IMPORTING NEW ATTITUDE

Byline: Karen Parr

NEW YORK — A wave of provocative new imports, from manufacturers as far apart as Tokyo and Barcelona, has found a home in streetwear shops across the U.S., from Haight Street in San Francisco to SoHo here.
Many of them offer pricy merchandise with lots of attitude. Just as unconventional is their approach to growth. They say they are content to have limited distribution, for now, in hopes of establishing a certain cachet among young people here before potentially expanding.
Patricia Field, owner of Patricia Field in Greenwich Village, struck a deal with Tokyo manufacturer Ozone Community Corp. for the opening last July of Hotel Venus, her store here in SoHo that specializes in Japanese imports. Now, the store is the exclusive purveyor of the manufacturer’s streetwear lines Ozone Community and Hysteric Glamour. The lines are found nowhere else in this country, said Field.
“Hysteric Glamour’s an important line,” Field explained. “It has a pop esthetic and a sexy esthetic. It’s a line for younger people, but it has the good quality that we don’t find as often in that generation of goods.”
The quality better be good, because after import taxes, the retail prices of Hysteric Glamour are hefty for the youth market. A cotton T-shirt can be as much as $70, and a cardigan sweater with removable fake-fur collar is $240.
“With a line like Hysteric Glamour, there is price resistance,” she said. “Over time you build a customer, and when girls are spending that kind of money, they don’t want to go to every store and see those clothes hanging there.”
Field and her Japanese partners have a similar philosophy about brand building, she said. Rather than cashing in on a brand, both want to keep the brands in limited distribution, so that it will have that “special” feeling.
Masa Kanazawa, manager for Ozone Community Corp., which he said pulled in $65 million in total wholesale sales last year, said his company is concentrating on the relationship with Field for now, although other stores have tried to get the line.
“This is the right way, good for us, good for them,” he said.
Ozone Community Corp. was established in 1977 and began with the Ozone Community label. Hysteric Glamour began 10 years ago. In Japan, Hysteric Glamour is distributed in 46 same-named stores, and Ozone Community in 36 Ozone Community stores.
Other new vendors are also moving into American territory.
Cultura, a new line out of Monte Carlo, Monaco, broke at the Styleworks show in New York in September and has taken a temporary showroom at 499 Seventh Avenue.
While making inroads into the U.S., Jennifer Baginski, U.S. sales director, said they are still limiting distribution.
“We’re not looking to saturate the market, selling every mom-and-pop store,” she said. “We’re being selective — not in a snobbish way, but we want to be loyal and build a relationship.”
The line is in its first season in Europe as well as in the U.S. It includes denim, short-shorts, halters, underwear and forward pieces such as rubber appliquA pants. Wholesale prices average from $16 to $64 for a knit top, $38 to $60 for pants and $64 for a jacket.
The line has been ordered by specialty stores and boutiques, such as Antique Boutique in New York and X Collection in Los Angeles.
Onyx, an Italian line based in Rome, opened a showroom at 745 Fifth Avenue here last March and is going into its second season for spring. It has been sold in Europe for the last eight years.
Ivana Nonnis Mion, U.S. sales and marketing director for Onyx, said the line is going to be limited to select better specialty stores.
“These days, it pays off to remain loyal and committed to certain accounts,” said Mion. “I like to think of it as long term, rather than short-sightedly selling the product to just anybody.”
Onyx is carried by specialty stores and boutiques such as Antique Boutique and Detour, both located here.
The line, which includes knits, denim and accessories such as logoed backpacks and handbags, has wholesale prices averaging $39 for boot-leg pants and $24 for a knit halter.
Mion said Onyx’s worldwide sales last year reached $120 million, and the company has done about $1 million in the U.S. in the last six months.
Custo Line, noted mostly for its vivid photo-print T-shirts, is a 14-year-old line from Barcelona, Spain. It is now being distributed out of a Champlain, N.Y., office by a Montreal-based company called Typhoon International. It arrived at Showroom 433 at 1466 Broadway here last month.
Richard Brown, marketing director and national sales manager for Custo Line, said he entered the U.S. largely through trade shows such as Surf Expo in Orlando, Magic in Los Angeles and ASR in Atlanta and San Diego.
He feels distribution for the U.S. must be select.
“We know that because we’re not going in with a pre-sold consumer, we’ve got to build this product with the front-end key boutique and independent retailers who have the edge and are looking for the newness,” he said.
Custo Line’s first deliveries were in August. It is carried at specialty stores such as NaNa here and Villains, a boutique on San Francisco’s Haight Street. The wholesale price range is $35 to $65.
At Villains, buyer Robert Vonderheide has ordered both Onyx and Cultura and carries Custo Line and W&LT, in addition to Diesel, L’Energia and Miss 60, all from Italy.
Vonderheide said Diesel has been his top-selling vendor for two years, making up about 10 to 20 percent of the business.
The financial drawbacks of carrying imports, such as the taxes added onto the wholesale prices and the markdowns, are akin to investment costs, he said.
“With a crazy line like W&LT, you probably sell 60 to 70 percent of the line and sell the rest at a markdown, 25 percent off or whatever. For now, that’s because it’s such a new line in the country,” he said.
“The name has to be built up a little bit. Then you’ll get a lot more sell-through.”
Troy Pierce, a buyer at Antique Boutique, said his store will carry Cultura and Onyx, in addition to brands such as E-Play, a division of the Replay brand out of Italy, and W&LT.
This winter is the first season the store carried E-Play, with pants at around $129 and jackets at $395, and it has been on the top 10 list every time, along with W&LT.
He said any gamble with overseas lines is worth the risk, because it adds to the separation of his store from every other store on the block.
“A lot of the other stores don’t go to Europe to pick up these things,” he said. “It is risky, and we buy it 10 months in advance, so we have to have faith in our judgment about what people are going to want and what they’re going to pay for it.”
Laurie Carver, a buyer for Zebra Club, a 4,000-square-foot streetwear shop in Seattle, said Onyx is on order for spring. The shop’s top three vendors are Diesel, Replay and L’Energia, in that order.
Carver said the limited distribution of these brands is part of the allure.
“Not everyone can sell those price points, and the fashion’s very different, very cutting-edge,” she said. “It takes a hip, forward boutique store that’s going to merchandise those lines.”

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