Lewis on Levi’s: Familiar Territory
While Jim Lewis’s upcoming move to San Francisco, where he’ll be joining Levi Strauss & Co. as president of its Americas operations, will be taking him into new geographic territory, he feels that he’s familiar with the position Levi’s is in as a company.
Levi’s, working to turn itself around after three years of sales declines, is focusing on making basic improvements to its business, such as increasing its emphasis on basic product and developing stronger, merchandise-focused retail presentations. Lewis sees those challenges as parallel to the ones he faced at his current Liz Claiborne Inc. post and earlier at Haggar Clothing Co.
“The challenge is really nothing that I’m not familiar with and that’s the comfort of going to Levi’s,” said Lewis, who, as reported, will be joining the jeans maker on April 24.
All this became clear in his first meeting with Levi’s president and chief executive Phil Marineau about three months ago, which was planned as a 40-minute discussion and turned into a three-hour session, according to Lewis.
“He leaned a lot on a of couple of issues that caught my attention,” Lewis said. “Product innovation was something that he put a strong emphasis on, as well as a strong emphasis on retail presentation — just in-store execution, being able to put your product in a shopping environment where consumers can see it and understand it as a tremendous price-value proposition.”
Lewis, who currently serves as group president of the Liz Claiborne brand, described his career as “a combination of working for a branded powerhouse and going through recovery and leading transformations, along with background from a classification-driven manufacturing company like Haggar.”
In hiring Lewis, Marineau fills a position that had been vacant since November, when he ousted John Ermatinger as president of the Americas and a few other Levi’s veterans whom he decided didn’t have what it takes to turn Levi’s around.
Marineau also said in a recent interview with WWD that he’d be exploring Levi’s opportunities in the licensing area.
Moving quickly on that front as well, the company recently inked a deal with Los Angeles-based Agron Inc. to produce headwear bearing the Levi’s, Silvertab and L2 names.
Targeted at young adults, the line of baseball caps, knit caps, bucket hats and other items will bow for fall 2000.
Murrey Nelson, director of licensing at Levi’s, said the company has another licensing deal for the Dockers brand currently in negotiations and is looking at other opportunities.
She said that Levi’s “knows the kind of money that some of our competitors are making [from licensing], and frankly, it’s very attractive. Obviously, as we build the brands we need to be in a wide product range.”
Petites: Next Big Thing at Polo Jeans
Reaching out to what it considers an underserved customer base, Polo Jeans Co. is in the process of ramping up its petites business.
A limited spring introduction is currently under way. Last week, Macy’s West opened 10 shop-in-shops highlighting the product, and in April it will open one more — in Sherman Oaks, Calif. — raising the total number of doors carrying the product to 14, according to a Macy’s West spokeswoman.
“We’re not broadly rolling it out yet,” Mindy Grossman, president and ceo of Polo Jeans Co. in an interview at the company’s New York showroom. “We’re looking at 150 doors for fall.”
There are some important differences between the petite jeans business and Polo’s overall consumer base, Grossman noted.
For example, petite jeans shoppers tend to be a little older, Grossman said, because “The younger petite customer can wear a junior fit.” The petite customer, she continued, “still wants fashion, but the first thing she’s looking for is the bottom fit.”
Petite shoppers are also less interested in tops specifically targeted at them, since it’s easier to fudge sizing on sweaters and knits, she said. Acknowledging that fact, bottoms make up 50 to 55 percent of the Polo Jeans fall product offering for petites. In the overall collection, they make up 35 to 40 percent of the line.
While there’s a wide variety of career-oriented clothing for petites, Grossman said she believed there was a dearth of casual product on the market.
“It’s going to be a change to show that customer that there’s a casual option,” she said.
Grossman declined to say what sales targets Polo Jeans, which is produced by the Sun Apparel division of Jones Apparel Group, has for the petite line. But, she said, “We’re looking at it to be a good extension of the business.”
Lucky’s Montesano Gets Jeanswear Nod
Lucky Brand Dungarees may have been the honoree at last week’s Jeanswear Communications luncheon, but Levi Strauss & Co., which appears to be leveling off after having a tough year, was the talk of the day for most denim-mill executives in attendance.
In explaining the recent uptick in denim sales, John Heldrich, head of Swift Denim, said, “Customers that have been struggling — especially one of them — are starting to flatten out and maybe come back a little bit.”
After a year in which the denim-fabric business stalled, which many attributed to Levi’s efforts to trim its inventories, things are coming back, noted Heldrich, who is president and ceo of the Atlanta-based division of Galey & Lord Inc.
“The pipeline has been largely emptied and it needs to be refilled,” he said. “People are starting to chase business.”
Dutch Leonard, president of Greensboro, N.C.-based Burlington Industries’ Casual Wear division, said, “The biggest news to us is that basics are starting to happen.”
That, he continued, is even more important to improving the overall tone of business than a hot new fashion trend.
“There are so many categories of denim that are doing real well,” he noted, “but the truth is, this business doesn’t really get fired up until basics are strong.”
The group honored Gene Montesano, ceo of Lucky, for his success in the business world — last year Liz Claiborne Inc. bought an 85 percent stake in his Los Angeles-based company — as well as his charitable work — since 1996, the Lucky Brand Foundation has given about $1 million to various charities.
“It’s an honor to be honored for doing your own thing and being unorthodox,” he said.
Montesano said little about his jeans business, other than noting that his company would continue to follow its own vision. His mind was more on the restaurants he also owns as a sideline, and he drew a comparison of sorts between his approach to pants and pasta. “It’s like being a cook,” he said. “One day he puts in some black olives and capers and gets a puttanesca sauce.”
Tommy’s Ode to Marilyn
Finally revealing his plans for the Marilyn Monroe jeans he bought at auction last fall, Tommy Hilfiger has included a handful of items in his fall jeans collection inspired by the vintage J.C. Penney product and their previous celebrity owner.
It could be called the Norma jean, but due to concerns about the rights to the screen icon’s given name, the group will bear the “Starlet” moniker.
The jeans feature a button fly and slanted watch pocket inspired by those on the three pair of jeans Hilfiger bought at Christie’s in October. In addition, they sit high on the waist and dip in the front to flatter the curvier figure.
The Starlet group includes jeans in three washes; shorts and skirt, each in two washes, and a tie-front shirt. The jeans wholesale for $22 to $25.
In addition to the three pairs of jeans — worn by Monroe in the film “River of No Return” — Hilfiger also bought a pair of cowboy boots she sported in “The Misfits.”
The New York-based company said that jeans have “booked in all doors for fall,” although it did not offer targeted sales for the line. But presumably, they’re hoping the Starlet group will bring in more than the $112,000 Hilfiger paid.