WOMEN ON DECK
Byline: Anne D’Innocenzio
NEW YORK — After actively courting men with its outerwear jackets and boldly striped shirts, Nautica Apparel, in a licensing deal with Bernard Chaus Inc., is now aggressively reaching out to women with a bridge line.
It touts high-performance activewear mixed with edgy designs like leather pants.
The line, designed to be worn on weekends or to the office, will make its debut in department and specialty stores in August. It will be near Ralph and DKNY, although it will be 30 percent less expensive, according to David Chu, president, chief executive officer and designer for Nautica International, the sportswear arm of Nautica Enterprises Inc., the parent company.
It aims to fill the void between the better market, which Chu believes “lacks style,” and the bridge zone, an area he feels has gotten “too pricy.”
“My collection offers the consumer a lot of value, but it is well designed. At the same time, it is not dressy,” said Chu, who is designing the women’s line. “It caters to a casual lifestyle with a twist. It’s performance mixed with casual.
“With dress-down Fridays, there is no rule to the way we are dressing right now,” he said. “It’s all about multipurpose dressing.”
Chu, along with Michael Winter, president of the licensed division, was interviewed at the new division’s showroom at 1410 Broadway.
For two seasons, Chu has been going after this hybrid look — mixing performance wear with casual sportswear — in his men’s collection. Last month, Nautica’s fall runway show featured male models in ski jackets with tailored suits.
The women’s line, which has 300 styles, consists of three groups: casual, activewear and career, some of it offering shots of such bold colors as oranges, reds and yellows. Looks for early fall include outerwear jackets in Nautex, the company’s trademarked waterproof fabric, shown with leather pants and a merino wool zip-front turtleneck; a nylon peacoat with a stretch cotton and Lycra spandex skirt and merino wool turtleneck, and a reversible denim and corduroy jacket with a gingham shirt, a Supplex layering T-shirt and stretch twill pants.
Wholesale prices are $50 to $100 for skirts, $100 to $125 for dresses, $120 to $190 for jackets and $90 to $175 for outerwear.
By the end of the year, Nautica plans 50 in-store women’s shops at its major accounts, including Nordstrom, Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s, Winter said. These shops will be 600 to 1,500 square feet. Winter noted that they will be more feminine in feeling than its men’s wear shops, with fixtures in lighter-toned wood. Nautica currently operates 850 men’s shops in major accounts.
Winter expects wholesale volume for its women’s licensed division to hit at least $30 million within six months. One big positive, he says, is the strong following the men’s wear line has had among women, who’ve been snapping up Nautica sweatshirts and outerwear for themselves in the men’s wear departments. So far, the women’s line has gotten favorable reaction from retailers.
“I really like the color, especially the oranges and reds in the outwear,” said Lavelle Olexa, fashion director at Lord & Taylor, which will be buying the line for fall selling. “I also think the logo sweatshirts, as well as such outerwear pieces as fur trimmed parkas and the anoraks, are great, too. The whole concept of casual career, I think, will work really well for our customer.”
“We’ve been quite successful with the Nautica men’s line,” continued Olexa. “Women have also been shopping the line for themselves as well.”
“I think it is great, and very saleable,” said Chuck Anderson, buyer for bridge and contemporary casual sportswear at Macy’s West, who saw the line last week. “It is also very well-priced. I think the strength of the line is in items, casual and active. I probably will be buying the item jackets, item tops and stretch leggings, though we have not picked the locations.”
As part of its strategy to capitalize on the women’s market, Nautica also plans to develop a licensed active and casual shoe line, as well as a watch collection, to be in stores for spring ’97. Nautica is also in discussions to develop a licensed fragrance line to be in stores by the end of the year, but the company would not identify the other party in the talks.
For the year ended Nov. 30, Nautica Enterprises saw profits increase 32.4 percent to $29.9 million, with sales moving ahead 20.2 percent to $285.6 million.
For the fourth quarter, Nautica reported a 25.3 percent increase in profits to $11.9 million and a 4.4 percent increase in sales to $90.8 million.
According to market sources, Chaus executives are counting on Nautica’s powerhouse brand to help turn around the beleaguered moderate sportswear firm, which has lost money in four of the last five years.
For the year ended Dec. 31, Chaus saw a loss of $18.3 million on sales of $167.6 million.
As reported, Nautica is one of several powerful men’s wear brands getting into the women’s field. Tommy Hilfiger is producing a denim and casualwear line, to be in stores for fall selling. And Levi’s Dockers is aiming to develop its fledgling women’s business over the next few years. Meanwhile, Lauren by Ralph Lauren, a better line licensed by Jones Apparel Group, will make its debut for fall selling.
While the general talk in the market is that there are too many brands, several industry analysts believe the licensed Nautica women’s line will be a real winner.
“From what I heard, this should be a real hit,” said Andrew Jassin, an apparel industry consultant. “Nautica has a strong trademark, and there is a strong chance for success. The brand has gotten a strong crossover customer base.”
“The Nautica brand has a lot of staying power,” said Jane Werner, assistant professor of fashion buying and merchandising at Fashion Institute of Technology. “Women have been buying Nautica for years for their husbands and boyfriends — and for themselves. They have just been rolling up the sleeves.”
“It fits right into the consumer’s lifestyle,” she continued. “Consumers want clothes that can go anywhere.”
Chu said he is targeting the Nautica line at the 23-to-40-year-old career woman, who shops such brands as Banana Republic and DKNY.
Company executives say they’re not concerned that the women’s line will take away business from the men’s wear line.
“If anything, we will enhance the business, because of the visibility,” said Winter. “The men’s fashions did not really fit the woman customer. The new line will really be suited for her in both styling and fit.”
As part of its marketing efforts, Chu said the company plans a direct mail campaign as well as a print ad strategy, but he would not elaborate. Chu is also considering showing the women’s Nautica line at the Bryant Park tents in the next year or so.
Chu said designing the women’s line went far beyond just “translating men’s fashions into the women’s market.”
“I went into this with a totally different perspective,” he said, noting that some of his inspirations came from street looks. “The women’s business is faster-paced than men’s. Woman constantly want new fabrics and fashions,” said Chu, whose fabrics like Tencel, Lycra wool and stretch knits are not included in the men’s wear line. “The men’s wear line is hip but very traditional.
“It’s like being a painter,” he added. “I have more mediums for expression.”