STORES WELCOME LINE

Byline: Melanie Kletter / Elena Romero

NEW YORK — Retailers and fashion executives are ready for J.Lo.
“We are very excited about the potential of the line,” said Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president of fashion direction for Bloomingdale’s, on Thursday. “It has huge potential. Jennifer Lopez has an image that is perfect for fashion right now.”
Ruttenstein said Bloomingdale’s will be the first store to carry the line, and will have some items starting in October, with a fuller rollout planned later in the season. J.Lo will be carried in Bloomingdale’s Y.E.S. department.
“We would love a personal appearance but I don’t know if that is possible, and we are definitely going to do some windows in October,” he said.
“J.Lo is sexy and the juniors business needs some excitement,” said Lenny Rothschild, owner of Chicago-based Lark Stores. “Everyone [in that market] has gone safe. Brand equity is what the junior customer needs. J.Lo has that recognition.”
According to Rothschild, the Lopez line needs to cater to the girl who wants to date and be seen. “Andy (Hilfiger) has the experience and knowledge to make this happen,” he said. “I’m tired of looking at merchandise built for a 12-year-old mentality. This is a fresh idea for 2001.”
Ted Assis, vice president of Mony, the New York-based chain, said Thursday that he had already been contacted about viewing the line.
“I am very excited,” he said. “I hope it’s going to be items that are wearable and not just items that Lopez can wear. The name is great. Customers are looking for something new and fresh.”
Wendy Red, fashion director at Up Against the Wall, based in Washington, D.C. said, “I think it’s a great move. We would definitely carry it. I think Andy is good at promoting, and she is a great person to promote. She can appeal to a wide audience, she is sexy and she has staying power.”
Red said girls want their own lines from brands such as Sean John and Rocawear.
“We have girls asking for them everyday,” she said.
Steven Strickland, senior vice president of marketing at junior chain Wet Seal, said, “This is a great move for her. If we feel the fashion is right, we would definitely want it in our stores. We watch her because we know our customers watch her.”
Kevin Smith, owner of Los Angeles-based Second Base, said now is a great time for a music celebrity to launch a women’s line. “If her line is trendy, hip, and fits in with what I’m doing, I will carry it,” he said. “More females will launch lines — Lauryn Hill, Britney Spears, and Christina Aguilera. If the product is right, people will pay for it.”
Smith warns, however, that ” just because you have a name doesn’t mean your stuff will sell. To ensure longevity female aspiring designers should get people with clothing experience to head up their lines.”
Robert Shapiro, owner of New York-based chain S&D Underground, believes the future of any market depends on new vendors. “The current roster would put Sean John and Rocawear in the on-deck circle,” he said. “At her current rate and meter of exposure, Jennifer Lopez would throw a third heavyweight contender into the mix.”
As for the Andy Hilfiger and Lopez connection, Shapiro noted, “This seems like a natural progression for him. I would hope that S&D Underground, Mony and Jimmy Jazz would be Andy’s and Jennifer’s first choice,” he said. “A good vendor would astutely look for a good retail partner and vice-versa.”
“Jennifer Lopez has a body, not like supermodel size 6, but every developing young girl can relate to her,” said celebrity stylist June Ambrose. “She’s got hips, she’s trendy and cutting edge.”
However, Ambrose said, “The juniors market is very different from what has become young men’s. Juniors is a very finicky market, regardless of who she is. If the product is not right, it’s not right. At the end of the day, she will need to produce fashion pieces. You can only go so far with jeans and T’s.”
She compared Lopez’s venture to her ex-beau Sean “Puffy” Combs. “She’s learned from fellow friends,” she said. “Sean John put out a collection and did it right. Jennifer needs to be the next Gloria Vanderbilt. She has to go after the right market, create the right merchandise and have strong product development.”
David Wolfe, creative director The Doneger Group, the large buying office here, believes it is the “greatest marriage of convenience imaginable.”
“Part of the success formula will be her involvement,” he said. “She will need to have some type of hands-on involvement. I think she really has a feeling for fashion.”
Wolfe noted that celebrity apparel lines are nothing knew. “Look at Kathie Lee, Kathy Ireland and Jaclyn Smith,” he said. “Jennifer Lopez is trading up her own image and that makes her a great role model. She’s a role model for a sector that is fashionable and fashion conscious.”
Wolfe believes J.Lo will lure consumers of all backgrounds and fashion taste levels. “It’s all about the amount of publicity and lineage she gets,” he said.
“In a funny way, it’s a culmination of the marriage of fashion and show business. Consumers are becoming burned out with designers…they are not that interesting to begin with. If you have a showbiz designer that could be a recipe for success.”

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