POLISHED LOOKS TO USHER IN FALL
Byline: Melanie Kletter
NEW YORK — A host of junior sportswear manufacturers are upgrading their fabrics and streamlining silhouettes for fall to meet teens’ increasingly sophisticated demands.
While Eighties-inspired glam looks and fake animal skins will continue to be hot trends, some junior companies are adding real leather and suede for the back-to-school period. Other textured materials such as tweed and UltraSuede are also being given more attention as the fall selling season approaches.
The surging economy has pumped up sales of expensive items even among junior shoppers, and teens are less resistant to higher price points, vendors said. Juniors have become more aware of fabrics and are interested in how things feel in addition to how they look.
“We have had focus groups with teenagers, and the first thing they do is touch and feel the fabric,” said Stephen Budd, president of Fiorucci North America. “They just don’t care that much about price anymore.”
Dollhouse, the junior sportswear firm, for the first time is introducing real suede and leather, said president Albert Shehebar.
“Our direction for fall is all about fabrications,” he said. “Bodies are very basic and clean-cut. Jackets are cropped and pants silhouettes are very low-rise. The fabrics are what is interesting. Juniors are getting more sophisticated, and even teenage girls are more aware of fabrics.”
Shehebar said Dollhouse decided to introduce leather and suede pants and jackets after seeing them in trade shows in Europe.
The suede and leather looks are higher priced than the company’s other offerings. The suede pants will retail for around $35 wholesale, while the leather bottoms will cost $45. Dollhouse’s average price points for pants are between $20 and $25.
The higher price point so far hasn’t deterred many accounts, and the firm is finding interest among customers that weren’t in leather before, Shehebar noted.
Dollhouse’s suede looks include pants in a variety of colors, including orange, gray and fuchsia, Shehebar said.
At XOXO, fall is all about textures, said Holly Fiene, design director.
“We are going heavier in terms of fabrics,” she said. “We are introducing a lot of tweed, stretch corduroys, fur-inspired looks and other wovens with textures.”
Silhouettes for fall are a little more streamlined and sophisticated.
“Looks are more poised and more inspired by the kind of working-girl looks that are popular now,” she said. “Last year was about peasant and gypsy, and now it is more toward a kind of ladylike look inspired by the late-Seventies, ‘Charlie’s Angels’ and ‘Valley of the Dolls.”‘
Pantsuits in a variety of materials will usher in fall at XOXO.
“Pantsuits are very big right now, even in leather,” she said.
Other popular silhouettes include simple tank tops and long-sleeved shirts with a scarf. Animal prints and coated fabrics will also continue to be an important part of XOXO’s collection for fall.
XOXO introduced leather under license about two years ago, and this business has been building steadily, Fiene said.
“Real leather is getting to be a more important part of our offering,” she said. “This year, the category has been phenomenal.”
DKNY Jeans Junior has also introduced more leather and suede for the back-to-school season, said a company spokeswoman. The junior line, which is produced under license by Liz Claiborne, launched at retail in February.
Fall will see a strong presentation of novelty fabrics, the spokeswoman noted. Other key looks include camouflage-printed denim and fashion twists on such classic fabrics as tweed and wool.
Novelty items represent about 40 percent of the collection, while basics constitute the rest. The junior line is now in about 350 doors and has so far “surpassed expectations,” the spokeswoman said.
At junior sportswear firm Coolwear, sweaters will be a “big area” for fall, said Oded Nachmani, a partner in the company. Sweaters now account for about 50 percent of the junior sportswear firm’s overall business.
“We are showing heavy-gauge sweaters with fringes on the bottom, as well as colored and print sweaters,” he said.
Sweater styles on tap for fall include mock turtlenecks, some of which are sleeveless; funnel-neck looks and cropped, close-to-the-body styles, Nachmani said.
In bottoms, “fabrics have become more important,” Nachmani said. UltraSuede and pleather and a variety of cropped pants will be offered for fall, and skirts with fringes and animal prints are also part of the lineup.
B. Lucid, a new junior company founded by Stephen Zellman, who formerly worked for XOXO, has recently introduced real leather and suede for juniors, including reptile snakeskin on suedes. The company, which focuses on fashion-forward outerwear, bottoms and vests, is making its first shipments at the end of April.
B. Lucid has also introduced knit sets and trendy junior sportswear under its Ophelia & Lulu division. The line features wovens and knits and includes edgier, street-inspired apparel designed by Michelle Korn, a downtown designer who also makes clothing under the name Ophelia Unbound. The Ophelia & Lulu division is connected with animated characters who can be found on the Web site, Ophelia-lulu.com.
“The junior market in department stores is boring,” Zellman said. “They all look the same. We wanted to offer a new and fresh direction.”
Price points for the B. Lucid line range from $49 to $79 wholesale for jackets, and bottoms range from $26 to $49.
For the initial line, Zellman is targeting department stores such as Nordstrom and Federated, as well as boutiques and specialty stores.
One unique item the firm is offering is a jacket it calls “Pager Lite,” which combines fashion and technology. The jacket, made of a micro-stretch material developed by B. Lucid, has a special pocket for a pager, and when the pager is activated, a light strip along the arm of the jacket lights up.
At Moe Clothing, the one-year-old junior company, fabrics such as twill and herringbone will constitute much of the fall offerings, said Fiorucci’s Budd, who is also a principal in that company.
Moe recently became part of a new company called BKR, which is a subsidiary of Russo Apparel Group, a sportswear and suit firm, and also includes the labels Not Guilty and Bennini, an old label which is being revived as an urban brand, according to Budd.
Moe, which is now sold in about 500 doors, is focusing on cargo shapes and a fabric it developed called Bedford, which is similar to a broken twill, Budd noted. Cotton nylon fabrics, including some with mesh cotton lining, will be another key item this fall.
“All the products have bells and whistles and added features such as Velcro,” Budd added.