KENZO GIVES U.S. BRIDGE ANOTHER WHIRL
Byline: Janet Ozzard
NEW YORK — Kenzo is giving the bridge market another try.
The Paris-based Japanese designer’s last attempt to break into the U.S. bridge market hit a snag after its partner, Bonaventure, went into a downward spiral that eventually resulted in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy declaration.
But even before that, Kenzo had terminated the license and decided to produce the bridge line out of Paris until it could find a new partner.
In September, Kenzo signed a five-year deal with Cygne Design, the private label manufacturer here, to produce its Kenzo Studio and Jeans lines.
Now the line is ready to roll out, with the addition of the Kenzo Jeans line for men and women. Kenzo president Richard Simonin is feeling good enough about the venture that Kenzo is planning a runway show for Kenzo Studio here during fashion week in April.
In an interview at Cygne Design’s 1372 Broadway headquarters, Simonin and YvAs Alemany, Kenzo’s managing director of international operations, along with Cygne’s founder and director, Irving Benson, and chairman and chief executive officer, Bernard Manuel, outlined the new business plan for Kenzo.
“We’ve done our research, and we found another partner that we feel completely comfortable with,” said Manuel, who first met with Alemany over breakfast in Hong Kong last May. “The agreement with Bonaventure was not so positive, but on the other hand, it gave us the opportunity to start again with a bigger venture.”
Manuel was referring to Kenzo Jeans, for women and men, which will arrive at retail this fall in designer jeans departments. Its competition, said Simonin, will be the Gaultier and Moschino jeans lines rather than the CK or Polo designer level.
“It’s more and more difficult in this market to get floor space,” said Simonin. “So if you want to be a player and get more space, you have to expand.”
Distribution on Kenzo Jeans and Kenzo Studio, however, will stay selective, said Simonin.
While Manuel declined to give figures for U.S. sales for the new Kenzo venture, he did say that the company hopes to “achieve annualized global sales in the $15 million range.” Kenzo’s total sales in 1995 were $146 million (730 million francs).
“We’re not looking to set the world on fire,” noted Benson. “We’re looking to grow in a healthy way.”
The Kenzo Studio line is designed by a team that includes the designer as well as a group in Manhattan, said Benson.
“We work very closely with the European team,” he said.
The first deliveries include plenty of the designer’s signature Asian design elements, such as delicate floral patterns, as well as lots of color — purple, mauve, brown, ruby, navy, shades of blue, orange and pink. Fabrics include lightweight stretch wools, velvet, wool crepe, boucle, fake leather and taffeta. There are also several intarsia sweater designs, as well as solid knit tops to coordinate with the sportswear. Wholesale prices range from $90 for skirts to $225 for jackets.
While the colors are similar in the jeans line, styling is slightly more casual. Kenzo Jeans includes shirt jackets with shank buttons, floral-print satin jeans, leather separates and quilted outerwear.
Part of the marketing budget is earmarked for advertising, said Manuel, which will include outdoor advertising in major markets.
“In addition, Kenzo as a global brand has a presence,” he said.
And Simonin noted that the designer’s Madison Avenue store, which opened in 1995, has done well enough that the company is close to signing a lease for a second store in Los Angeles. There are also plans to introduce Kenzo’s eyewear, which is produced under license with Charmant.
“Step by step, we are approaching this market,” said Simonin. “Each move will increase our visibility.”