IN THE ZONE
Byline: Anne D’Innocenzio
NEW YORK — Enter the new “modern zone.”
That’s where five new labels in sportswear — Anne Klein 2, Kenneth Cole, Nine West, Perry Ellis and Slates Janet Howard — are daring to go for fall in an attempt to invigorate the world of career sportswear with styles like zip-front stretch jackets, leather skirts, trenchcoats and modified boot-leg stretch pants. They’re doing it at nearly half the price of contemporary labels like BCBG Max Azria and Laundry by Shelli Segal.
The modern zone — a hybrid of contemporary styling and better sportswear — is expected to get at least one more player when DKNY’s unnamed career sportswear collection makes its debut for spring 2001.
Some, like DKNY and Perry Ellis, are even creating a new fit that is tailored for a toned aerobic body of a 35-year-old woman. Clearly, the clothes are not for size 2 waifs — or those with frumpy figures.
One of the main catalysts behind the new category has been Liz Claiborne Inc., which proposed the idea to retailers back in July when it acquired a 7.5 percent stake in Kenneth Cole and at the same time inked a licensing deal to produce a three-pronged women’s business.
“We felt there should be a new zone that is not contemporary, not traditional,” said Denise Seegal, president of Liz Claiborne. “There’s a woman who is urban/suburban, who shops at Banana Republic. We need to attract that customer.”
Each of these new labels have their own take on modern dressing.
Perry Ellis women’s wear, licensed to Kellwood Co., is reinterpreting the late designer icon’s knitwear and trademark slate blue; Slates Janet Howard, a new label from Levi Strauss & Co., is pinning its collection to black stretch separates, and Nine West, which under new owner Jones Apparel Group, is offering a career collection that “reflects the modern spirit of its footwear,” said Jackwyn Nemerov, president of Jones Apparel.
Then there’s Anne Klein 2, which under its new owner, Kasper ASL, is entering a fresh field in a new reincarnation. The former Anne Klein II collection, a pioneer in career separates, was a diffusion line to the designer-priced Anne Klein, which is now marketed in bridge by Kasper.
Executives behind these new launches have ambitious plans, each aiming to build at least $100 million businesses within the next few years. They are also backing their merchandise with multi-million-dollar ad campaigns and in-store shop rollouts.
Retail executives liken the scenario to what happened about four years ago, when stores were besieged by a flurry of new casual status labels, such as Polo Jeans, Nautica and Tommy Hilfiger, all wanting to reignite the better casual category.
Similarly, these new lines are expected to offer new alternatives to what’s out there on the better selling floor, long dominated by Jones New York and Liz Claiborne. The pack of new players is different from Jones Apparel’s licensed Ralph by Ralph Lauren, which has been a retailing bonanza since its launch three years ago. With jackets selling for $260, the Lauren line attracts a more traditional customer who wants the designer’s luxe classics at affordable prices.
Macy’s West, Nordstrom, Dayton’s and Hudson’s are all creating new modern zones to house some or all of these new labels, while other retailers are studying the idea. Clearly, retailers welcome all the new energy, but they also acknowledged it creates some thorny issues.
First, not all the collections are getting top reviews. According to a spot check of stores, Nine West, Kenneth Cole and Anne Klein 2 are getting the highest marks, while Slates Janet Howard and Perry Ellis have received mixed reactions.
There’s also the consumers’ perception of these brands. For example, Nine West’s footwear line is moderate, but the clothing is better-priced. The new fit-and-style formula could also be confusing to the consumer, retailers said.
The biggest challenge, of course, is creating space for all the new clothes, and it’s not an exact science. Some stores are making room by editing moderate, cutting back on fringe better-career resources, or reducing their suits offerings — or a little bit of each.
“There’s definitely a big opportunity, but you have to work your way through it,” said John Flemming, senior vice president at the Dayton Hudson division of Target Corp., who plans to cut back on its suit section and tighten the moderate departments to make room for the new modern area. The new zone will also house the retailer’s private label brand, 111 Slate.
Dayton Hudson plans to carry Nine West, Anne Klein 2 and Kenneth Cole, though Flemming added that the retailer will have to create a flow of product. Dayton Hudson may also try Slates Janet Howard.
Flemming also pointed out that there could be some fit issues and confusing perceptions about the labels, too, but he said, “I will put some of these lines together and let the guests vote. I do feel that in the end, this will give us a strong zone to capture.”
He continued: “There is one caveat: Over the past year, there have been some labels that have gotten younger in attitude, and their businesses suffered. Overall, we need to have a balance. We don’t want to let the pendulum swing too far.”
Macy’s West is moving ahead to build a modern zone, according to Ruth Hartman, executive vice president of merchandising. The area will feature Kenneth Cole, Perry Ellis, Slates Janet Howard and Nine West. She has not seen Anne Klein 2 yet.
Hartman said that Slates and Nine West, for example, “appeal to a customer who doesn’t like the traditional look of better,” but still wants a forgiving fit. She added these new collections target the same kind of customer who shops INC, the retailer’s successful contemporary private label brand.
