LOOKING FOR SOME FALL HEAT
Byline: Julee Greenberg / Leonard McCants
NEW YORK — Things are looking up for the dress and suit crowd, which isn’t hard after the slumping retail performance in the first half.
Despite dire news from several large retailers, such as Federated Department Stores and Neiman Marcus, which have recently revised their quarterly and annual earnings downward, most ready-to-wear vendors said bookings are up — in some cases by double digits — for fall and holiday, with pre-spring bookings also heading into positive territory. This followed a difficult spring, where few vendors met expectations.
Ready-to-wear firms are hanging their second-half hopes on two key factors: fall usually brings a surge in consumer spending, especially in suits and career dresses, and the feeling that the worst may be over on the economic front.
Executives also indicated that serious shoppers have been picking up offerings at a steady clip during recent fall trunk shows and retailer requests for more personal appearances are increasing as stores plan their early spring selling season.
Designer and Bridge
Business is “well ahead of last year” at Oscar de la Renta Ltd., said Jeffry Aronsson, president and chief executive officer. “We expect the gains to continue, but it’s a question of at what rate.”
Aronsson reported that the company’s new in-house accessories line has exceeded plan for fall, its first season, and early spring bookings for the signature collection are up 20 percent.
Advertising spending has increased slightly and a new print ad concept is due for introduction later this month. Shot by Michael Thompson using model Caroline Ribeiro, the stark, black-and-white campaign is a departure from years past, said Adam Lippes, creative director at de la Renta. For the first time, the media schedule will include In Style and V magazines.
The company’s gold-range line, Oscar by Oscar de la Renta, will introduce a new evening collection exclusive to Saks Fifth Avenue for fall. The line, which is licensed to Apparel Group International, will bow in 15 doors and will average about $225 at wholesale, said Maria Viccaro, president of AGI’s Oscar division. Viccaro projects first-year wholesale volume to be at least $5 million by the end of 2002.
At Bill Blass, fall bookings are up about 10 percent over last year, said Michael Groveman, president and ceo. The company is also increasing its advertising budget by 25 percent for the fall. As reported, the collection is now under the dual design direction of Lars Nilsson and Herve Pierre Braillard.
“Fall bookings are excellent and we expect it to follow through for spring,” Groveman said.
For David Rodriguez, the second half portends significant changes. First, the company will move into its own showroom at 252 West 38th Street in New York on Aug. 1, after sharing a showroom for several years. The new space will house shipping, design, production and showroom facilities.
Rodriguez is also in the process of forming an alliance with the tequila manufacturer Sauza to produce his fashion shows.
Frederick Anderson, president of Douglas Hannant said he has high expectations for fall based on reaction to early deliveries and strong trunk-show results.
“We just got back from a trunk show and the [numbers] tripled for fall and that says that women are ready to shop again,” he said, noting that women didn’t hesitate buying higher-priced items. “Hopefully, it’s a sign that they are ready to move on.”
The company is also looking to distribute more heavily in Canada and Europe, where it will show the spring collection at a Paris hotel show in September.
With the successful opening of the first Diane Von Furstenberg boutique in April, the company is looking to open a Paris outpost by the spring. The positive reaction and sales at the store proved to be the biggest surprise of the last six months, Von Furstenberg said.
“We have done, in the two months we have been open, more than what we projected for the year,” she said, referring to the New York boutique.
Despite the success of its own store, the company will continue to tailor individual marketing strategies with its retail accounts, including gifts-with-purchase and personal appearances.
Bud Konheim, president and chief executive officer of Nicole Miller, said that while sales at company stores have increased, sales and bookings on the wholesale level have decreased. Konheim, who noted that all wholesale orders have not been placed for fall, said buyers were a bit conservative with their open-to-buy.
Halston’s sales have been on an upswing since control of the name was taken in-house a year ago, said James Ammeen, president and ceo.
“There is no question that the economy is effecting business,” he said. “But our business is growing, and we might be growing even more if the economy was in better shape.”
Better and Moderate
Dress designer David Meister, whose signature collection operates under Kellwood Co.’s ENC division, said he’s encouraged by an increase of nearly 20 percent in fall and holiday bookings over last year, despite the state of the economy.
“Although department turns have slowed down to 3 to 6 percent on a weekly average, we are experiencing sell-throughs anywhere between 8 to 12 percent per week,” he said.
Gregg Marks, president of suit powerhouse Kasper ASL, said while the economy is not as healthy as it was last year at this time, his second-half bookings are ahead of pace.
Kasper’s sales rose 13 percent in the first quarter ended March 31 to $126.1 million, but recorded a $717,000 loss compared to net income of $1.7 million for the same period. But Marks is expecting a boost from new private label business the firm has picked up from Sears and J.C. Penney. Despite positive bookings, Marks said he has not planned an ad campaign for the fall season, a victim of the poor economy.
“We are not advertising,” he said. “We need to save our money.”
Suit house Morgan Miller Group is turning its efforts toward outfits that retail for less than $100, according to Ira Kipness, president.
In addition to its moderate-priced namesake label, Morgan Miller holds the license for Nolan Miller and Halston suits. The price strategy should help the company top $30 million in sales for the year, Kipness predicted. It has also stepped up its large-sized business, which is a growing category for the firm.
The second half is looking “pretty good” at Chetta B, where bookings are up 10 to 15 percent, said Howard Bloom, president.
“I think everyone is being more cautious, I know I am in my projections,” Bloom said. “I’m being a little bit safer than I would normally be.”
The company is also focusing more attention on growing its eveningwear and suit collections.
At Donna Ricco, where bookings are up 25 percent over last year, one of the major focuses will be to continue efforts to push the new DR Donna Ricco moderate-priced collection, according to Tom Puls, president.
Introduced about 18 months ago, the line is has “just started to perform” within the last six to nine months, Puls said, adding the company will focus on increasing distribution for the line in the second half.