Byline: Anne D’Innocenzio

NEW YORK — When it comes to establishing lifestyle shops for large sizes in department stores, even a celebrity name like Delta Burke doesn’t seem to wield much clout.
Burke, best known for her five-year stint as Suzanne Sugarbaker on the sitcom “Designing Women,” said the other day that she’s been on a campaign to develop shops that would house the full range of licensed Delta Burke Designs apparel and accessories, which includes jeans, belts, sportswear and lingerie.
The problem is that, with the exception of Mercantile Stores, which has set up a few lifestyle shops, it isn’t happening.
“My idea of one-stop shopping hasn’t caught on,” said Burke during an interview in her showroom. “Instead, we are all over the place, scattered around the department stores. There’s not enough signage. It doesn’t matter if you are a celebrity or not.”
In addition, she said, some stores don’t seem to recognize that plus-size customers want lots of fashion options. Burke already offers what she describes as a “Jean Harlowe sexy look” as part of her lingerie collection, but she says many stores want only that. They aren’t as interested in the more modest styles she also designs.
That is one sure way to irk Burke.
“The large-size woman needs many options,” she said.
Some buyers, she added, were also skeptical about stocking up on poet shirts, which they thought were too romantic. The look, as it turned out, has been a strong seller in stores this spring.
Such issues, however, didn’t keep sales from reaching $21 million last year, according to Barry Zelman, senior vice president at Delta Burke Designs, which was launched in 1995. He projects volume at $30 million by the end of the year.
The accessories and apparel products are currently in 1,000 doors, compared with 600 last year. Zelman believes the fashions could be in 1,300 doors by the end of ’97.
In addition to Mercantile, key accounts include Dillard’s and J.C. Penney. May Co., Macy’s and Sterns carry only the swimwear, which is licensed to A.B. Shrieder.
As reported, Burke’s latest licensing agreement is with Romans Jewelry, which is producing a line of costume jewelry that was shipped to stores this month. Burke also hooked up with Butterick Co. for a line of plus-size patterns, shipped to 2,000 fabric stores nationwide this month.
Next on the agenda is a line of eveningwear and prom dresses. Burke said she is in discussions with a potential licensee and plans to have the line in stores by holiday.
Burke said she learned a lot from a tour of stores in 32 cities from November 1995 until June 1996. Meeting thousands of shoppers and listening to their comments, she made some changes for fall ’96, increasing the share of merchandise that is washable from 50 percent to 85 percent and reducing price points by 20 percent, compared with fall 1995. The fall sportswear line wholesales from $13 to $25.
Spring bookings produced such sportswear bestsellers as denim skorts, denim shorts and denim utility vests; embroidered T-shirts; stretch bike shirts, and stretch denim leggings and bike shorts. Popular career looks include woven short sets and tunics. Swimwear, which wholesales from $22 to $40, includes prints and tie-dye looks.
Burke’s fall line includes lots of Lurex fashions, mixed with lace, and velvet.
As for tracking the designer runway trends, Burke said she keeps her distance.
“I don’t pay attention to it that much,” she said, though she added some sheer to this spring’s line of merchandise, which has been retailing well.
“All those wide-leg pants and structured jackets that you saw on the runway — I’ve always had them,” she said.
But Burke wants to go beyond marketing and designing plus-size fashion, adding that she sees herself spearheading a “woman’s movement.” Burke said she wants to tap into what she calls her National Advisory Council, which is made up of plus-size customers.
Her aim, she said, is to develop conferences on plus-size issues.
Burke said the Council has 2,000 members, some of whom participate in focus groups and some of whom appear in her fashion shows.
“I want these women to get some respect,” she said. “I want them to reclaim their power.”

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