PANEL: FASHION IS ENERGIZED FOLLOWING EUROPEAN SHOWS

Byline: Anne D’Innocenzio

NEW YORK — The thrill may be back in fashion, spurred by the structured looks that made their way to the European fall runway shows last month.
That was the consensus at a “Business of Fashion” panel discussion sponsored by The Fashion Association and WWD, held Friday at Katie Murphy Amphitheater at the Fashion Institute of Technology.
“Dressing up seems to be OK again,” said David Wolfe, creative director at The Doneger Group, and the moderator of the panel discussion. Topics ranged from the diffusion frenzy of designer lines and the importance of image to the spending power of the over-60-year-old group, which has largely been ignored by the fashion industry.
Wolfe was joined by analysts Allison Malkin of Dillon Read and Mark Friedman of Merrill Lynch, and Bridget Foley, vice president and fashion director of W and Women’s Wear Daily.
A fashion show followed the panel discussion. It featured 65 outfits, ranging from activewear to clubwear.
“There is a newness in fashion, starting last spring,” said Malkin. She added that to be successful, however, “apparel firms must be able to translate that fashion to the masses.” She pointed to Tommy Hilfiger and Jones Apparel Group as examples of apparel firms that have done the job well.
The panelists also discussed the whole notion of the fashion industry’s chasing the same leader, or image. As Wolfe noted, “Copying Prada has become such an epidemic.”
Both Friedman and Malkin noted apparel firms can be successful in their chase, but they have to be careful.
“The challenge is that you need to know who your customer is and how quickly can you follow that leader,” said Friedman.
“Without differentiation, you cannot capture the market, and you will not be successful,” said Malkin. “Look what happened when all the footwear companies followed Gucci and made all those square-toed shoes. How many can you wear?”
She pointed out that while Tommy Hilfiger has followed Ralph Lauren in men’s wear, Hilfiger differentiated himself from the designer by making oversized fashions at lower prices.
The panelists agreed with Wolfe when he said the diffusion lines from designers are “spinning out of control.” While they pointed out that Lauren Ralph Lauren, the better-price line that made its debut last fall, has been a real winner since it targets a different customer, the jury is still out on Donna Karan’s latest diffusion line, D.
“I’m patiently waiting for K, N and Y,” quipped Wolfe.
“Balance and control are key; otherwise, you just have a massive blur,” said Friedman. “Adding more labels does increase your volume if you have a targeted audience. The challenge is, how do you control that?”
Friedman also pointed out that Gap has successfully differentiated itself from its less expensive counterpart Old Navy, which has been established largely in power strip malls.
Panelists also emphasized the need for private label companies to build a brand image, given the big advertising dollars being poured into such brands as Tommy Hilfiger.
Malkin noted private label firms should take a cue from J.C. Penney’s Arizona label, which is heavily billed as a fashion brand.
Wolfe referred to the two layers of imagery for the rush of products coming out under the revived Halston label — one tier targeting the moderate market; the other, the designer customer.
“They definitely want to be a major player in the U.S.,” he said.

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