Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK — Knowing at least one customer was devoted enough to name her pet goldfish after Dana Buchman, the designer could imagine such fans looking for her name in more logical places, like on a new coat collection.
Granted, the pet naming — something she learned about during a recent store appearance — is more the exception than the norm. But Buchman, whose bridge sportswear collection is a division of Liz Claiborne, understands the importance of brand loyalty and expects her loyal customers to respond to her new outerwear line as a way to complete their outfits.
During an interview last month, Buchman discussed her latest licensing deal with the Levy Group, the outerwear powerhouse that also produces coats for sister labels Liz Claiborne and Elisabeth, and the endless challenge of trying to outfit women with what works for them.
“We’re selling to women who are not interested in esoteric things seen on runways. She wants things to wear that have a fashion feeling even in sporty styles,” Buchman said. “We’re not really going after basics here, but they have to be classics so they’re timeless.”
During the eight months she spent developing the 40-piece coat line, Buchman tried on every one to assure women could move in them freely without struggling to get of a car. Many of the coats are made of Italian wools with subtle accents of her signature style, such as antelope-print lining, novelty buttons and tie-wraps.
Her aim was primarily twofold: create lightweight styles that keep women warm and seasonless items that can be worn for most of the year. A belted full-length coat with a faux-fur collar, a hooded suede zip-front jacket, a leather jacket lined with faux fur, a peacoat and shearlings round out the collection.
Getting into outerwear seemed to be a natural extension of the brand, since jackets and coats mixed into her sportswear line have “sold really well” over the years, she said. Her aim is to create coats that are part of an outfit, not merely a functional item.
Instead of solely focusing on women who shop in department stores for coats — the traditional route for most newcomers to the category — Buchman is trying to extend her reach by focusing on specialty stores, as well as better department stores. The collection bows this fall in about 90 stores, as well as at Buchman’s four freestanding stores. Wholesale prices range from $125 to $600.
While declining to give a specific sales projection, Donald Levy, chairman of the Levy Group, said: “This division is about functionality and beauty. We’re not looking to press high volumes, but we’re in it for the long haul.”
Buchman plans to continue to cull ideas from her customers at in-store events. She also has befriended sales associates and store managers and quizzes them for insight. For the past three months, Buchman has been spending one day each week in a store in a different city. Her objective is to “absorb good information about clothes” from her customers in terms of fit and function. They also give her a better sense of what is working and what’s needed, trendwise, in different regions of the country.
“This is not an ivory tower business. It gives me some clarity and that’s the name of the game of how I look at fashion,” Buchman said. “These are the women who run America. They’re not the anomaly. They’re the norm.”

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