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THE COLOR GUARD
AFTER LAST FALL’S TURMOIL, FASHION WATCH VENDORS ARE BANKING ON COLORED DIALS AND LEATHER STRAPS TO GIVE BUSINESS A LIFT THIS FALL.

Byline: Marc Karimzadeh

Fashion watchmakers want to paint the town red — and blue and green and a variety of other colors this fall.
From multicolored enamel inserts on metal bracelets to yellow dials and pink leather watchbands, vendors are adding touches of color to their collections to give the retail sector a boost for fall.
“There has been a resurgence in colored dials and dial details,” said Cindy Livingston, president of Norwalk, Conn.-based Callanen International, the licensee of the Guess and Guess Collection watch lines. “There are a lot of bright and faded dial colors, from light to dark tones in red, blue and some yellow accents.”
Traditionally, fashion watches are sold on the main floor where they face stiff competition from other hot classifications, including handbags, costume jewelry and cosmetics. In order to meet sales projections in their limited main floor areas, vendors typically fill their glass cases with prolific amounts of merchandise, with one vendor’s wares often indistinguishable from the next.
“It’s really important to stand out,” said Trisha Robinson, senior product manager at Richardson, Tex.-based Fossil Inc., which is banking on its multicolored Kaleido line in the fall to capture customers. Kaleido is based on a patented digital display technology that allows the dial to change from red to blue, and blue to green.
“It’s a very competitive marketplace, and, to grab consumers today, you need to offer something that’s unique and eye-catching,” said Jon Step, president of Tommy Hilfiger Watches. “People generally enjoy color, and in fashion watches, that has become more prevalent.”
Seiko’s recently launched Wired line, aimed at the fashionable 15-to-24 set, features chronograph watches in powder pink and baby blue priced from $99 to $125. “We see [Wired] as an opportunity to connect with a more fashionable and younger customer,” noted Tom Kuhn, vice president of marketing at Seiko Corp. of America. The line will be made available to existing Seiko accounts, including Tourneau and Macy’s East, and Kuhn said he expects it to be distributed to about 2,000 doors nationwide.
Retailers agreed that color, as well as a resurgence of leather straps — after several seasons of white or two-toned metal bracelets dominating the segment — will help drive sales in the fall.
Lavelle Olexa, senior vice president of fashion merchandising for Lord & Taylor, said: “Strap watches are probably the most important trend right now. There is a modern kind of feeling to them. The best-performing vendors are Anne Klein 2, Guess, Fossil and Skagen.”
Within the past two years, many watchmakers have adorned their watches with colored crystals, but that trend is on the wane, some said.
“We were doing a tremendous glitzy crystal business,” said Mark Odenheimer, senior vice president at New York-based E. Gluck Corp., the licensee for Anne Klein, AK Anne Klein and Nine West watches. “On Sept. 11, the mood of the country changed. The breaks were put on [glitzy crystal styling] in favor of more classic styles. We are seeing sales in strap watches that we haven’t seen in years.”
E. Gluck is slowly phasing out its Anne Klein 2 line of fashion watches and will replace it with AK Anne Klein, also a fashion watch collection. The bulk of the collection, retailing for $45 to $95, will remain the same, save for a redesigned logo. Like Anne Klein 2, Odenheimer said the company is striving to make the merchandise look like fine jewelry. “We expect diamonds to be very strong for fall,” he said. “There is a perceived value to them, the consumer understands it very easily.”
Meanwhile, Cole Haan went the leather strap route with a new line of women’s and men’s watches the company is producing with Fossil. The line will dovetail looks-wise with Cole Haan’s “Country” footwear and apparel collections, using such leathers as lambskin and suede for straps. The watches, retailing from $200 to $400, will bow in the fall in Cole Haan retail stores.
Tracie Gildea, brand manager for fashion businesses at Middlebury, Conn.-based Timex Corp., said, “Subtlety is a mind-set right now. All the talk of luxe and overembellishment seems to be on the closeout racks, and consumers are making smarter choices based on the mind-set of country and having less to spend.”

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