Byline: Lisa Lockwood

NEW YORK — Tommy Hilfiger is determined to get women back into department stores this fall.”There are customers between the ages of 18 and 50 who shop in malls, but are drawn into specialty stores. They’ve been turned off by the department stores. The merchandise hasn’t excited them,” said Hilfiger, who hopes to change all that when he unveils his new women’s casualwear and jeans lines, slated for fall delivery.
Hilfiger believes these better-priced collections, which will be shown to stores this month, are just the antidote for a depressed women’s sportswear business.
“I think the demise of the business in department stores gives me a better opportunity to capitalize on the situation,” said Hilfiger, who expects to do $100 million in wholesale volume with the women’s lines in their first year. Within four years, Hilfiger predicts the women’s volume will equal his current men’s wear volume of $400 million. The men’s sportswear lines are sold to 1,400 doors nationwide and 850 in-store shops.
“We think the opportunity in women’s is much larger than men’s,” said Hilfiger.
The women’s lines, licensed to sister company Pepe Jeans London, will be housed in their own in-store shops and will have the same orientation as Hilfiger’s hugely successful men’s sportswear lines. They will also address a casual lifestyle and will have similar athletic, youthful and preppy characteristics.
The women’s effort will be supported by a $25 million advertising blitz this fall that will encompass the sportswear and the new women’s fragrance from EstAe Lauder. The campaign will include jeanswear commercials on MTV and VH-1.
Hilfiger is no stranger to women’s apparel, but he has steered clear of it for nearly a decade. Back in 1986, when Hilfiger was still a part of Murjani International, he had a women’s wear line for 18 months; it flopped. Hilfiger said Murjani lacked financing and couldn’t fund it properly.
“We decided to focus on the segment of the business which we were most successful at, and that was men’s wear,” recalled Hilfiger. “It was always my thought to build men’s to the point where it was on a strong foundation. Then I could use that as a springboard to do anything else.”
Since Hilfiger and his partners bought the company from Murjani in 1988, nearly everything Hilfiger has touched has been successful. But women’s wear has remained an elusive goal. For fiscal 1996, market analysts project Hilfiger’s total business will generate $545 million in wholesale volume, up from $321 million in ’95. The men’s wear company, which went public in 1992 at an initial price of $7.50, has been one of the best-performing apparel stocks on the New York Stock Exchange. It is currently trading at $41 1/8.
This time around, as Hilfiger reenters the women’s arena, he’s armed with considerable clout.
To buy the women’s casualwear line, a department store must agree to install a shop measuring at least 1,800 square feet. Hilfiger said he expects to have 400 women’s in-store shops installed by Aug. 1 near such departments as Liz & Co. and Jones Sport.
Retailers will be offered plenty to fill those shops. For fall, Hilfiger will present 5,400 different items — ranging from cropped T-shirts and suede skirts to baggy carpenter pants and high tech outerwear. The in-store shops will have a glossy white decor with large TV screens and CD-ROMs playing videos and music.
Among the stores that will be offered the women’s lines are such leading Hilfiger men’s wear accounts as Federated Department Stores, Dillard’s and Belks, said the designer.
Based on his successful men’s wear strategy, the women’s casualwear line will consist of four levels: activewear, jeanswear, preppy/classics (core items) and “on-the-edge fashion pieces,” said Hilfiger.
“I think it’s younger, fresher and more colorful [than the competition],” said Hilfiger, who envisions the line falling between Guess and DKNY.
Core products include chinos, chino skirts and turtlenecks, with the signature lion logo crest, as well as different Scottish tartan skirts and dresses.
“We’ll make them look younger and sexier,” said Hilfiger.
Athletic looks will incorporate high tech and colorful, action-oriented fabrics in outerwear, tops, bottoms and knits. Next spring, Hilfiger plans to add swimwear, which his own company will produce.
He noted that for fall, department stores will rearrange their better-price floors to accommodate lines such as his, Lauren and Polo Jeans and Nautica.
Most of the Hilfiger line, which will be manufactured in 21 countries, will be priced in the better range. Jeans, for example, wholesale from $24 to $26, T-shirts from $11 to $15, skirts from $25 to $40, trousers from $25 to $45, sweaters from $40 to $75 and blazers at $125. Sizes range from 2 to 16.
Hilfiger said that his jeans, which will retail for about $48, are priced higher than CK, ($45) and under Guess (about $60). Tommy jeans will be offered in five styles: A T-jean, which is a tight; tomgirl, or relaxed; homegirl, a baggy, carpenter style; a fit that’s hugely oversized, and a baggy, looser style.
Some 25 percent of the business, according to Hilfiger, will be fashion that is “Mod, hip and fresh.” That part of the line will be shown on runways during New York fashion weeks, beginning with spring 1997.
“It’s to keep my design team inspired,” said Hilfiger. “We’ll set trends in that area. We can take Mod and make it more fun. We take trends and make them important to the fashion world.”
Part of Hilfiger’s success in men’s wear has been his ability to dress a range of people from 15-year-old high school students to 60-year-old golfers. He’s also become the designer of choice for such rappers as Salt-n-Pepa, Snoop Doggy-Dog and TLC.
“I think it had to do with the fact that we pushed certain buttons within the music world,” said Hilfiger. “Rock and rap stars started wearing my clothes. We dress a lot of athletes and actors on ‘Beverly Hills 90210.’ These people send a message to the world of what is hip and what is allowed.”
While Hilfiger acknowledged that few men’s wear designers have been able to successfully cross over to women’s apparel, he believes he’s got a great chance to succeed by transferring his whole men’s wear concept of in-store shops and lifestyle advertising to women’s sportswear.
“The stores kept saying, ‘Do what you do for men for women,”‘ said Hilfiger, explaining why he went for a better-priced casualwear line, and not a pricy designer collection.
Hilfiger realized he couldn’t simply resize masculine clothes.
“It’s not exactly men for women. We have to have a certain amount of femininity to it,” said Hilfiger, who sees his female customer as “the wife, girlfriend or sister” who’s been shopping with his male customer.
Once the women’s lines are established, Hilfiger hopes to sign licensing agreements for handbags, underwear, accessories and hosiery, as well as home furnishings. He expects his new 20,000-square-foot Beverly Hills boutique, slated to open in fall 1997, will carry women’s, men’s and children’s wear products and, eventually, the home furnishings collection.

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