Byline: Janet Ozzard

NEW YORK — “Bridge lines today are a little bit boring,” said Stefano Guerriero, head stylist at the bridge company Laurel, a division of Escada AG. “Things are looking a bit gray. We felt color, femininity and details were missing.”
Guerriero and Elisabeth Schwaiger, head of the Laurel design team, are changing Laurel’s look to supply that missing link.
“The minimalist feeling is too androgynous,” said Guerriero. “We like simplicity, but it doesn’t have to look boring. I’ve learned that to sell clothes, there has to be something special — a button, a trim, an unusual color combination.”
The new look at Laurel started with the fall 1996 line, the first to show the influence of Guerriero and Schwaiger. Schwaiger is an alumna of Escada. She worked for Laurel from 1983 to 1993, but left for a few years to be head designer at ARA, another Munich-based apparel company. She came back to Laurel last October to head the design team.
Guerriero has been working on the line since last September. Before that, he was with the design teams of Gianni Versace and Genny.
The fall line includes a leopard-and-rose print group based around camel separates, a black-and-white group that uses a leopard print as an accent, a Mod group featuring such styles as a double-breasted velvet pantsuit in colors like deep blue and turquoise, a sport-inspired group using quilted nylon and stretch fabrics in neon brights with black underpinnings, and a group of tailored separates based around gray tones. LaurAl also added some eveningwear to its offerings.
Wholesale prices run from $69 for underpinnings to $225 for jackets, with outerwear pieces slightly higher.
“One of our strengths is the way we do prints,” said Schwaiger, pointing to an intarsia jacket and a graphic Op Art print quilted coat. “But there’s always something in the print so that the piece works back with a neutral bottom, so women know how to wear it.”
“Laurel also has a good price-value relationship,” said Ron Frasch, president and chief executive officer of Escada USA Inc. “We know through studies that [the bridge customer/executive woman] today is going to spend about $3,000 a year on clothes. If she goes into a store and puts together a jacket, a bottom and a blouse, that’s about $800. That’s a lot of money.
“She has to get a lot more out of her wardrobe now, and she doesn’t want a jacket that’s going to last one season. She wants one that’s going to last four or five years.”
Frasch declined to reveal Laurel’s volume, but market sources put the wholesale business at about $25 million.
While Laurel won’t forsake its core sportswear offerings, it’s also trying to branch out to the woman who “doesn’t always need to wear a suit,” said Guerriero.
“Not every woman who has money to spend on clothes needs to buy a suit,” he said. “Maybe she wants a cashmere pullover and jersey pants and a coat, but we want to give her a fashion message.”
As reported, Laurel has also broken out its jeanswear offerings to a separate division, although the jeans styles will always coordinate with the main sportswear groups.
As part of Escada’s moves to focus more attention on Laurel, the company has started a print ad campaign featuring Christy Turlington.
Laurel is currently sold at Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Jacobson’s, Nordstrom and specialty stores, said Frasch. It’s also carried in Escada’s freestanding stores in Chicago and Las Vegas.

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