LOWERING BRIDGE: A NEW NICHE

Byline: Janet Ozzard

NEW YORK — The bridge market might be dominated by a handful of big names, but some smaller companies still see an opportunity there. Three names — two new, one a veteran — have come up with their own plans to build business.
The three — MAG, Donna Degnan and Elan Nissim — are moving into the low end of the increasingly pricy bridge market. While all three companies have jackets that wholesale around $150, they are each trying to bring a younger, slightly trendier look to the party.
MAG, the brand label of the private label manufacturer Magaschoni, is going after the bridge market with a fully merchandised line of sportswear separates at the low end of bridge.
Under the direction of president Monica Belag Forman, who came to the company six months ago from Kenar, MAG now has become an organized series of groups with monthly deliveries that balances classic styles with slightly edgier looks.
“I believe the world has enough $450 jackets,” said Forman. “A bridge outfit from most bridge companies costs $1,000. Do you know what you can do for $1,000? You can buy a sofa or go to Florida. If there were better value in the stores, there wouldn’t be so many people shopping off-price.
“There’s a customer between bridge and contemporary. We wanted to create a product that had a better quality, better style and better fabrics, but with a little more style. The customer we’re going after isn’t a particular age. She has an attitude about her clothes and she wants them to go from career to casual.”
The company does related knit programs in silk and cashmere that coordinate with the sportswear groups, and it also offers what it calls “core” pieces.
“We do a great pleated trouser,” said Forman. “Now, you can get a pleated trouser anywhere. But my feeling is, why shouldn’t they buy it from us? We can be one-stop shopping. And the customer today is wearing fashion basics. A short-sleeve crewneck in 10 colors is a fashion basic, and she’ll buy four or five of them at one time.”
Fall fabrics include stretch flannel, Donegal tweed, diamond-pattern doubleknit, wool pinstripe, brocade and leathers. Colors are black, gray, brown, navy, camel, vanilla, yellow and blue. Styles include double-breasted jackets, slim pants, long straight skirts, bathrobe jackets, tunic tops with matching pants and plenty of related knitwear.
Forman said that since the reorganization, the company has seen its specialty store orders go up 120 percent over the previous fall. The company does about $20 million in total business and is looking for a 22 percent increase for the MAG line in the next year. To further promote the brand, she’s hired the Jeff McKay ad agency to handle public relations and advertising, and has representation in Atlanta, Dallas and Los Angeles.
Donna Degnan has already had her name on a label, as the designer for the contemporary sportswear company Diapositive. But when that company closed last year after the partners split, Degnan found a backer and decided to go after a higher price. Her signature line opened early this year and shipped a small group of styles to specialty stores. Degnan has increased her offerings and her business goals for fall 1997.
“I wanted to make sure that we could ship the product on time,” she said, explaining her first-season strategy. “So I stuck to small orders and specialty stores. Now I feel confident, and I’m going after the majors.”
Degnan said she decided to go for the bridge market because “I wanted to design clothes that I would wear. Stylish but not too trendy, and in the best fabrics that I can afford. I felt like a lot of what was going on in the contemporary market was a little too junior-y.”
But she said the combination of a sophisticated, jacket-driven line at a lower price point has been a tough sell.
“We get pigeonholed into, ‘Well, you’re contemporary,’ or ‘Well, you’re bridge.’ But we just want to do a beautiful product with the best value.”
Degnan’s jackets wholesale from $175 to $200 and the bottoms are $90 to $110. She said she plans to address trends in her line, but in a way that makes them appropriate for the working woman.
“Fur, for example,” she said. “I love fur trim, and I might wear a big fake fur collar. But I’m in New York, in the fashion industry. So for my customer, I might do a fur trim but with a small pile. The trend is there, but I interpret it so that it makes sense.
“Certain trends I won’t do, like some of the Eighties looks. The huge shoulder pad they showed on the runway? My customer isn’t ready for that. But a three-quarter coat is the kind of thing that you can interpret for every size, age and price point. She wants what’s happening, but she doesn’t want to be cutting edge.”
Fabrics in the fall line include wool and Lycra spandex, jacquard double-face stretch, pinstripe wool and some leather pieces. Styles include tops and dresses with an asymmetric neck closure and three-quarter sleeves, long jackets, slim pants, trousers and a 23-inch skirt. Degnan said she hopes to do about $2 million in the first year.
Elan Nissim has been in business for three seasons. The line is designed and merchandised by Nissim’s wife, Lily, with design assistant Salvatore Sicuro. It uses Italian fabrics but is manufactured here. The line aims to be career-oriented but not frumpy.
“We don’t want to be so young, but more updated,” said Sicuro.
But while Nissim’s business is still small, he has a big-company approach to advertising. He plans to spend $4 million a year on advertising, including TV commercials during New York’s fashion week. Currently, he’s circulating 10 trucks with his company’s name around the city.
“We plan to do big advertising,” he said. “Not so much the fashion magazines, but the things people see every day.”
Nissim, who is from Israel, studied Japanese in school and publishes a directory of businesses for Japanese people living here, which finances the sportswear business. He said he also plans to launch a trade show in Tokyo.
Fall styles in the Elan Nissim line include shirt jackets, zip-front jackets, shift dresses, camp shirts, long, short or A-line skirts, pleated trousers and flat-front pants. Jackets wholesale around $150 and bottoms are $59 to $92. Fabrics include nylon and spandex blend, shantung, boucle, fake and real leathers, stretch brushed cotton and wool and cotton stretch.
There’s also related knitwear in solids or novelty yarns such as chenille and slub space-dyed knits.

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