Byline: Janet Ozzard

NEW YORK — Going into the fall season, bridge manufacturers are keeping a firm grip on prices, even if it bites into the bottom line.
With the cost of being in business — from labor to textiles — rising every season, manufacturers have become careful to maximize every value and trim all possible corners. Manufacturers say they hope their pricing strategies will work and they won’t scare away the customer with hefty prices, but nothing is a sure bet.
Some companies are reconsidering where they source and manufacture; others are raising prices — but only slightly, and they all say they are going over lines with a magnifying glass to make sure each item works as hard as it can.
At Anne Klein II, which was remerchandised under new president Marilyn Kawakami, prices have been dropped. The opening price on wool crepe jackets is now about $150.
“We’ve got short and fitted, we’ve got long and loose, we’ve got novelties that go from day into evening,” said Kawakami. “The first deliveries are also dealing with weight; it’s called early fall, but these will be in the stores in July, so we want the customer to be able to put these clothes on and walk away. That’s why we’re using lightweight wools and viscose acetates.”
Kawakami said she didn’t aim to drop prices to a certain percentage: “I just know what the market needed.”
She said Anne Klein II will make sure pieces can be merchandised in a variety of ways; each jacket can go with several bottoms, and later deliveries can work with earlier groups.
“There’s lots of texture, lots of interest,” Kawakami said, showing a fitted vest with a gathered ruffle at the center back. “The whole point of Anne Klein II when we started was a designer look at bridge prices,’ and that’s what we’re getting back to.”
But that doesn’t mean trendy or too forward, said Kawakami, showing a body-hugging sheer black long-sleeved T-shirt that goes under a sheer shirt, and a suit made out of black wool and elastic skiwear fabric that hugs and shapes the body.
“We’re going for fashion that everyone can wear. Let’s face it, our customer is aging, and while we all go to the gym and do what we can, we can’t wear everything we’d like to,” she said.
At Gruppo Americano, president Joseph Greco said that while prices are key, he’s forced to go up on styles this fall.
However, he said, he’s increasing the amount of novelty in his line. “We’ve found that if a garment looks like it’s worth the money, the consumer will pay. I believe people already have a closet full of basics, so the things that had been mainstays will actually be a much smaller part of the line. The fall groups are full of novelty.
“We’re hoping that by offering more design and more products at a lesser price, we’ll get better full-price sell-throughs. It’s less margin, but I’d rather go in knowing the customer is going to buy it and I don’t have to deal with markdowns later.”
“Fabrics are up at least 25 percent,” said Maura de Visscher, president of Emanuel/
Emanuel Ungaro. “We know that price is key, but you can’t have fabrics going up and not raise prices. We’re trying to hold price increases to 10 or 15 percent.
“The trend for the moment is fitted, and that will save a little bit of fabric. We’re being very creative, merchandising style by style. You have to be very creative, pricing each piece and maybe taking a little less in the jacket but a little more in the trouser.”
At Tahari, president Tom Murry said he’d hold prices on the bridge sportswear line, even though the Italian fabrics the company uses are going up 10 to 15 percent.
He said he wouldn’t change where the company sources because Tahari has built up relationships with various mills. “We’ll struggle to absorb it,”he said. “To try to get a few extra points of markup and miss the correct retail price is not the way to absorb it. Our consumer responds to intrinsic value.”
Victor Coopersmith, chief executive of Andrea Jovine, also said he’d hold prices steady for fall.
“We do not believe we can pass on rising fiber prices to the consumer,” said Coopersmith. “It is evident to anyone that in order to continue to exist, at any price point, you have to be value-driven. Margins are going to be thinner, and we’ll try to hit the sourcing and factories to get them to be a little flexible.”
The same holds true for the bridge company Randy Kemper. Mark Attix, vice president, said the company would hold prices firm for early fall deliveries.
“We researched far in advance and put our orders in early to secure better prices — and while we still use viscose and wool blends, people are starting to be a little more accepting of polyester and polyester blends. But man-mades are not really an option — for spring, consumers want silk, linen, cotton, viscose and natural fiber blends.