TOMMY HILFIGER: So far, Tommy Hilfiger’s development of his women’s business has been a study in smarts. When Hilfiger launched the collection a year ago, he digressed from his initial casual focus with a more dressed-up mood, one that sometimes veered toward career. But when the clothes hit the stores, what sold were logos, dressed-down classics and denim — a casual hip attitude that mirrored his men’s line. Hilfiger got the message, delaying plans for a women’s designer collection and focusing on the casual style that is his forte — to the tune of $125 million in first-year sales, 25 percent ahead of projections. The firm expects to double that this year.
“The customer led us toward the classics, which is what we know best,” Hilfiger said last week. “The department stores don’t have a Gap or a Banana Republic opportunity. We’ve given them that with a designer name, and the sell-throughs have been astronomical.” He added that the clothes have attracted a broad customer base, from young and urban to suburban and middle-aged.
The roll should continue for fall, with a diverse lineup that a hip girl or a car-pooling mom can make her own, with or without those hot Hilfiger logos. There are preppy madras and ginghams, military flourishes, street-smart snowboarding looks and even some semi-tony leather jackets — an indication of things to come.
Hilfiger still plans to “put a halo over the brand” with a higher-priced collection. But he’s thinking of bridge rather than designer, and is laying the groundwork now with some pricier items. “If you want to be a well-respected international designer company, you cannot remain in the casual sportswear business alone,” Hilfiger said. “But we had to start with what we know.”
LIZ CLAIBORNE: This powerhouse tapped into fall trends and scored high for execution. A small showroom presentation, with a leaf-strewn walkway and candle-making — yes, candle-making — was the ideal setting for Claiborne’s tightly edited lineup of punched-up sportswear, including men’s and large-size. Blackberry velvet pantsuits and slim suede shirtjackets in autumn colors were rich and luxurious, as were the tweed pieces. And fashion’s current preoccupation with the Eighties came through in a chocolate leather blazer and miniskirt.
NAUTICA: It hasn’t all been smooth sailing for Nautica’s women’s line, which made its debut at bridge price points last fall, but the firm is clearly hard at work fine-tuning its look.
To invigorate sales last season, Nautica, which is licensed by Bernard Chaus Inc., cut prices on casual basics and drastically reduced its tailored offerings. That makeover continues for fall, with a push toward bright colors, logo styles and plenty of basics, such as ribbed turtlenecks, leggings and button-front shirts. The strength of the collection remains with the performance segment, but Nautica’s move toward a refined casual niche comes through in crisp Macintosh raincoats over slim tweed pants, velvet jeans and an assortment of knits.
Nautica’s women’s line was in 142 doors last fall and is in 148 for spring, with in-store shops ranging from 500 to 1,200 square feet. A wholesale volume of $50 million is expected for the first year.
Wynn: This California-based designer has managed to double his business to $550,000 since his modest beginnings four years ago. And he now sells to such specialty stores as Linda Dresner, Fred Hayman, Louis Boston and Henri Bendel. The message he delivered to them this season focused on miniskirts. Leaving not an inch to spare, he suited these skirts with shaped, bold-shouldered jackets or paired them with terrific tie-dyed skinny tops. Pantsuits and little jackets in bold plaids were strong, too. But Wynn didn’t push the envelope this time, and he left his audience looking for more. Wynn some, lose some.
YOSHIYUKI KONISHI: Very little, if anything, is usually expected of a new name on the fashion calendar. And while Konishi might be an unknown to the New York fashionistas, ask anyone in Japan about this veteran designer. With a $30 million wholesale business there, the 46-year-old Konishi decided to kick off his 25th year in business with his first New York show.
Konishi has a flair for knits, from sweeping mohair coats to crochet tunics that were elaborately detailed without becoming costumey. Also beautiful were his hand-dyed cut velvet dresses, brocade pants and the corded velvet jackets paired with patchwork pants. It was a strong American debut for Konishi, who probably learned his craft from his mother, who was a kimono-maker.
DOUGLAS HANNANT: Luxury lives on at this designer’s first show, and this former visual merchandiser certainly has an eye for rich pairings — dresses mixing leather and jersey; the season’s masculine/feminine routine in fur-trimmed flannel or leather jackets over silk georgette dresses. Hannant’s mix-and-match fabrics and colors work like a charm for day, but the formula is a little too busy for his evening numbers.

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