DESIGNER/BRIDGE: THE PUSH IS ON

Byline: Eric Wilson

NEW YORK — Bridge and designer manufacturers are counting on energetic colors and designs to brighten fall sales, but they’re not taking any chances that fresh looks alone will keep up the sales momentum.
Encouraging spring and summer bookings have led several firms to predict increases of 15 to 50 percent for fall. To reach these goals, the vendors are adapting marketing strategies to rally demand for upscale apparel at boutiques and department stores. Vendors said that as small retailers continue to buy closer to season, they are challenged to produce and import in a more timely manner.
Harry Yamini, vice president at Versailles, the clothing division of Los Angeles-based importer Pak 2 Inc., said while he was somewhat optimistic about the coming season, “the market has been up and down. I haven’t seen a continual rise in years.”
To increase its visibility to retailers, Versailles will distribute a wholesale catalog to stores for the first time. The initial run will be 5,000 copies and it will promote the fall collection.
The American marketing effort for Liola, a vertical Italian knitwear maker that produces yarn to finished garment, is focused on encouraging specialty stores to build up a Liola corner. Liola also mails a seasonal catalog, offering retailers exchange and reorder options within the same season, said Giorgio Lo Iacono, who also owns freestanding Liola retail stores in San Francisco and Beverly Hills.
Additionally, Liola has pushed prices down by 5 percent for its fall collection, now wholesaling roughly at $40 for skirts and $300 for suits.
Lo Iacono said the company aims to break into department stores with this fall’s campaign, which is set to start at the end of the month. Liola projects a 25 percent increase in sales this season, following a 28 percent increase for spring.
Knitwear maker Lucia also plans a nationwide push into department stores, following increased sales for spring and summer, said Joan Duncan, director of merchandising and design.
Lucia brought its national sales force to its Winston-Salem, N.C., headquarters on Feb. 8-9 to launch a fall campaign for Lucia, That’s Me and the new-for-fall Lecomte. Lecomte, a head-to-toe, wool-blend knit line with wholesale prices of $65 to $85, is targeting better chains like Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom, while That’s Me and the flagship Lucia line are shooting at J.C. Penney, Belk Stores and Federated Department Stores. Lucia is distributing posters of Lecomte outfits to its existing specialty store clientele for in-store display.
“Customers get the idea of the outfits that way. This gives them a feeling of what the rest of the line looks like,” Duncan said.
Duncan expects that with the launch of Lecomte, the company will see a 15 percent gain for fall compared with a year ago, when business was flat.
“The customer is primed for new things in her closet and she is ready to buy,” added Duncan, who blames minimalist, neutral designs for stagnant sales in past seasons. “There’s just so much the customer can take.”
Andrew Marc is launching a brand extension for fall dubbed On The Marc, a concept that is not product specific, but driven by the global expansion of status brands around the world. The outerwear and sportswear house, based here, plans to open a flagship here next spring, as well as offer brand licenses aimed at expanding a cadre of licenses in such areas as accessories, watches, luggage, eyewear and home, bed and bath products.
Last fall, Andrew Marc launched a women’s and men’s sportswear line, building on its following in better outerwear.
“Anybody that is creative or doing something that is a little different seems to be doing OK,” noted Jeph Hemmer, principal of Avatar Imports.
The Brookdale, Calif., importer expects to double sales of its hemp line — dresses and jackets made of cotton, rayon, linen or silk interwoven with hemp — by promoting its uniqueness. Avatar will focus its trade advertising for fall on the hemp products, which are manufactured in China and wholesale for about $20 for dresses and $35 to $60 for jackets.
Since stores are buying closer to the season, Hemmer feels vendors are waiting until the season approaches to put together a collection. However, that acts as a double-edged sword, because vendors are challenged with less time to meet retailers’ demands.
“Even volume stores come in to buy now and ask for delivery in three weeks,” said Susan Lunenfeld, Philadelphia, designer of the Susan By Night collection of cocktail dresses and eveningwear. The company typically sees its prime business in the fall.
“Mom-and-pop stores seem to buy closer and closer to season each year,” added Elsa Pasqualy, president of Sarin’s Corp. in Miami. “They don’t want to invest their money in June for merchandise they won’t see until fall.”
Sarin’s is still selling spring, although the vendor has previewed its fall sportswear collection and its four lines of career-to-dinner designer suits wholesaling at $79 to $125, she said.

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