Byline: Eric Wilson

NEW YORK — Burberrys’ slip is showing.
This fall, for the first time in its 141-year history, the company that built its name on men’s trench coats and its signature tan plaid expects to see more sales from women’s wear than men’s, when a new line of wool coats and some skiwear pieces are introduced.
Burberrys has been shaking off its reputation as “just a raincoat company” since a management restructuring 2 1/2 years ago, when Barry Goldsmith was named to the new position of president of the wholesale division. He brought in a new designer, Martin Cooper, who was previously design director at Fairbrooke Enterprises, a coat firm here.
Cooper’s revamping of the Burberrys image has brought a magnified sportswear offering, modern silhouettes and high tech materials for outerwear. Goldsmith said this has helped foster annual gains in the women’s business of 30 to 40 percent since 1994. Much of that growth has sprouted from Burberrys’ success at catering to customers who want more casual clothing.
Women’s apparel is expected to surge another 40 percent for 1997, while men’s should gain 10 to 12 percent, giving women’s merchandise about 55 percent of the business. For 1996, 46 percent of sales was from women’s apparel.
This year, Burberrys is projecting an overall percentage growth at retail in the high teens and for its wholesale division, of around 30 percent, Goldsmith said. Goldsmith would not disclose annual sales figures, but sources estimated volume would reach 268 million pounds, or about $450 million worldwide.
For fall, Cooper is introducing a complete line of women’s wool coats and some ski outerwear. The wool collection offers 20 coats in solids and tattersall checks in slim cuts, Cooper said. Burberrys brought out a capsule collection of wool pieces last year to test the waters for a full line and realized seasonal sell-throughs of 80 to 100 percent.
Among the bestsellers this year is a baby alpaca style available in short and long trenches or as a short swing coat in chocolate, charcoal or vicuna, wholesaling for $375 to $395. A tattersall check model with detachable fake fur collar available as a three-quarter-length, single-breasted coat or as a short, double-breasted swing in stone, brown or charcoal at $265 has sold “terrifically,” Cooper said.
Buoyed by the success, Burberrys is slanting more of its retailing efforts toward women, as reflected in its store openings in Chicago, Dallas, Hawaii and Palm Springs over the past two years.
“As we’ve opened the newer stores, we’ve devoted more and more space and prominence to the ladies’ apparel,” Goldsmith said, citing the new Dallas store, in which 60 percent of floor space is dedicated to women’s apparel.
A second store will open in downtown Honolulu in May, and the company is negotiating for space in Las Vegas to open next spring. Burberrys is looking to enter Toronto in fall 1998.

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