VANDERBILT IS BACK
Byline: James Fallon
LONDON — Murjani Inc. wants Vanderbilt to be Europe’s bridge powerhouse.
As reported, the New York-based Murjani is launching women’s and men’s wear collections under the Vanderbilt brand in Europe this fall, as well as women’s and men’s wear lines under the name 2-8-0. There also is a small gift line of cashmere children’s wear called VanderBear by Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt is sportswear, while 2-8-0, named after the engine number of industrialist Cornelius Vanderbilt’s favorite train, is street- and snowboard-inspired.
Mohan Murjani, owner of Murjani, said in an interview that the goal is to create a major European bridge label rivaling CK Calvin Klein and DKNY. As for 2-8-0, Murjani said he likened it to a more forward version of American Eagle Outfitters or Abercrombie & Fitch.
“We will start in Europe and then over the next three years roll Vanderbilt and 2-8-0 out globally,” Murjani said, adding the lines will be introduced in the U.S. within about 18 months.
While the Vander-bilts were American, Murjani said the name was chosen to convey the quality and heritage of the collections. The collections represent somewhat of a return to Murjani’s roots. The company bought the rights to the Gloria Vanderbilt name in the early Eighties and built it into one of the biggest jeans brands around. They sold those rights in the Nineties, and the new collections bear no relation to the current Gloria Vanderbilt jeans line in the U.S., which is owned by Gloria Vanderbilt Apparel Corp., headed by Jack Gross.
“L’Oreal continues to sell the Gloria Vanderbilt fragrance worldwide and will launch a new Vanderbilt for Men fragrance this year,” Murjani said of the reasons he decided to brand the collections Vanderbilt. “When we went to the stores, the Vanderbilt name was the one most recognized and, according to our research, was more recognized in Europe than any other American designer.”
Murjani declined to reveal sales targets for the collections. However, industry executives who have seen the lines estimated sales should be about $10 million at wholesale for the first season.
Murjani has been working seriously on the project for the last 18 months, hiring designers, appointing distributors in each major European country and discussing the proposed lines with major retailers to get their feedback.
The Vanderbilt and 2-8-0 lines will each be sold to about 200 to 250 department and specialty stores in the first season, Murjani said. Freestanding stores for each of the concepts will be opened in Europe within the next year or 18 months, perhaps under franchise.
Vanderbilt women’s and men’s wear — designed by Andrew Buckler, formerly a designer at Emanuel by Emanuel Ungaro — is aimed at the 25-and-up age group, “people who have just gotten their first serious job,” said Maj Kalfus, vice president of Murjani. The collection, all separates, includes jackets, outerwear, knitwear, shirts and pants in wool, cotton, cashmere, moleskin and suede.
“It’s going back to the sportswear feeling of the Halston era,” Kalfus said. “It’s wearable but fashionable, with a sense of humor about it. One of the problems of classic clothing, especially in Europe, is that it tends to be frumpy.”
For example, Vanderbilt uses traditional tartan, but turns it into waxed jeans. There also are bright yellow or purple Harris Tweeds, used in coats, and bias-cut kilts.
All of the Vanderbilt collection is produced in Italy, Murjani said, adding that he’s most pleased about the prices.
“There have been lots of stories in Europe about ‘brand ripoff.’ We’ve been sensitive to that and have tried to give the consumer great value,” he said. Vanderbilt wholesales from $40 for tops, $49.70 for pants, $63.50 for skirts, $132.50 for jackets, $66.25 for knitwear and $193.20 for coats.
The 2-8-0 line includes pants, tops, knitwear and outerwear in cotton, coated fabrics, wool, nylon, denim and fleece. Wholesale prices are from $19 for tops, $29 for shirts, $40.25 for pants, $40.25 for knitwear and $35 for outerwear.
Kalfus said 2-8-0 — designed by Beate Arens, formerly of Hermes — will be broken down into specific themes each season. For fall, they are military camouflage; technical, inspired by snowboarding; school, with striped Shetland knits and boiled wool outerwear inspired by old school uniforms, and ethnic, which for fall is drawn from India and Nepal. The aim is for the customer to mix and match each of the themes.
“The great thing about 2-8-0 is that the name doesn’t mean any specific thing; it’s a number,” Murjani said. “It’s up to the customer to decide what it means.”
All the 2-8-0 line is produced in the Far East, mainly because of the handwork required in making the garments look worn and distressed.
“It’s not about using fashion fabrics and the quickest acid wash,” he said. “We have taken the traditional fabrics like cotton canvas or corduroy and distressed each of them by hand, which means each one is different.”
In addition to the clothing, 2-8-0 includes an extensive line of accessories, both new and vintage. Each of the stores that carry the line will be able to buy a “treasure chest” of accessories, including bangles, bags, blankets, hats and other trinkets.
Some of the accessories will be new, but there will be a selection of vintage items that Murjani will source from markets in India and Nepal.
“We have done the sourcing work for the stores, and it enables them to build up a whole 2-8-0 story,” Kalfus said.
Murjani admitted he originally wanted to make 2-8-0 a pure Americana line, but European retailers were lukewarm to the concept. The company researched the market and found that its target 18-to-25-year-old age group weren’t keen on establishment fashion labels, didn’t want to be dictated to about fashion and were eager to wear things with some emotional link, such as vintage clothing or hand-me-downs. Murjani then rejiggered the concept to focus on that group.
Its marketing also will be unique to them — Murjani plans to eschew most traditional advertising to focus its spending on a 2-8-0 site on the Internet. The site will launch within the next month.
The company launched 2-8-0 and Vanderbilt first in Europe because American retailers tend to be more receptive to European labels than Europeans are to American ones, Murjani said.
“The traditional problem with bringing a successful American label to Europe is that retailers say it’s great, but that Europe is different and that each country in Europe is different from the other. But when you take a European label to America, the stores say, ‘Great — it’s European!’ Their view is completely the opposite. So we decided to start here.”