Byline: Eric Wilson

NEW YORK — Bob Mackie launched his new made-to-measure collection of eveningwear at Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship here Wednesday, setting the stage for a new business venture that focuses on customer service.
Saks has an exclusive on Mackie’s made-to-measure line here and hosted informal modeling sessions of the collection on Thursday. This followed a personal appearance by Mackie Wednesday night, when customers placed orders as they sipped cocktails and sampled crab cakes and avocado quesadillas.
Among the bestsellers at the Fifth Avenue store and at earlier shows at Saks units in Bal Harbour, Fla.; Chicago; Beverly Hills, and Houston were a fox-trimmed mint green lame dress, an ombre chiffon gown with a stole dyed to match and a bronze beaded lace caftan over a matching silk chiffon gown. Twenty-four dresses were sold in New York, with a total retail value of $134,000.
The line retails from $1,800 for day dresses to $16,000 for the beaded caftan. Most gowns in the line run from $7,500 to $9,500, said Bill Lynch, vice president of merchandising for Saks.
“This is very pleasant seeing people on this level,” Mackie said. “Made to order is a whole new thing, and I’m still finding out what to do and what not to do.
“Women have been very receptive to my suggestions, and sometimes if you give them the slightest change on a dress, they’re happy. Women are very smart about themselves.”
Mackie said he sizes up a customer by looking at her figure and asking what type of dress she is shopping for and for what occasion so he can guide her toward an outfit she might not have been attracted to otherwise.
“Very often, you can’t tell what a dress will do for you when it’s on a hanger,” he said. “This is what I’ve been doing in Hollywood for years.”
Mackie relocated his top collection from here to his headquarters in Los Angeles in January and decided to focus on custom-order sales at trunk shows throughout the country. The company raised prices on the line by about 50 percent so Mackie could use more luxurious and imported fabrics — brocades, silk chiffons, ombres and pattern-woven novelties that had been cost-prohibitive in his signature ready-to-wear line.
The custom line is expected to have a wholesale volume of about $6 million within two years.
Lynch said the custom-order business has been successful for Saks because clients who are willing to pay for a made-to-measure expect the type of unusual looks that Mackie puts out, particularly his signature glitzy and glamorous eveningwear.
“Bob Mackie represents a passionate, sexy kind of feeling,” Lynch said. “He also brings a spirit to his designs that when I look at his clothes, I don’t see them duplicated all over the place.”
Saks will keep look books available at its stores for clients who are unable to view the collection during the scheduled trunk shows. The store is also mailing out videos of Mackie’s runway show to key clients to promote the line.

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