Byline: Miles Socha

NEW YORK — Designer John Bartlett met an enthusiastic fan of his debut women’s wear collection on Sept. 30: 68-year-old Billie Thorpe, a retired New York City bank clerk.
She was among a trickle of shoppers who showed up at Saks Fifth Avenue’s flagship here to meet the designer during one of two scheduled appearances in his 940-square-foot shop on the fifth floor.
Later in the day, about 100 people — including press — attended a Bavarian theme cocktail party, complete with models and violinists.
Thorpe came in hot pursuit of Bartlett’s fitted leather shirt with short, buckled sleeves, which was featured in a newspaper advertisement promoting the event.
“I saw this and I thought it was just out of this world,” she said. “His things are nice; they’re not too fancy.”
Saks had only one of the $920 shirts left, but not in Thorpe’s size. Which left her to contemplate the $1,755 shirtdress version.
“What I like is the long slit in the back,” Thorpe told the designer as she inspected the racy frock.
Thorpe asked Saks to try to find her size and left her phone number.
Bartlett, a hot men’s wear designer who launched women’s wear this fall under a partnership with Italian sportswear manufacturer Genny Holding SpA, said meeting customers helps him better understand what women want.
“We’ve been so surprised by what’s been selling and who the customer is,” he said. “They’ll definitely buy a leather tube top before they buy a pair of black pants.
“It’s like my men’s wear customer. It’s definitely someone who wants to dress sexier. It’s really a cross section of people who are into it and following fashion and what’s happening.”
For his upcoming spring collection, which he’ll show Nov. 3 at Chelsea Piers, Bartlett promises more of an “outfit approach” to his women’s collection and more skirts and dresses — not only feminized versions of his fitted, sexy men’s wear.
Bartlett also plans to concentrate on designer price points, eliminating the $140 jersey dresses that were part of his first effort.
“Pricing for spring won’t be as broad,” said Nickelson Wooster, president of John Bartlett Unlimited. “It’ll be more concentrated to the designer market because that’s what’s retailing. That’s what the customer wants from us.”
Saks’ Stephen Bock, executive vice president of merchandising, said Bartlett’s fall collection has achieved a 40 percent sell-through after only eight weeks on the floor, with knitwear and leather the leading categories.
“We’re rushing more units to the floor because it’s done so well,” stated Bock. “We’re very excited with the results. It’s ahead of where we thought it would be, and we’re very happy with the numbers.”
Saks also carries Bartlett’s women’s wear at its Beverly Hills, Calif., unit.
Other U.S. retailers that carry Bartlett’s women’s wear include Bloomingdale’s, Neiman Marcus and Barneys New York.
Bartlett and Wooster declined to provide volume projections for their women’s wear debut, but said they expect it will exceed men’s wear by next season.
Genny projects Bartlett’s women’s and men’s wholesale volume will reach $20 million in three years.

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