QUINN’S MIGHTY TASK
Byline: Shirliey Fung
NEW YORK — Using the terms moderate and European styling in the same sentence about fashion can be akin to creating a concoction composed of water and oil: The two don’t mix easily.
But one new moderate designer is intent on turning that idea on its head.
Jacqueline Quinn, head designer and vice president of Blue Apparel Co., has created a line aimed at a moderate customer who wants fashion-forward clothes at affordable prices.
The line, Quinn New York, will debut in a limited rollout in 15 specialty stores and 51 J.C. Penney doors in March. The company is also in final discussions to be included in several catalogs, including Bloomingdale’s By Mail.
Quinn also plans to have a presence in the European market. She is in final negotiations to sell her line in El Corte Englais, a Spanish store that’s similar to J.C. Penney, by fall 2001 and several stores in London have expressed interest in her designs.
Quinn said so far the firm has seen sales of $1 million and is aiming to increase its revenue to $3 million by the end of its first year. It also hopes to add 50 doors in the U.S. by that time.
“We don’t want to go too quickly,” Quinn said. “We want to see what the reaction is first.”
Last March, Quinn, who worked for a moderate dress house in London for five years before venturing out on her own, began to sense that a certain segment of the American moderate market was rapidly becoming more fashion forward. By June, the designer had set up a design studio and partnered with a vertical manufacturing plant in Korea that agreed with her about the potential business opportunities in supplying a fashion-conscious moderate customer.
“The American woman has evolved,” she said. “She has become better educated when it comes to both style and quality. When something isn’t selling, it’s because the American woman knows what she wants.”
“I look at the European market, and I just don’t understand why we [in the U.S.] can’t have fashion — not disposable fashion, but quality fashion at a price,” she added, pointing out the popularity of moderately priced fashion stores such as the British apparel chain Oasis, where women can purchase trendy, yet well-constructed items at reasonable prices.
Quinn is going after that same segment of the market and she believes that a portion of the American population is craving a different kind of attention.
“The price point that we’re working on is one of the leading price points in Europe,” she said. “I felt that the market here was missing the point. Just because someone is paying under $100, doesn’t mean she has to pay for an ugly dress.”
Quinn’s European sensibility — she is Irish by nationality and was educated at Dublin’s Grafton Academy of Fashion — comes through when she talks about her influences for the line: “We were influenced by Miu Miu for the transition [shipment that will go out at the end of July] and for spring, we built a group around the colors of the Jennifer Lopez Versace dress.”
While the company currently has a 10 to 15 percent private label business, it plans to aggressively pursue its branded label business from the get-go with the eventual aim of having the label grow to encompass several accessory categories.
Like some big names that have recently begun to acknowledge the importance of branding even in the lower tiers — the Kellwood Co. and McNaughton Apparel Group, with their respective Sag Harbor and Norton McNaughton labels, for instance — Quinn believes that creating a lifestyle brand will be one of the keys to success in the moderate arena.
“What I think has been lacking is a designer image at a moderate price point,” she said. “When you walk onto the floor, most moderate [lines] don’t have their own image. We’re trying to give Quinn New York an actual image, it’s own handwriting, so that it will stand away from the crowd, but still be at a moderate price point.”
Quinn said her handbag collection will bow in the fall, while umbrellas and an extensive jewelry line are set to hit stores for spring 2002. She also hopes to launch a large-size line by the fall and a better line that will sell under a Jacqueline Quinn label also for next spring.
With all that said, Quinn acknowledges the difficulties of designing a fashion-forward line in a bracket where the reality is that price and volume matter most.
To keep costs down and therefore allow for greater attention to design, Quinn has partnered with a mill in Korea that handles everything from the print-making to the packaging of the garments. According to the designer, the partnership, which allows Blue Apparel the luxury of eschewing the middleman, shaves nearly 20 percent off production costs.
This savings affords Quinn some creative leeway when she designs.
In comparing Blue Apparel’s offerings with the average moderate merchandise, Quinn said, “We use a smaller percentage of polyester. We use fabrics that are a little bit more luxurious and better quality.”
In addition, Quinn is able to use slightly more expensive buttons and add embroidery without sacrificing the lower-end price points.
The line will wholesale from $16 to $49.75, with a shrug jacket anchoring the lower end of the price scale and pleather trimmed jackets hitting the high end.
Because the mill is Quinn New York’s main investor and Quinn is considered the in-house designer, the resource receives a wide range of benefits not typically enjoyed by vendors. The factory’s stake in the business ensures a willingness to prioritize Quinn’s orders, expedite any recoloring and special requests, produce with tighter lead times and manufacture smaller quantities at prices normally reserved for large-scale orders.
To keep her designer sensibilities sharp — Quinn apprenticed with Willi Smith in 1985 and designed clothing for the European MTV Music Awards charity fashion show — Quinn will perform double duty. Currently, she is designing “really wacky, open-spider’s-nest tops, dresses with little plastic bugs and snakeskin pants with black velvet trim” for Motley Crue drummer Samantha Maloney.