NEWS BEAT

It’s musical, can fly and sells soda and insurance. The question is: Can the Virgin name sell clothes? That’s what Virgin’s founder — and Joe Boxer buddy — Richard Branson will find out come fall, when the Virgin Clothing line is launched in the U.K. Branson, whom Joe Boxer ceo Nick Graham told CEO Summit participants is preparing his entry into the apparel business, does, in fact, have big plans: He believes Virgin Clothing can be as big as DKNY or Tommy Hilfiger in five to eight years. Branson’s partner, Victory Corp., has been preparing the women’s and men’s wear line and will launch it at the end of August at such stores as Selfridge’s and Browns Focus in London. It will enter the U.S. market, probably through a joint venture or similar partnership, next year. While initial predictions were that Virgin Clothing would focus on jeans and casualwear, Victory has confounded everyone by developing a line that will compete directly with CK Calvin Klein, DKNY and similar collections. Virgin Clothing includes jackets, pants, tops, footwear and accessories, and will retail for about 30 percent less than CK Calvin Klein or DKNY.
Executive search firms showed up in force at the summit, fueling all sorts of speculation about who will grab a host of high-profile jobs currently vacant. News of Mary Wang’s defection from Donna Karan International to GFT’s Emanuel division broke during the conference and got tongues wagging. Former Henri Bendel executive Angela Ahrendts also came up in many conversations, cited as a potential candidate for jobs everywhere from DKNY and GFT to Anne Klein Co. And with some of Kmart’s top brass on the summit scene — Andy Giancamilli, president and general merchandise manager, and E. Jackson Smailes, senior vice president and apparel gmm — speculation abounded about who might be the next Kmart ceo, to succeed Floyd Hall.
It hasn’t even been launched yet, but Burt Tansky, Neiman Marcus chairman and ceo, said the upcoming Galleries at Neiman Marcus specialty format for fine jewelry, gifts and home accessories has the potential to be expanded internationally. Two units are set to open, first in the Cleveland area in November, and then in the Phoenix area later this year.
Dillard’s $2.9 billion purchase of Mercantile Stores was on everybody’s mind, particularly since plenty of sales of individual Mercantile units — about two dozen — are expected. Rumored to be most anxious to pick up some sites: Federated Department Stores and Proffitt’s, which were both said to be negotiating for Mercantile before Dillard’s outbid them. “There were lots of interested parties,” said a source.
Diesel USA plans to open its seventh freestanding store later this year in Manhattan’s booming SoHo district. The 1,600-square-foot unit at 416 West Broadway will be more “fashion oriented” than its uptown flagship, said ceo Don Henshall.

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