RETRO BRANDS BATTLE BACK
EVEN WITH INTEREST IN THE SEVENTIES STILL GOING STRONG, THAT DECADE’S HOT NAMES HAVE DISCOVERED IT ISN’T EASY TO MAKE A COMEBACK.
Byline: Anne D’Innocenzio
NEW YORK — The fashion climate may still favor the disco-wheeling days of the Seventies, but a handful of the era’s fashion icons — Halston, Fiorucci and Sergio Valente, all of which staged a revival in the past year — are finding it hasn’t been easy to get the message across.
The three have staked out different consumer segments. Halston, which has a new owner called Catterton Group, an investment firm based in Greenwich, Conn., has targeted the designer customer with elegant sportswear and eveningwear.
Fiorucci is targeting the mainstream junior and contemporary customer.
Sergio Valente, the designer jeans label that became popular in the late Seventies only to disappear by the mid-Eighties, reappeared last fall. It decided to capitalize on its loyal downtown following, which was discovering the label in vintage stores.
The most ballyhooed launch among the Seventies labels, of course, was Halston International — and it has had a rocky start. When it was first launched, the owners then — Mark and Jack Setton, principals of Tropic Tex — had thought the Lifestyle line, its moderate-to-better price collection, would drive the business. That line did not fare well at stores, but the Signature Collection did, though it was riddled with production and delivery problems.
As reported, Halston shelved its Lifestyle line, beginning this summer, and its licensed men’s wear line, starting this fall. In the Signature line, Catterton announced it is not shipping resort, but will resume shipping for spring. A spokeswoman said the company just did not have enough time to produce a top-quality line, though she assured that fall deliveries would be on time.
Meanwhile, Catterton is in search of a chief executive officer. An announcement is expected to be made within the next week or two. And Randolph Duke, Halston’s designer, is still negotiating a contract, sources said. Then there’s Fiorucci, based in Milan. The firm, known for its bright colors, animal prints and trademark angel hangtags, was aiming for a full-scale revival in the U.S. market this past spring. However, Stephen Budd, the president of Bennini, who holds the license for sportswear, admitted it has been harder than he expected to excite stores with those skin-tight jeans and other designs.
“You have to get through the [retailers’] steering committees, the matrixes, and I am doing a lot of waiting,” said Budd.
The Fiorucci collection is in 20 department store doors, including Macy’s East, Macy’s West, Bloomingdale’s and Burdines, as well as 25 specialty stores. Budd hopes to boost the number of doors for fall, but couldn’t elaborate. “I’m still at the mercy of stores,” he said.
That’s why he is aggressively going after the consumer with a number of Fiorucci promotions, particularly those centered on “54,” Miramax’s movie about Studio 54 that is due out later this summer. It features a cameo appearance by Elio Fiorucci, Fiorucci’s founder and designer. Budd noted he had sent the studio’s marketers more than 100 garments, and he expects to see a number of Fiorucci products showcased.
Budd pointed out that at the movie premiere, to be held Aug. 5 at the Ziegfeld Theatre, Fiorucci staff will give away 1,000 bags of logo T-shirts, caps and shirts.
Budd also has been throwing Fiorucci fashion parties in clubs in Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles. “After this, I feel that retailers will get more excited, the consumers will understand the product and sales will skyrocket,” Budd said.
At Sergio Valente, which is owned by Seattle Pacific, company officials said they were surprised that its vintage nonstretch denim line of jeans bombed at retail. The nonstretch jeans accounted for half the collection. Instead, it was the stretch versions that sold, according to Mary Wilberding, president of the division. “The stretch sold, but the nonstretch did not,” she said. Wilberding added that Sergio Valente decided to scrap the 19-inch wide-leg jeans after buyers rejected them and went for the straight-leg style.
“They wanted this sort of authenticity to the brand,” she said.
The line was relaunched last fall in 100 doors and will be expanded to 250 to 300 doors for fall, she said.
But Wilberding said she doesn’t want to mass-market the label.
“We are trying to keep it very cool,” she said.
She added that she doesn’t have lofty goals for the brand.
“I don’t see building it to compete with a megabrand,” she said. “We are just going to supply it according to demand. We are riding this feeling.”
Officials at Halston and Fiorucci believe that even after fashion’s obsession with the Seventies dies, their brands will be able to thrive.
Budd said he may be capitalizing on the Seventies wave, but he believes Fiorucci will continue to be valid.
“Fiorucci is all about sweet, feminine, girly stuff,” said Budd. “Of course, this whole Seventies thing couldn’t have happened at a better time.”
“Halston is not tied to the Seventies,” said a spokeswoman for the Catterton Group. “It is just a coincidence that there is a renewed interest. We see ourselves as an evergreen classic brand.”
She added that the company was not interested in placing any products in the two Seventies movies out this summer, “The Last Days of Disco” and “54,” because she didn’t want the brand to be stuck in “period pieces.”
Halston’s Duke believes fashion’s obsession with the Seventies anyway is pretty much over, eclipsed by a trend to femininity.
“It [the Seventies trend] is definitely dying down,” said Duke.”You know it when you are seeing six-year-olds getting into the Seventies looks. Enough already.”