Byline: Janet Ozzard

NEW YORK — Bridge sportswear is often regarded as straightforward but less than exciting clothes for the working woman. Some retailers say that’s starting to change, that customers who are saturated with basics now want fashion and novelty.
“The bridge customer is more comfortable buying fashion,” said Lynne Ronon, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of Saks Fifth Avenue. “It’s a trend, and we’re looking into it. We are developing the major resources, but we’re also looking for those new, smaller companies that don’t have a lot of distribution.”
Bonnie Pressman, executive vice president of Barneys New York, said, “It’s about new product. It still has to have classic lines, but with a lot of fashion at nice prices.”
Pressman said she tries to keep jackets in the $200 to $400 range.
In the Eighties, she said, for women executives to seem overly interested in fashion carried “a stigma,” but no longer. Now, she said, there are no longer negative connotations in showing an interest in looking fashionable.
“It’s the same with pants or skirts, short or long,” said Pressman. “It’s all okay to wear. And I think women want to look better, more pulled together. I know I’ve been seeing fewer women wearing sneakers to work.”
In response to that increasing interest in fashion, three bridge companies — one 18-year-old company updating its look, one recently arrived in the U.S. and one new — are working that angle.
Go Silk, the bridge line here that literally made its name with washed silk fabrics in loose, boxy shapes, has added wool, cotton, linen and even leather.
Jerry Hirsch, who founded the company, said he felt it was time for it to move away from the soft shapes that made it a mainstay of contemporary departments and introduce some fashion, such as more structure and a tighter fit.
For fall, the line includes a wool windowpane check jacket and matching jumper dress, a tight little black nylon suit with a 16-inch skirt and even a fit-and-flare suede coat.
There is still plenty of silk on the line, but now it’s made into oxford cloth shirtings, broadcloth separates, shrunken twinsets and twill raincoats.
But Hirsch said he doesn’t want to neglect the customer loyal to Go Silk’s original looks. There are still plenty of washed silk drawstring pants, loose blouses in quiet prints and unconstructed boxy jackets on the line.
“In the beginning, we were hung in the designer area, because designers didn’t then have a casual line,” said Hirsch. “We were at the right price point and we had the right look. But now we fit perfectly into bridge, even though it wasn’t intentional.”
The line is sold in Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman and various specialty stores, Hirsch said.
Originhalles, a bridge line manufactured in Brussels and designed in Italy, is making its U.S. debut.
The line, which was started four years ago by Britt SA, a 20-year-old Belgian apparel manufacturer, started selling in the U.S. last season. It booked about $500,000 in orders, according to Julia Perri, U.S. sales director.
It is being sold in specialty stores such as Tootsie’s in Dallas, Betsey Fisher in Washington, D.C., Joan Franks in Memphis, Tenn., and Pasorella in Philadelphia.
Originhalles has its showroom and U.S. headquarters here at 214 West 39th St., with sales reps in Los Angeles and Dallas.
There are 125 pieces in the fall line, said Perri, and they can be bought in any combination.
“Depending on how you buy the line, it can be ‘item-y,’ missy or contemporary,” said Perri, demonstrating with a variety of long and short jackets and skirts. “You can buy it very straight, with a double-breasted jacket and a 25-inch skirt, or you can buy the metallic halter, the crop jacket and the 17-inch skirt. It’s an alternative to basic lines, with a designer mentality.”
“I thought they had a beautiful diversity of fabrics,” said Lynn Chapin, sportswear buyer at Tootsie’s. “Originhalles was one of my best finds at the Coterie last season.”
Fall fabrics include a wool and Lycra spandex blend, a rayon and cotton blend and cashmere and wool bouclA. Colors groups include basic black, navy, powder blue, slate, olive, plum and pale yellow. There are silk charmeuse blouses, viscose and nylon sheer metallic blouses and halter tops that double as vests.
The line is big on details, including silver filigree and metal bar buttons, leather piping, skinny side ties on jackets and Originhalles’s signature asymmetrical closing.
Jackets wholesale from $149 to $179, with bottoms running $59 to $99. Perri said she planned to book about $1 million for fall.
Ev & El, a new bridge company started by Evgenia Gvozdetsky, 24, and Elena Nazaroff, 25, aims to bring some youthful fashion to the market.
Nazaroff said they decided to price their line in the bridge range, rather than at young designer prices, hoping buyers would be more inclined to try it.
The 35 pieces in the fall collection include A-line coats in pastel wool and silk bouclA or black and white bouclA over coordinating straight or A-line skirts. There are also two dress styles in the bouclA.
The designers also used a black and gray wool, silk and viscose sheer tweed to make two evening dresses at $120, which pair up with two styles of sweeping black rayon crepe coat, at $280. There’s a group of shiny separates in teal, mauve, gray, nude or white 4-way stretch nylon fabric.
Prices run from $50 for a stretch top to $225 for a jacket trimmed with fake fur.
Nazaroff said that the company doesn’t have a firm first-year projection; first, she said, they’d like to get into some big stores and get their name out in the market.
Currently, the line is sold in Viay and Religious Sex, two boutiques here.