Byline: Lisa Lockwood

NEW YORK — Tommy Hilfiger has decided to delay the launch of a bridge collection and go the women’s jeans and better casualwear route instead, at least for now.
The hot men’s wear designer said he’ll focus his efforts on developing what he projects will be a $100 million jeans and casual business with his sister company, Pepe Jeans London Corp. That ambitious volume target is only for the first year, however, and Hilfiger speculated that in three to five years the business could eclipse his $400 million-plus men’s operation.
Hilfiger’s game plan had been to introduce a women’s bridge sportswear line under license sometime in 1997. A license for that line is still a possibility, but not in the foreseeable future.
“To be honest, the research kept telling us that the bridge business is having major problems. I don’t know if it’s the appropriate time to jump into that situation. I’d rather go into a situation that would be explosive for me,” said Hilfiger Wednesday.
Hilfiger’s jeans and casualwear line, to bow in March for fall 1996 selling, is expected to hit $80 million to $100 million at wholesale the first year. A women’s ad campaign will break in July.
Last June, after assessing the costs and benefits of developing a women’s bridge line internally, Hilfiger decided the firm would seek a licensee for bridge sportswear. Jay Margolis, who at the time was president and vice chairman of Hilfiger, had been spearheading the women’s project and left the firm at the time of the announcement. The company then began talking to leading sportswear firms about licensing opportunities. Liz Claiborne Inc. was among them, as reported, but talks never progressed, said Hilfiger.
In August, Hilfiger signed a licensing deal with his affiliate firm, Pepe, to launch a women’s and men’s jeanswear line. That idea has now mushroomed into a total jeans and casualwear collection at better price points. Tommy Jeans, as the jeanswear is called, and Tommy by Tommy Hilfiger, the casualwear line, is headed by Bubbles Bott, president.
Asked if development of the new casualwear line, produced by a sister company, runs contrary to the firm’s cost findings, Hilfiger said, “It’s going to cost initially for the setup, but we like to do things in the proper way. We won’t allow any stores to buy products without committing to opening shops.”
“At first I started designing jeanswear and added related products. It kept winding out [into more products],” said Hilfiger, noting that the casualwear will encompass twill skirts, jeans skirts, twill trousers, blouses, tops, sweaters and jackets.
“It’s a complete collection,” said Hilfiger, who noted that it’s priced at the same better-priced level as his men’s sportswear.
Hilfiger said this line won’t preclude him from doing a bridge sportswear collection down the road, but added: “I want to make sure this is flawless first.”
“I think it will be a massive business,” he said.
“Eventually we think it will probably be larger than our men’s business, which does between $400 million and $500 million,” said Hilfiger. “I think there’s a big void between Guess and DKNY,” explained Hilfiger, who plans to put himself smack in the middle. “It’s for people who have great style, who want to be up to the minute in terms of trends,” he said.
Hilfiger said he’s consistently taken a cautious approach to launching businesses, and he’s in no rush to jump into the bridge sportswear arena. “Today I could probably sign 50 licensees, but I don’t want to. I want every situation to be well thought out.”

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