OSCAR FINE-TUNES FOR VERSATILITY

Byline: Janet Ozzard

NEW YORK — For a one-year-old, Oscar is very happy.
The bridge label of Oscar de la Renta’s apparel business is on track to hit its wholesale sales projection of $35 million annually by 2001, according to president Chuck Jayson.
That Oscar, introduced for fall 1996 retailing, is hitting its projections in a very difficult bridge market is a source of pride for Jayson. But more important, said Jayson and de la Renta, they’ve learned about the bridge customer during the maiden year.
“The first year was about establishing what Oscar was, depicting its sense of luxury,” he said. “We have faced a difficult retail climate, and we weren’t isolated in that. But we were pleased to exceed our [first year] sales objective by 30 percent.”
But with bridge coming out of some of its worst selling this decade, the market in general is reevaluating its products and its approach to the consumer to gain better full-price sell-throughs.
Last spring’s dismal sales reflected the consumer’s dissatisfaction with overly trendy looks such as tight jackets and trousers, too much shine and not enough wear-to-work apparel.
Oscar needed some fine-tuning as well, said Jayson and de la Renta. The spring line has more versatile looks that can go from day into evening, more sportswear items and knitwear and less special occasion, and a measure of casual apparel for weekend wear.
Knitwear is designed by Allison Shenar, wovens by Patricia Clyne. Oscar is manufactured under license to Sadimara.
The company tries to keep prices stable by looking for fabrics that give a sense of luxury without necessarily being expensive, and by manufacturing in Asia as well as domestically.
Spring fabrics are double-faced wool mixed with Lycra spandex, wool and mohair blends, a sueded polyester, shantung, jacquard, waffle wool, Tactel terry, glazed linen, stretch nylon, glossy yarns for knitwear, silk and linen blends and seersucker. Colors include gray, gold, yellow, shades of green, white, pink and brown.
The need for versatile apparel, said de la Renta and Jayson, has become their prime directive.
“A woman doesn’t have as many special events as we had planned for,” said Jayson.
“It’s also that a woman doesn’t have as much of a chance to change for the special event,” said de la Renta. “So she needs a wardrobe that allows for that. It’s hard to think, at 8 a.m., ‘Oh, I have to come home and change.’ There is a rare occasion where you really need special occasion clothes, but today, you see a woman in a beaded T-shirt at noon.”
“So we’re creating product that’s more versatile,” said Jayson. That means, in part, increasing knitwear to 30 percent of the Oscar line, versus about 18 percent when it first started.
“We recognize knitwear to be an integral part of the collection,” said Jayson.
“When we started a year ago, we felt we would supply things to the bridge market that did not exist, and so we would have a captive audience,” said de la Renta. “But in the learning process, I understand, I know now, that the woman today is not the woman who buys for a special occasion. You have to make certain statements in clothes — in the fabric, the color — but you also have to have practicality.”
“That’s the biggest focus of year two,” said Jayson. “We want to have a strategic balance of wearable clothes for the consumer, but also continue to represent what Oscar de la Renta stands for.”
Another problem facing bridge manufacturers is shrinking retail space — both because stores are closing or consolidating and because, more and more, vendors are pushing onto the floor. But Jayson said, given Oscar’s newness, he has been pleased with his real estate.
“In-store shops allow for a backdrop, so consumers can quickly see what the presentation is. Women are moving through the store so quickly now.”
“It’s important for a woman, when she walks into an area, to be able to see it all, to take it in at a glance,” said de la Renta.
Another area Oscar is expanding is casual offerings, such as loose cotton jackets and cozy Tactel sweaters. But while bridge lines have attempted to grow by expanding into casual divisions, Jayson said Oscar isn’t ready for that yet.
“We’re going more into casual, yes, but we’re maintaining the wear-to-work clothes,” he said. “It isn’t about a subdivision at this point. It’s about creating a casual product with the same sophistication that will appeal to the same customer.”
“You can diversify the line, but you cannot diversify to the point where you have no identity,” said de la Renta. “Some successful lines lose impact that way. But if you stay focused on the bridge business, it can be very valuable.”

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