NEW YORK — The better zone, once squeezed by the bridge and moderate areas, is now emerging as one of retailing’s bright spots.
Department stores that have been burned by lackluster sales in their moderate departments are going after better business, with an eye toward developing the “much better” area.
Stores are also getting a boost from key player Jones Apparel Group, whose Jones New York brand continues to be a stellar performer.
Liz Claiborne, which is undergoing a makeover by president and chief executive officer Paul Charron, is also showing signs of improvement, according to buyers.
Claiborne anticipates that its new TV and print ad campaign, which bows in March, will generate excitement among consumers.
Competition is heating up in the overall better area as proven players are stepping in. Bridge resource Adrienne Vittadini, for example, is entering the arena with AV Options, a cotton line that debuts at retail this spring. It is expected to go head-to-head with Liz Claiborne’s Liz & Co.
AV Options reportedly could account for 40 percent of the firm’s overall sales in the next couple of years.
Ralph Lauren recently signed a license with Jones Apparel Group to produce a better line, Lauren by Ralph Lauren, to be in stores this spring. The newcomers will enter the field at a time when better career looks have not been selling well. Some manufacturers said stores are overplaying the better career looks after neglecting the category last spring.
“The career business was tough this fall,” said Ellen Daniel, president of Evan-Picone, a division of Jones Apparel Group. “Stores are having a hard time unloading the merchandise.”
Evan-Picone, however, is planning for a double-digit percentage increase for the first six months of the year, Daniel said.
Long and short jackets, cuffed trousers and big shirts in textured fabrics that include herringbone weaves and refined men’s wear patterns should be key looks going forward, she added. Ed Jones 3rd, president and chief operating officer of Segrets Inc., which markets Siegred Olsen sportswear, is expecting a 40 percent increase in the next six months, based on a new restructuring of the company.
As reported, the firm is going after the upper end of the better zone with a new line called Collection that should account for 40 percent of its sales in the next year. The line features soft career dressing in Tencel and cotton. Segrets’ weekend wear line, called Sport, which is primarily denim and cotton, accounts for the remainder of the company’s sales, Jones said.
To gear up for the company’s growth, Segrets is moving to an 8,000-square-foot showroom at 575 Seventh Ave. in March. Its current showroom, at 1412 Broadway, is only 3,000 square feet.
In addition, Segrets is launching a print advertising campaign in trade publications and an outdoor ad campaign in Manhattan. In June, the company also plans to roll out the ad campaign in consumer magazines. Models Patti Hansen and Carmen will be featured.
In the next year, Segrets expects department stores to account for 20 percent of its overall business — a 10 percent increase — compared with this year, Jones said.
For 1995, Karen Kane Inc., a Los Angeles firm, is planning for a 20 percent increase, according to a company spokeswoman.
Opening concept shops with key retailers such as Bloomingdale’s has strengthened business, she said.
“Due to the consolidation of retailers, we’re working with a smaller number of buyers. We’re showing them how they can differentiate themselves from their own stores as well as from competitors,” the spokeswoman said.

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