DOLLHOUSE DRESSES UP
Byline: Melanie Kletter
NEW YORK — After six years in the rough and tumble junior world, Dollhouse is looking to the future with an eye toward the contemporary market.
Last year, the firm introduced leather and suede and more contemporary styling, and it plans to continue to increase its offerings of better fabrics this year.
Dollhouse, a division of BBC Apparel, has also in the last year undertaken an extensive national advertising campaign, and has signed a host of licensing deals to extend its brand name and increase its product categories.
“The junior market has evolved and has gotten very price conscious,” said Albert Shehebar, Dollhouse’s president. “It is difficult to stay down in that price point. We are offering better fabrics and we now refer to ourselves as a young contemporary company.”
So far, the company’s strategies seem to be working. The company’s sales last year jumped to $60 million from $40 million in 1999, and are on track to reach $70 million this year, according to Shehebar.
Its growth comes at a time when many junior firms are struggling to find space at retail and make margins in an increasingly oversaturated market. Other junior companies such as XOXO and B. Lucid are also offering more sophisticated styles and fabrics to differentiate themselves from price-driven junior brands.
Dollhouse was founded in 1995 at a time when the junior market was just beginning to heat up. Formed as a streetwear division of Jou Jou, Dollhouse initially was a small streetwear line that had an underground image. However, in recent years the company has gone more mainstream in its distribution, which is now evenly split between specialty accounts and department stores, according to Shehebar.
Dollhouse recently started selling in some Macy’s units, including the new unit in Puerto Rico, and is also sold in specialty stores such as Gadzooks, Charlotte Russe, Wet Seal and Up Against the Wall, the streetwear retail chain based in Washington, D.C.
Licensing should account for about 35 percent of sales this year, said Dana Sheill, the company’s licensing director.
“When I came on, we used to be known as an underground label, but that market is limited,” said Sheill, who joined the company in 1999 and works out of the Dollhouse showroom at 1407 Broadway in New York. “We wanted to get the word out and create more brand awareness.”
Among its licensed categories are intimate apparel, dresses, outerwear, footwear, handbags and hosiery, as well as girls’ sportswear, outerwear and intimate apparel, many of which were added in 2000. Fittingly, the company has recently inked a license for Dollhouse dolls with a company called Sababa Toys. The line of dolls is part of Sababa’s Fashion Action Dolls line, which features dolls that wear brands that young women wear. The dolls are expected to launch at retail for back-to-school.
Other categories Dollhouse plans to add this year are watches, swimwear and eyewear.
The company’s entire offerings of sportswear and licensed categories will be shown all together at WWDMagic in Las Vegas next week.
On the marketing front, Dollhouse started doing national advertising last year, which it plans to continue this year. Among the magazines it advertises in are Seventeen, Teen, Glamour, YM and Teen Vogue, and it is also planning for the first time a large outdoor advertising campaign comprised of billboards, phone kiosks and buses.
Its advertisements feature young women of different ethnicities, often with subtle action scenes in the background such as flying helicopters and trains. Dollhouse has also aggressively worked with celebrities and up-and-coming musical groups such as Vitamin C and Blaque to outfit them in its brand.
In another marketing move, Dollhouse for the first time will join the crowd at Girls Rule, the youth-oriented fashion show set for Tuesday.
Meanwhile, the company’s styling has gotten more sophisticated but still includes many of the trends found throughout the junior market, such as T-shirts with beading, print tops, and skirts, and for fall looks include include wool pants and skirts with faux fur trim. Dollhouse is also expanding its denim offerings and is introducing an expanded line of sweaters. The denim offerings are more fashion forward and include items such as five-pocket looks, and super low waist hip huggers.
“We have left basic denim,” Sheill noted.
Even as it moves up in fabric, however, the core price points haven’t changed much. Most of its apparel carries wholesale prices of between $18 and $25, and leather and suede carries wholesale starting at about $32, and tops run from about $14 to $22.
Last year, Dollhouse brought on Pinky Wolman to oversee design for the company, but she left after about six months. Now, Dollhouse has a few young designers who are working on the collection.