ALL TIED UP
SIGNATURE-PRINT SCARVES ARE THE LONE STANDOUT IN A CATEGORY THAT’S STILL SEARCHING FOR THE NEXT PASHMINA.
Byline: Jill Newman
An Hermes silk scarf is sold every 38 seconds at its flagship on Paris’s Rue Faubourg Saint-Honore during the holiday season.
With a statistic like that, it’s no wonder that fashion designers like Marc Jacobs and Michael Kors are entering the status-scarf game.
“Designers are using scarves to help define themselves,” said Steven Roberts, co-president of the Echo Design Group. “Scarves by nature are very expressive, individual and creative. You can say a lot in a 36-inch square.
“These are great gift items, versatile fashion accessories, and they represent value to the consumer.”
Not only do scarves give designers a way to boost their brands, but they offer customers the chance to boost their wardrobes without having to spend top dollar.
“In a weak economy, accessories tend to outperform apparel. Women can update their wardrobe with accessories without making a big investment,” said Roberts.
The silk scarf has been a fashion staple since 1937, when Robert Dumas, the father of Hermes chairman Jean-Louis Dumas introduced the company’s first silk scarf, which depicted a popular 18th-century board game. Today, the signature-print silk scarf is an enduring fashion symbol that has attracted style icons from Audrey Hepburn and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to more recent trendsetters like model James King and actress Sarah Jessica Parker, who wore an Hermes scarf as a bandanna around her head on an episode of “Sex and the City.”
While status silk scarves, especially those featuring logo prints, are a growing item for some fashion companies, retailers reported that the scarf classification overall is sluggish. The slowdown comes on the heels of a few banner years where pashmina, embellished wraps and chic little neckerchiefs were among the hottest sellers nationwide. With pashmina on the wane over the past 18 months, sales of wraps and neckerchiefs have followed suit. At the same time, belts are on the upswing, leaving other classifications like scarves to compete for main floor space.
“Scarves are a cyclical business, and for spring, the emphasis is on belts and sunglasses,” said Eileen Warner, vice president and divisional merchandise manager at Saks Fifth Avenue. “The scarf business is quiet, but we have a steady business in signature scarves. Our core brands are Salvatore Ferragamo, Giorgio Armani, Chanel and Ralph Lauren.”
“Scarves in general are not as important as they were,” said Sandra Wilson, fashion director for accessories at Neiman Marcus. “They seem to have taken a back seat to belts.” Nonetheless, she said sales of Hermes scarves remain strong. “They’re an excellent gift-giving item. Hermes offers a tremendous variety in print and color, and it comes in the status Hermes box. They’re the ultimate status scarf.”
Recently, other designers have been taking a cue from Hermes by developing their own signature prints that will (hopefully) outlast fickle fashion trends. In fact, both Marc Jacobs and Michael Kors featured graphic, new logo-print silk scarves on their spring runway shows. “We always show scarves on the runway because they complete a fashion look,” said Robert Duffy, president and partner of Marc Jacobs International. “Our scarves always sell out of our stores.” Based on past sell-throughs, Duffy said he sees the scarf classification as a growth opportunity and recently signed a licensing agreement with Isa, an Italian scarf manufacturer in the Lake Como region, to produce a complete collection. Thus, the company has expanded its distribution of scarves, which have an average retail of $100, to Saks Fifth Avenue, Henri Bendel and Macy’s West, and are targeting more stores for spring.
“We are excited about the new Marc Jacobs scarves,” said Warner at Saks. “They are young, fresh and will bring attention to the category.”
Marc Jacobs has created conversational print scarves for the past several seasons, which feature such lighthearted prints as cars or shoes, and are said to have become a collectible. For spring, the new collectible print is a floral.
At Chanel, scarves are a small, but growing business this season, according to Barbara Cirkva, the firm’s executive vice president of fashion. She said scarf orders are 58 percent ahead in unit bookings for the spring season over last year. “Scarves look fresh, younger and more interesting than ever before,” she noted. Chanel offers the traditional 36-inch silk square, as well as oversized oblongs, beaded chiffon styles, pareos and wraps.
Hermes, too, has witnessed increased interest in scarves over the past few months, particularly since its scarf appeared on “Sex and the City,” according to a spokeswoman. She noted that the classic scarf is worn by both mature, ladylike clients and a young fashion crowd who are wearing them as belts, head wraps and halter tops. The Hermes silk scarf, with a retail price tag of $250, appears every season in new styles and colors, and many tried-and-true signature prints are carried forward for decades.
Silk scarves are also a staple every season at Salvatore Ferragamo. “Scarves are an important part of our company because we consider ourselves a luxury accessories house first and foremost,” said Fulvia Visconti, the daughter of Salvatore Ferragamo who oversees the company’s accessories business. The Italian company introduced silk scarves in the Fifties, and it is emphasizing its signature animal prints and floral motifs for spring, which have an average retail price of $200.
Echo has been manufacturing and distributing Ralph Lauren scarves under a licensing agreement with the fashion company for 17 years, and it is distributing the new Marc Jacobs scarf collection this season.
“We always accentuate what Ralph Lauren represents in fashion, such as a classic paisley or beautiful floral,” said Roberts, who noted the logo scarves were especially important in the Lauren by Ralph Lauren collection for spring. “Consumers want the Ralph Lauren brand, which is one reason why they gravitate to the logo prints. Also, we are showing logos in novel ways,” Roberts said.
Generally, silk prints represent between 60 and 70 percent of the scarf mix for the spring season, Roberts pointed out. He projected spring scarf sales will be equal or slightly better than a year ago.
The logo print scarf also plays a big role in the DKNY collection, which is made under a licensing agreement with Mantero, an Italian company with offices in New York. “Every scarf has the DKNY logo, either in an allover pattern or it’s a signature on a print,” said Barrie Samuels, director of sales for the three-year-old scarf collection. The best-selling 36-inch silk scarf has an average retail price of $65, and Samuels projected sales will increase slightly this spring. “We are getting a great response to a graffiti-style logo print and a colorblock logo print. Customers want the name.”