REVIVING ESPRIT’S CATALOG

Byline: Karen Parr

NEW YORK — It’s back. The Esprit catalog — on hiatus for 10 years — was mailed to customers this month, and the results were not long in coming.
The 32-page, full-color tome shows models and employees of Esprit roaming the streets of San Francisco, the firm’s headquarters, wearing fall styles.
Jay Margolis, chairman and chief executive officer, calls the catalog “a big part of the re-imaging” of Esprit.
“Our challenge is to re-establish a relationship with a consumer,” Margolis said. “[The catalog] puts a certain look and style and lifestyle in front of the consumer.”
Margolis, a former Liz Claiborne vice chairman, joined Esprit in 1996. Part of his strategy has been to increase quality and raise prices in the line, to attract a slightly older customer.
The style of Esprit, according to Carrie Dawes, vice president of merchandising, is “a fun, California, be yourself, independent attitude,” shown in the catalog through real life settings, such as girls standing by a log cabin or in a park.
Wilbur Swan, director of mail order, said the firm had gotten about 200,000 catalog requests since August, when it began advertising its appearance.
Since the catalog was mailed, the firm has been receiving 200 to 800 orders a day for a week, he said. The average order is for two items that cost a total of $100 to $125.
Dawes said the bestsellers so far include fashion basics, such as cargo twill pants at $36 and boot-leg stretch twill pants at $48, and printed cardigans and sweaters ranging from $58 to $78.
Party Mix, a more fashion-forward group, has been selling well with Lurex metallic tank tops at $52 and tube tops at $58.
“When you look at what’s selling, it’s either fashion basics or emotional purchases — the pictures that jump out at you and have good energy,” Dawes said.
She said the Party Mix photos are in the good-energy category. The models are photographed in a studio, posing in tough-girl stances and sporting teased hair and more dramatic makeup than those in the outdoors shots.
“They are edgy for Esprit and are a take on Studio 54, the late Seventies,” Dawes said.
The catalog is currently slated to be issued four times a year.
Margolis considers the catalog to be one more form of advertising. The firm is currently spending about $4 million a year on all advertising.
Swan said the catalog intends to combine the elements of the old catalog — the tabloid size, the use of white space — with a more modern sensibility involving bright colors and bold graphics.
The catalog will also be available in Esprit retail stores and will be advertised on Esprit’s Web site, although there are no immediate plans for on-line retailing.
In the end, image-building is key to the catalog revival.
“What we’re really trying to show everyone is where Esprit is today, and the new energy that’s in the company now,” Swan said. “Through all of this we’re trying to build that one-on-one communication with the customer.”

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