BOGNER CHARTS A STEADY PATH
Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg
NEW YORK — As an Olympic skier, Willy Bogner Jr. was driven by speed, but as a businessman, he’ll stay off the fast track, thank you.
Bogner and his wife, Sonia, are steadily building a $200 million skiwear business his parents, Willy Sr. and Maria, founded 65 years ago.
The cautious route is an unlikely one for Bogner, who raced downhill on the slopes of St. Moritz at speeds of 65 miles per hour to film James Bond’s ski stunts in “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “A View to a Kill.” That is one of the 10 ski resorts visited regularly by him and Sonia, who are more interested in function than fashion.
Earlier this week, the Bogners were here to host a trunk show at their flagship store at 821 Madison Avenue, a screening of Willy’s newest promotional film and a benefit for The Children’s Storefront School. They are based at the company’s corporate headquarters in Munich, Germany.
“I always say, ‘We don’t sell a product — we sell an emotion,” Willy Bogner said. “Without enthusiasm or emotion, people won’t go out there to play and they won’t need clothes.”
The pair, who met during a Bogner fashion shoot in July 1972 and married less than six months later, share responsibilities. She designs a bridge sportswear collection as well as her own signature collection under the Bogner label. He focuses on the performance skiwear, and advertising and marketing.
During an interview Monday, they discussed their new plan to build the U.S. business.
“From Willy’s parents’ point of view, this [business] was never meant to be fast or short-lived,” Sonia Bogner said.
“We never wanted to be the biggest — we just wanted to be in the medal range,” said Willy Bogner, who competed for Germany in the 1960 and 1964 Winter Olympics. His late father, Willy Sr., skied for Germany in the 1936 Winter Games.
To bolster the brand’s presence in the U.S., Bogner has unveiled an advertising and marketing campaign developed by Select New York.
Currently, the Bogner magazine, a 36-page book featuring fashion layouts and tips about style, motivation, skiing and snowboarding, is being shipped to stores and select customers.
One section features photographs of Germany’s Olympic ski teams through the years, teams Bogner has sponsored since the 1936 Winter Games. There is also a snapshot of the white jumpsuit with black accents that German skiers will wear at next year’s Olympics in Nagano, Japan.
There will be 100,000 issues of the magazine distributed in the U.S. and 1.5 million in Europe.
The magazine has images from some of Willy Bogner’s 39 films that highlight all levels of skiing, from extreme to recreational.
On the flagship’s wall hang photographs that evoke the company’s long history, including shots of its first fashion show in 1948. Also on display are outtakes from “Into the Sun,” his most recent film.
Some photos are imprinted with the company’s new tag line, “The Way to B.” The company’s logo is an encircled “B.” Some of the skiwear prints are highly unusual. The Katmandu collection, for example, has images based on calligraphy used by primitives in New Zealand.
For the first time, the company is offering sweepstakes for ski trips in Deer Valley, Utah, and Aspen, Col. Direct mail pieces promoting the events are being sent to 81,000 shoppers.
“The U.S. is a very big country with all this different media,” said Willy Bogner.”It’s always a challenge to reach your audience in an effective way in such a diverse country.”
For 1997, worldwide sales are expected to exceed $200 million — a slight increase over last year. Those figures do not reflect growth in the U.S. market, which should see a 15 percent gain. Annual growth has slowed in Europe — which accounts for the bulk of the company’s business — because local economies have not been strong, Willy Bogner said.
Overseas, Bogner is sold in 3,000 stores in 42 countries. In the U.S., the brand is offered in 350 ski specialty stores and department stores.
The company offers four collections, in different price ranges and looks.
A wool fleece bathrobe coat, an acetate and viscose crepe evening dress, a wool check cape and a stretch wool suit are among the offerings in the Sonia Bogner collection, which retails from $300 to $1,500.
Bogner sportswear offers sportier looks. That line retails from $180 for wool pants to $1,000 for a stretch wool suit.
Bogner Sport skiwear retails from $250 for ski pants to $2,000 for a jumpsuit. There is a secondary skiwear line called Fire & Ice that is snowboard-inspired. Retail prices range from $120 and $500.
During Monday’s trunk show, the flagship sold $65,000 worth of merchandise. Three ski jackets — a $698 long polyester satin quilted number in navy, a $658 polyester satin quilted, zip-front jacket in black and a $698 down-filled parka in silver — were bestsellers for women.
Unlike European women, who favor more sophisticated looks, American shoppers opt for more active-inspired styles, said Sonia Bogner.
In Europe, sales of women’s sportswear accounts for 60 percent of Bogner’s women’s business. That figure is 5 percent in the U.S. Preferences for skiwear also vary, with American women favoring stretch pants and short jackets and European women opting for one-piece ski suits, Sonia Bogner said. “Women here are very sporty — and I like that. In Europe, they really dress up to go skiing. They put makeup on.”
There are 48 freestanding Bogner stores worldwide, including three in the U.S., in Boston, New York and San Francisco. In the U.S., Bogner’s stores account for 10 percent of the company’s business, Willy Bogner said.
“We’re still basically a manufacturer and we’d like to stay that way. Our stores show people what they can find under the Bogner umbrella,” he said. “Our stores are kind of private. They’re not big temples some people design to worship a certain style or label.”