THE POWER OF THREE
THE REP ET TROIS SHOWROOM OWES ITS SUCCESS IN BRIDGE/CONTEMPORARY TO A FOCUS ON SEPARATES.
Byline: Deirdre Mendoza
Having weathered the power suitings of the late Eighties and the rise of the casual sportswear houses of the Nineties, the Rep et Trois showroom in the CalMart can lay claim to a solid success in the bridge and contemporary separates business, with annual sales projected to be $13 to $15 million by year’s end.
Chicago native Michael Gae, a former rock promoter for MCA Records, partnered with wife, Vicki Todd Gae, a national rep for sportswear giant Mondi, and former retailer Harriet Wolf in 1987 to form the multiline showroom. Gae focuses on day to day operations and the chain and department store business. Vicki Gae oversees better and bridge customers, while Wolf acts as chief financial officer.
The trio has survived the ups and downs of bridge sportswear by staying true to their specialty account base and looking beyond the curve.
The 3,000-square-foot room on the second floor of the CalMart is powered by collections such as the multi-million dollar sportswear house MAG, as well as Joan Vass, Emil Rutenberg, Bette Sung and Australian phenom Princess Charlotte by Charlie Brown.
“We try to work with [designers] to understand how the consumer has changed the way she buys,” said Michael Gae. “A lot of designers wanted the power suit back. But the future is in creating casual items that work together.”
In 1986, after a long run in sales with a European sportswear brand, Gae decided it was time to try a new avenue.
Rep et Trois opened with headlining designers including Randolph Duke, Charlotte Neauville, Michael Leva and Cynthia Steffe. According to Gae, these once-emerging names in fashion were considered edgy, while the bridge market moved in a safer direction with labels such as Ellen Tracy and DKNY.
The showroom changed with the new decade to accommodate “the new complexion of the wholesale business.”
“Today’s designers need to put the creativity into separates that work together,” he noted. “We’ve got the $100 T-shirts. We just need to sell enough of them to achieve the cost of the $800 suit in the late Eighties and early Nineties.”
To that end, top-driven lines such as the stretch cotton knit resource Rayure and the waffle pleat tops of Kisca have been consistent sellers.
The showroom has also grown in the areas of private label with tops providing the momentum.
“Any woman can wear a contemporary top. But bottoms are a more difficult category. The fit has to be in keeping with her maturity,” said Gae.
Gae relies on a 50-50 proposition, a proven formula for the room that balances his contemporary accounts with his steady bridge customers. “If one market is not as strong one season, we can always make our numbers in the other.”
Specialty stores, Gae believes, will continue serving as the backbone of the industry, because of the relationships formed between specialty retailers and their clientele.
Gae noted that Nordstrom, for example, by returning to regional buying patterns, has gotten closer to a specialty mentality than other chains. He expects to do a healthy business with the Seattle-based retailer this year.
“Sure, people shop the department stores for cologne, T-shirts, underwear. But if you’re going to shop weekly, you’re going to a specialty store. That’s where they dress you, socialize with you and understand you.”