TOMMY CHANGES HIS TUNE

Byline: Anne D’Innocenzio

NEW YORK — Tommy Hilfiger is again fine-tuning his women’s better sportswear collection. He also plans to test a higher-priced women’s collection.
After riding the logo wave for several seasons, the designer is headed for the country club, starting with spring ’98, with a collection that includes subtle logo treatments, brightly colored floral pique pants, eyelet cotton shifts and red cotton gingham pants.
The changes, Hilfiger says, are all part of “an evolutionary process.”
Hilfiger’s higher-priced women’s collection will be tested in the Beverly Hills, Calif., store when it opens Nov. 14, and there are plans eventually to test it in Hilfiger’s London store, which opened yesterday on Sloane Street.
Once “the kinks are smoothed out,” the collection will be rolled out to the company’s other freestanding stores and eventually marketed to wholesale accounts, Hilfiger said. He added, however, that he is adamant about not labeling it a bridge line, which was the original focus.
“I don’t want to be in the bridge business,” he said. “It has a bad reputation, and it frightens me to get into that business. If I sell it in my own stores, I don’t have to be bound by any rules or price points. Once I figure out what does well, then I will take it to the department stores.”
The collection will include cashmere sweaters wholesaling for $250 and luxe accessories, such as lizard belts. Blouses will run $40 to $67.50 and pants will be $45 to $75.
When the Tommy by Tommy Hilfiger collection, licensed by Pepe Jeans USA, was launched for fall ’96, Hilfiger departed from his initial casual focus with dressed-up tailored tweed jackets and heavy wools. Customers rejected his tailored approach and went for his trademark fashions — casual basics of denim and chino pants and logo items.
So Hilfiger switched gears, dove into basics and went with the casual trend, generating $125 million in wholesale volume the first year. Now, for spring, the collection strikes more of a balance between casual and career.
“It is a slightly more sophisticated casual collection, and we have added dressy items,” said Hilfiger, who was interviewed in his showroom last week. “And we are doing this without abandoning the basics of chinos and button-down shirts. It’s a little more country club than streetwear. And it allows us to reach into a career mode without being serious.
“We continue to listen to our customer and analyze our business,” he added. “We’ve made some mistakes, but we are never going to go back to making the same ones.”
The spring fashions, which will start hitting stores in January, include white pique pantsuits with blue piping, bright yellow nylon cotton outerwear, embroidered low-cut pants and seersucker dresses shown with cotton sweaters.
There are plenty of knits, from dresses to twinsets. Prices have increased 10 percent in higher-end fabrics such as linens and piques in some items. For example, pique dresses wholesale for $44 and pique jackets are $95.
Outerwear wholesales from $37.50 to $67.50, while pants range from $24 to $34. The average wholesale price for dresses is $37.50.
Ironically, the preppy country club focus, which Hilfiger said is intended to cultivate a more sophisticated, older customer, plays right into the current golf-inspired fashions that even downtown girls are embracing.
“When we were designing the line, and thinking country club, I started seeing my designers coming in with those same styles,” he said. “It also has a hip edge to it.”
Hilfiger’s merchandising strategy, he said, is part of a longer-term tactic that involves segmenting his business into Tommy Jeans, which, when launched for fall ’98, will be aimed at 14-to-25-year-olds, and the better-priced sportswear’s collection, whose target will be the 25-plus group. Currently, the collection’s core age range is 18 to 35.
Tommy Jeans, also licensed to Pepe, will make its debut in 400 doors, and wholesale projections reportedly are $100 million for the fiscal year ending in March ’99. The line will include “funky bell-bottom jeans and other edgy fashions,” he said.
“We want to hit the Jewel audience,” said Hilfiger, referring to the young female rocker.
As part of the strategy to make the better-price collection more sophisticated, the company has downplayed its treatment of its flag logo for spring and plans to cut its logo offerings to 30 percent from 60 percent. Heavy logo treatments are being reserved for the designer’s athletic designs, which Hilfiger eventually wants to break out into a separate division. Twinsets, for example, feature Hilfiger’s flag discreetly on one of the pockets.
“We want to attract a slightly older customer. Our customer still wants logos, but in a more understated way,” Hilfiger said.
Starting for fall ’98, Hilfiger will begin breaking the women’s better-priced sportswear collection into two categories — Flag, which will be more for classification merchandise, and Crest, which will be reserved for collection-oriented sportswear. A similar distinction is being made in the men’s line for spring.
Hilfiger said he has been “quite pleased” with the performance of the better-priced women’s wear. That line will be in 900 doors for spring, up from the current 700 doors for fall. The line was launched in 400 doors. By November, Tommy Hilfiger will have tripled the size of its in-store shop at Macy’s Herald Square to 4,800 square feet.
In its current fiscal year, Tommy by Tommy Hilfiger, the better-priced line, reportedly is expected to post a wholesale volume of $150 million.
Current fall bestsellers are jeans featuring the underwear waistband; T-shirt dresses; logo T-shirts, which by themselves are expected to generate wholesale volume of $1 million this year; suede pants and jackets; cotton mock sweaters and ribbed V-neck sweaters, a company spokeswoman said.
Hilfiger pointed out that the company’s venture into swimwear with two styles — a two-piece suit and a one-piece suit featuring the flag logo — has been “phenomenal.” The line is being expanded into 10 styles for the summer.
The swimwear was shipped to 400 doors in March, and was merchandised in sportswear areas. In two weeks, stores sold 50,000 units, and the company believes wholesale volume in swimwear could top $10 million for the combined spring, summer and holiday ’97 seasons. For cruise, Hilfiger is coming out with flip-flops, beach bags and sarong towels.
Hilfiger has been busy on other fronts. This week, the designer is on the European circuit, first in Hamburg, where the company is launching his men’s fashions and fragrance in department stores, then on to Madrid, where he is launching his women’s fragrance and men’s fashions.
The men’s fragrance was introduced in Madrid last year. Hilfiger’s last stop on the European tour will be London on Saturday to celebrate the opening of his store and to launch his men’s fashions and women’s fragrance.
Hilfiger, who eventually wants to market the better-priced women’s collection to stores overseas, has also assumed another role — author. He has just penned a pictorial/essay book called, “All American — A Style Book by Tommy Hilfiger,” which covers the highlights and influences of American fashion, from country and western to Woodstock to hip-hop.
Throughout, Hilfiger provides tidbits about his upbringing in Elmira, N.Y.
The book, published by Universe Publishing, a division of Rizzoli International Publications, will be sold at Barnes & Noble and Rizzoli bookstores and at Hilfiger’s own freestanding stores, beginning Nov. 1. It is $35.

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