“I think this is going to reinvigorate better sportswear,” said Frank Doroff, executive vice president of Bloomingdale’s, which praised the Nine West and Anne Klein 2 collections, and plans to bring them in for fall. He also would like to carry Perry Ellis, but is trying to find space.
Lord & Taylor is studying the idea of carving out a modern zone, according to Lavelle Olexa, fashion director.
“We are definitely evaluating it,” said Olexa, who plans to carry Nine West and Anne Klein 2. Lord & Taylor hasn’t yet made decisions on the other labels.
“These new vendors will add a lot of excitement to the better sportswear,” said Kathy Bufano, executive vice president at Macy’s East, who said, “It’s happening at a perfect time, with career sportswear now coming back.”
But she added, “There are so many entries, we just can’t participate in all of them.”
Bufano offered kudos to Nine West, Anne Klein 2 and Kenneth Cole. The retailer is slating Nine West to be in 20 doors and Anne Klein 2 in about 25. Macy’s East has not decided on a store count for Kenneth Cole. She hasn’t seen Slates, and doesn’t plan to buy Perry Ellis. “I think the line is too much of a rehash. It doesn’t offer anything new.”
Both Jones and Liz Claiborne officials insist that the modern zone will not cannibalize their own traditional core businesses. Rather, they believe that the area will attract a new layer of customers who weren’t shopping in the better area.
“There is still a baby boomer customer who wants to be fashionable, but not trendy,” said Seegal. “The modern zone will capture an additional customer base.”
Seegal declined to offer specifics on DKNY’s unnamed career sportswear, which will not be in stores until spring 2001, but she said that the jackets will be priced at about $225 and will offer a number of mix-and-match pieces. The collection will also have a plentiful offering of black, she said. Claiborne holds the license for DKNY.
Glenn McMahon, president of the Kenneth Cole licensed women’s division at Claiborne, said he was pleased with the reaction from buyers over the past two weeks. He doesn’t believe the new fit will be confusing — the consumer just has to try on the clothes.
“The contemporary market just targets sizes 2 and 4,” he said.
McMahon admitted that finding room for all the new lines, including Kenneth Cole, will be a challenge.
“Space is tight, but we are getting a great reaction to Kenneth Cole product,” he said.
Jones Apparel executives are hoping to capitalize on Nine West’s roots in footwear. About 25 percent of the collection is in leather and suede, and some 20 percent of its offerings are in black.
One major advantage is Jones’s ability to maximize cross-selling opportunities within the Nine West brand, enabling the fashions to be current.
“We have direct control,” Nemerov said.
For example, there are fake mink vests that work back to short boots with fake mink trims. The company also made sure to put red lacquer into both the apparel and accessories collections.
The Nine West apparel is slated to be in 200 doors and the goal is to build the apparel business into a “several hundred million dollar” division within the next couple of years. Nemerov plans to add jeans, eveningwear, casualwear and petites over the next few years.
Officials at Anne Klein 2 are counting on its reputation in career to get attention from buyers and consumers.
Anne Klein 2’s collection features double-face wool, leather, mohair and Italian merino wool knits. Some of the fall styles are A-line mohair skirts, flannel riding coats, double-face peacoats, leather trenches and leather snake-print skirts, noted Wendy Chivian, president of Anne Klein.
The company’s plans for Anne Klein 2 are ambitious. Chivian said that the line has the potential to reach 800 doors over the next couple of years, and the goal is to create a global collection. That’s one of the reasons why 60 percent of the collection is in transseasonal fabrics.
Sources believe that Anne Klein 2 could ultimately reach a wholesale volume of $300 million over the next couple of years.
Chivian pointed out that just because [the consumer] chooses to spend less on her clothes doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a sense of style.
To create some hoopla surrounding the Perry Ellis launch, its owner, Supreme International, invited about 100 reporters for a fashion preview in the South Beach section of Miami Beach last month.
However, the real test for Kellwood officials is convincing buyers that its relaunch of Perry Ellis women’s wear, which had been absent in the marketplace since 1992, isn’t just “a rehash,” as Macy’s Bufano contended.
Laura Vazquez, executive vice president of design and merchandising at the licensed Perry Ellis division, asserted: “We have been encouraged by a great reception from the stores, who understand our concept. We have taken the spirit and personality of what Perry stood for and updated it in a modern sportswear vein, with a realistic fit.”
For fall, the Perry Ellis line features fine-gauge sweaters, silk paisley pants, white cotton shirts and pinstriped trousers. Kellwood executives are aiming to get the line in 180 department store doors and believe it could generate $200 million in wholesale volume over the next couple of years.
Expansion plans for Slates Janet Howard are not as ambitious as the others. The line, which has about 80 styles, is expected to be in 200 doors, but the penetration will not be as deep the other new brands, according to designer Howard. Levi’s officials declined to offer sales projections.
The collection, which features three-quarter-length coats and zip-front jackets, is the least expensive of the five new offerings. Jackets will retail for $138, while pants will be priced from $68 to $98. Pants also have a relaxed, wider leg to accommodate any bulges.
“I wanted to make clothing for real girls,” Howard said “I used a size 6 fit model who has curves.”