marks said.
Wendy Shalit, president of Anne Klein, said bigger shops — from 1,500 to 2,000 square feet — will be developed for key flagships, in Manhattan, San Francisco and Miami.
Perry Ellis officials are banking on what they believe is a strong consumer loyalty to the name. Except for coats, Perry Ellis has been absent in women’s apparel since 1993.
“We are offering classics with a twist,” said Laura Vasquez, executive vice president of design and merchandising. Vasquez is currently taking concept boards and samples to show to such retailers as Dayton Hudson, Dillard’s and the May Co.
“The customer we are targeting is very individual,” she said. “She likes to pull looks together.”
Peter Goodman, chairman of Kellwood’s Goodman division, which is developing the licensed collection, said he believes the Perry Ellis women’s wear line has the potential to generate $100 million in wholesale volume within the next couple of years.
The company will develop in-store shops of 800 to 1,200 square feet. And the merchandise will be backed by a $10 million ad campaign, including outdoor and TV. The campaign is being developed by Shahid & Co, which is Perry Ellis’s agency for men’s wear.
As for Levi’s, the Slates for Women collection focuses on mix-and-match dressing with an emphasis on stretch fabrics and bottoms.
“I’m inspired by women’s problems,” said Janet Howard, the designer for Slates. “I see too much matchy, matchy stuff, too much structure.”
The collection offers plenty of dark colors such as black and gray. Some of the items are mandarin coats, stretch nylon twill pants and funnelneck ribbed sweaters.
Tracey King, women’s brand manager for Slates, said the marketing strategy has not been set, but the plan is to echo the theme of the men’s campaign, which highlights real-life Generation X entrepreneurs photographed by Richard Avedon.