ITEMS HEAT UP SUMMER
Byline: Janet Ozzard / Anne D’Innocenzio
NEW YORK — Sportswear makers are betting consumers will shift gears this summer, opting for casual instead of serious, even at the office. In anticipation, bridge, better and moderate manufacturers are offering plenty of trendy and wear-now items.
During summer, the bridge customer’s mind “is on the great weekend she’s planning, not on wardrobing for the office,” said Linda Allard, design director of Ellen Tracy.
For that reason, bridge manufacturers say that the strategy for summer is to offer the consumer plenty of trendy items that work with what she already has.
Since it’s such a short selling season, the trick is to give her something new in every delivery. But with a dismal retail climate to cope with, manufacturers also want to be sure the new styles are easily understood by the consumer. As a result, there will be plenty of fail-safe colors, especially black and white, classic textured fabrics, such as seersucker, and established silhouettes, such as easy dresses or slim pants.
Pants are still going strong both as an item and as part of a suit, while fabrics continue to be predominantly lightweight, textured and trans-seasonal in wool crepes and tricotines.
“Sexy, bare and cool” is how Denise Seegal, president of the CK Calvin Klein bridge collection, described that line’s summer look, with colors like citrus, cherry, chartreuse and lavender playing off black or white core pieces.
There’s a variety of stretch fabrics, said Seegal, as well as classic seersucker looks and graphic prints. Silhouettes include crop tops, boot-cut pants, short shorts, capris and jackets with military details.
“We packaged a very focused line based on good price and value to the customer, with key items,” said Elissa Bromer, president of Andrea Jovine. “It has become a very wear-now collection. We all know that the customer is buying closer to need and wants more of an ‘off the rack, on your back’ approach.”
But with the retail environment so grim, Jovine, like other companies, has built in a safety net, said Bromer.
“Everything in the summer line has already retailed, so there’s a comfort level for the retailer,” said Bromer, adding that the company is “planning a 30 percent increase over last year.”
In order to get that, she said: “We’re going after productivity per door here. In addition, we’ve opened internationally — we’re back in Harrods again in London — and we’ll be launching the sport division for fall 1996.
“There’s a lot of knitwear,” said Ellen Tracy’s Allard, “and some relaxed pieces. We really like the new glazed linen, which we showed in our runway show. It looks like leather, and we’re doing it in jackets, skirts and bare tops.”
Items will also be driving Gruppo Americano’s business for summer, according to Joseph Greco, president of the sportswear manufacturer here.
“We’re focusing less on the traditional wear-to-work typical career looks and more on items and colors that play off what everyone already has in their wardrobe,” said Greco. “We’ve introduced novelty fabrics and graphic prints in black and white and red. It will work with what women already have, but it isn’t a mortgage payment. The demand in stores is for items that customers can use to build their wardrobes while adding newness.”
In addition, Gruppo and Jovine are both going after the casual workwear customer — Jovine with extensions of the core line and Gruppo with the launch of a new, more casual line scheduled for fall 1996.
Joy Vinger, designer for Tailor New York, a one-year-old bridge line here, also said she’s going for tried-and-true looks mixed with a bit of whimsy for the summer season.
Tailor New York is “right on target” for its first-year goal of $1.5 million in wholesale volume and is renovating its new 2,500-square-foot showroom at 214 West 39th Street. Styles for summer and transition include short, shaped wool tricotine jackets and pants, lightweight cotton batik sarongs and rayon crepe check separates in natural tones.
Better and Moderate
Summer has never been typically a wardrobing season, but given various factors, the selling period is becoming more difficult for moderate and better vendors. With dress-down days gaining momentum in the office, especially during the warmer months, manufacturers are finding they have to come up with clothes that give consumers a reason to buy. That means going after wear-now fashions and items instead of outfits.
Tao, a better-price sportswear division of Kazu Apparel Group Inc., is increasing its mix in wear-now fashions for the summer season. Wear-now designs had accounted for about 50 percent of the line for the year-ago period; that figure is now 80 percent.
“The shelf life of summer is getting shorter,” said Roland Peralta, president. “You have eight weeks to get in and out of goods. If it isn’t wear-now, the merchandise just won’t turn as fast.”
Tao’s summer line includes shirt jackets in silk organza and silk georgette, which are not as sheer as traditional georgette, as well as skirts and blouses in printed silk georgette.
Tao is also going after items, which now account for about 65 percent of the summer line. The category only made up 40 percent during the year-ago period.
“The culture has changed,” he said. “It is not head-to-toe dressing anymore, especially in the summertime.”
Given the popularity of dress-down days in the office, Tao is offering 65 percent of its summer collection in business casual clothes, like shirt jackets and pants in linen silk.
“We don’t do a big jacket and pants outfit business for summer like we used to,” he said.
At Requirements, a better-price sportswear division of Item-Eyes Inc., company officials are hoping to drive the April-June period with items.
“It is a pretty promotional season, and it is getting more so,” said Marc Abramson, vice president of the division, which is shipping printed jackets, twinsets and challis pants as well as two-piece dressing in shantung. About 75 percent of the business will be in items, as compared to 50 during the year-ago period.
Abramson also noted that the company is shipping for the first time a new group in April. The company had just focused on May and June for the summer selling period.
“The stores need freshness,” he said.
J. McLaughlin, a better-price sportswear division of Sanyo Fashion House Inc., is offering more casual clothes for the summer season.
“For summer, the customer is less jacket driven than she used to be because of dress-down days,” said Mark Feit, president. “She is more into vests.”
J. McLaughlin’s casual fashions for summer include pants, walking shorts, skirts, and vests in Tencel seersucker and acetate and cotton blends with a sharkskin look.
The company is also shipping its first traditional late summer/early fall collection on June 30, instead of July 15. The line features pinstriped jackets, pants and skirts in viscose.
“We are trying to increase the life of the late summer/early fall season,” said Mark Feit, president.
Sag Harbor’s summer line includes soft dressing in linen and knits, which will hit the stores April 30.
“We are continuing spring fabrics right through spring and summer and converting the colors,” said Harvey Solomon, president. Sag Harbor’s summer palette includes raisin, black, camel and hunter green, while the spring line includes navy, pink and banana.