Byline: Anne D’Innocenzio

NEW YORK — There might just be a solution for those who want to look contemporary, but don’t have the body or the purse for it.
Three major contemporary firms — BCBG by Max Azria, Tahari and ABS by Allen B. Schwartz — are expanding into new lines that beckon to a broader base of customers.
The new collections are anywhere from 25 to 40 percent less expensive than their pure contemporary counterparts and are done in less expensive fabrics, like pleather instead of leather, and cottons and rayon blends instead of luxe cashmeres. The silhouettes are not meant for waifs, either, and have a more forgiving fit.
The movement started last year, when Tahari struck a deal with Bloomingdale’s to produce a less expensive collection under the label, Tahari & Bloomingdale’s.
The strategy is now being expanded to Nordstrom and other department stores under Tahari’s new T3 label. The collection is meant to attract a broader customer base than Tahari’s contemporary’s Theory label.
The momentum is picking up this spring. This season, BCBG teamed up with Nordstrom to create an exclusive label for the Seattle chain. (See West Coast Notes, page 12.) The collection made its debut in early February in 72 doors. And this month, ABS is shipping a new, less expensive collection called Allen by ABS to 150 doors.
Laundry by Shelli Segal is considering jumping into this area, according to Susan Clatworthy, president of sales, though she wouldn’t elaborate.
Nordstrom has created an area called TBD to house these new labels, while Lord & Taylor is looking to redefine and expand its contemporary areas with these offerings.
“We are defining some of the resources that we think might fit into this concept,” said Lavelle Olexa, fashion director at Lord & Taylor, which is carrying the Allen by ABS label this spring and is considering T3 for fall.
Executives behind the push into these diffusion lines said they don’t expect any cannibalization, citing a different customer following. They believe the secondary lines, with their broader consumer appeal, could be big volume boosters.
“Our own collection is very limited. We can’t sell it across the board,” said Allen Schwartz, design director. “At the end of the day, the diffusion line could have the biggest volume.”
The collection, which is 30 to 40 percent less expensive than ABS’s signature line, is projected to be in 300 doors for fall, according to Lloyd Singer, president of sales. The potential could be 800 doors, he said.
Currently, ABS by Allen B. Schwartz is in approximately 1,500 doors.
Schwartz, citing big distribution opportunities, noted that ABS was in only six to eight doors of Lord & Taylor, but its diffusion line could be in all of them. The less expensive line has bigger selling opportunities than the ABS collection throughout Macy’s East, too. “We can reach out and hit the branches,” Schwartz added.
Allen by ABS collection wholesales from $22 for nylon mesh tops to $89 for jackets.
ABS’s diffusion line is trendy, but clearly, the signature collection is edgier — and pricier.
Take, for example, ABS’s skinny flared jeans, which retail for $199. Allen by ABS’s version, which has a fuller cut, retails for $98.
While ABS has generous offerings in leather pants, Allen by ABS sticks to pleather. Other styles are handkerchief skirts in polyester charmeuse and denim pants with a toned-down zebra print.
Mark Mendelson, president of Tahari, believes that the T3 collection appeals to a fashion-forward specialty store customer.
“This is not hurting our business,” he said. “This is plus business.”
Jackets under the T3 collection retail for $200, while Theory jackets are $300. The styling is different, particularly in pants under the T3 label, which do not have as high a rise, Mendelson said.
First-year volume for T3 should be about $25 million.
Since making its debut at Nordstrom, BCBG’s Exclusively for Nordstrom has had a strong reception, according to Paula Schneider, president of sales at BCBG.
The line is about 25 percent less expensive than BCBG, though in some categories, like leather pants, the prices are about the same.
“Contemporary is a big category. You can be old and you can be young. We are offering a classification that can fit more body types,” she said. “Just because you are a little hippy doesn’t mean you are not contemporary.”
The BCBG by Max Azria offers sizes 0 to 12; the line exclusively for Nordstrom runs from 4 to 14. For fall, the Nordstrom collection will start from size 2.
The less expensive collection also has a more casual bent, though the structured category will be expanded for fall, based on strong selling of career, Schneider said.
The most popular looks are knit tops, beaded sweaters and a coated cotton reefer jacket, she said.
For fall, the collection will include cotton and rayon blend sweaters, which retail from $65 to $95. BCBG’s versions are in cashmere and retail from $80 to $110.
The BCBG customer’s age ranges from 20 to 40, but with this new line, the company can reach a consumer who is in her 50s.
“We’re definitely getting a new customer,” Schneider said.