Byline: Kathleen Nicholson

NEW YORK — It’s no big secret: Private label has little to do with rewriting fashion rules and lots to do with making money. That doesn’t mean store brands can afford to ignore seasonal trends completely. Some stores, in fact, have become experts in the art — and science — of commercial interpretation.
Here, a spot check of stores and their private label offerings for spring.

The Limited
Virtually founded on private label, The Limited has introduced a few brand names throughout its Madison Avenue store, but the focus here is on store labels, and they do it well, tapping all the season’s trends as well as plenty of weekend basics. Some of the best are:
The shaped suit in pretty pastels. A silk piquA pantsuit is $266 while a cotton bouclA jacket dress sells for $246.
The polo — at $28 is sexy, shaped, in numerous colors.
Shine — pastel T-shirts for $29, and tailored shirts for $48.
Futuristic synthetic A-line dresses for $78.
Retro rompers in dainty prints for $68.
Quality appears high here relative to the price, and clothes are well presented in a spacious environment.

Saks Fifth Avenue
Private label brands here are The Works career separates and Real Clothes casual and weekend apparel. The Works does a better job of targeting the season’s trends. Sure, there are plenty of career separates for the well-heeled set on the bridge sportswear floor, but the store gets high marks for spring must-haves, including
The knit twin set in black, white or spring’s newest color, nude, at $166.
Flirty silk bias skirts in prints and pindots for $78.
Retro print or pindot blouses for $98.
The pastel skirt suit with a cropped fitted jacket and short A-line skirt at $276 for two pieces. (Tahari’s similar suit is $378).
The jacket dress in pale pink for $238.
Shine — pastel stretch T-shirts to pair with suits for $48.
The Real Clothes boutique is an alternative for those who would rather not partake in spring’s madness for fit and long for the slouchier look of season’s past. Don’t look for any big trends here, just easy clothes in a pleasing palette of sage, banana and pale peach.
Best looks here for spring are the Chinese-influenced jackets for $128 and silk print sarongs for $78. (A similar look of higher quality can be found just next door at Company Ellen Tracy — $275 for a linen mandarin jacket and silk print sarong for $195).

At Herald Square, there are almost as many private labels as there are floors. Some of the biggest are International Concepts, Morgan Taylor and Charter Club. International Concepts is by far the best fashion collection at this store. Located on the moderate floor, it’s a concise, contemporary line that’s young and sexy without being too trendy.
Best spring looks are:
Retro — in long bias print skirts, $58, or long fit-and-flare floral dresses, $88, or butterscotch rompers for $66.
Sexy shorts for $38 paired with short-sleeved turtleneck sweaters at $38.
* The polo top is here, too, in navy or white cotton piquA knit with contrast piping at $32.
Fit — cropped mandarin vests at $48, slim cigarette pants at $58, little A-line skirts at $44.
Morgan Taylor Studio is the working girl’s label. Although the merchandise was inconspicuously wedged in between the Jones New York shop and the Finity and Kenar spaces on the better/bridge floor, the quality of these heavy, washed-silk suit separates was good, and prices were reasonable.
There were hints of trends from past seasons here that still work for the corporate world: the boxy jacket, $158, and the slim skirt and the cropped vest, both at $68, in sophisticated slate blue or stone silk. And making its debut for spring is the New Length dress at $108.
The classic Charter Club label has changed little from season to season. CC spends most of its time and space pushing promotional items like cuffed walking shorts at $32, polo tops at $19.50 or cotton crewneck sweaters at $35, all in pastels. The only pieces that looked fresh were the dainty floral print peter pan blouses at $59. The linen blazers, $129, and cuffed city shorts, $59, were not only dated but poorly constructed.

Crinkle, last spring’s rage on the runways, has made it to the mass level and is the thrust of the Jaclyn Smith label’s collection. Although this fabric is yesterday’s news, it looks fresh here colored up in this year’s pretty pastels. Kmart likes pale pink, sage, white and ivory for the Smith line, and the quality is good when considering the average price point lingers around $20 retail.
This store’s focus, for all of its private labels, is not on fit but on the unconstructed look — boxy, collarless jackets at $25.99 that can be layered over long vests, $19.99, and full-leg pants, $21.99. Jaclyn Smith merchandises its solids with feminine rayon florals in coordinating colors — a dainty little-collar blouse for $19.99 and a long button-front skirt for $21.99. There’s not a lot of variety here in terms of styling. Pants styles are either drawstring or elastic waist with full legs and skirts are long, button-front and elastic waist.

Barneys New York
Famous for using some of the top European factories for its private label manufacturing, Barneys does its homework. Concentrating mostly on suited looks for women for spring, the store’s private label merchandise is housed in its own slick boutique on a floor it shares with Michael Kors, Victor Alfaro and Anne Klein. Prices are high here, but quality, fabrics, and tailoring are impeccable.
While this store interprets the trends well, many of the looks have a timeless look to them. Some suits have a European flavor — shaped, in rich checks or muted tones and pastel bouclAs or tweeds — while pastel seersucker suits were strictly all-American.
Spring trends included
The pale blue fitted jacket with peter pan collar at $575 with a matching short bias skirt at $235.
The Jackie O dress at $498 with a matching cropped peter pan collar jacket at $450.
The New Length bias dress at $475.
Fitted Forties-style silk blouses at $210.
The A-line dress in wool georgette at $475.