BURKE’S LAW: DESIGN BY EXPERIENCE

Byline: Michael Marlow

LOS ANGELES — Delta Burke is serious about her new real-life role as a designing woman.
The television actress is launching a large-size women’s apparel collection that includes jeanswear and casual and career sportswear. Her firm, Delta Blues Inc., will roll out two lines this summer for deliveries beginning Nov. 15: core jeanswear under the Delta Blues label and career and casual sportswear with the Delta Burke Design label. For fall 1996, she will add sleepwear, activewear and accessories.
The firm reportedly is expecting to do between $40 million and $60 million in its first year. W.E. Stephens, a Nashville-based manufacturer, will produce, license and merchandise the collection.
Burke and her firm have been working on the concept for the past 18 months, conducting research and drafting preliminary sketches. In late February, she made her first industry appearance for the venture, at the WWD/Magic International women’s apparel show in Las Vegas. The actress drew scores of retailers and vendors to a booth that featured only sketches and a videotape.
Burke, best known for her role in the popular television show “Designing Women,” was candid about her lack of experience in the apparel industry during an interview after the appearance.
“But that’s the way I have been in all my careers — learning as I go along,” she said.
What Burke lacks in experience she has tried to make up by surrounding herself with a team of industry veterans, including Ross Klein, senior vice president and creative director, who most recently was with Bonjour jeans,. While not well versed in the technicalities of the apparel business, Burke said life has given her the experience she needs to be design director.
“As I am the customer, a lot of things in my lifestyle collection come from my specific needs or things that have worked well for me in the past,” she said. “I can now share these things with other women, such as some clever engineering on the bottoms and, well, for that matter, some clever engineering on the tops as well.”
Wholesale prices for the line are targeted for department stores, with cotton denim jeans ranging from $14.75 to $17 each. Dresses range from $35 for a basic cotton summer dress to $65 for a silk two-piece number. Suits range from $49 for washed silk to $90 for a more-constructed linen or wool blend.
Unlike other celebrity deals, where the actual namesake has little involvement in the product, Burke made it clear she is intimately involved in her venture. She said she splits her life now between the taping of her new television show “Women of the House” and Delta Burke Design.
“While I am in L.A., I review and create a lot of sketches and fabric ideas while also taking some of our prototypes out for a ‘test drive’ for quality and fit,” Burke said. “When I’m not taping, I work out of the New York office selecting fabrics and visiting our other facilities such as the one in Nashville, where we conduct a lot of our fit sessions with a wide range of real-people models.”
Klein said although the company will work with different licensees in the future for various products, all lines will be merchandised through the Delta Burke Design offices at 12 West 57th St. in New York. The firm will have an 800 telephone number and an Internet mailbox to get feedback from customers. .
Catherine Myers, divisional merchandising manager for dresses for Frederick Atkins, New York-based buying office, said she thought the line would “be a boon” to large-size customers, who especially need more choices in softer, easy career clothing.
“She’s a great role model,” Myers said. “Let’s face it, she looks stunning in her clothes on TV.”