USING NET TO BUILD BRANDS

Byline: Leonard McCants

NEW YORK — Suit and dress resources are making a major push into cyberspace during the second half of the year in an effort to increase their brand awareness.
Most of these sites will be informational only, providing customers and retailers with photos of recent collections and information on availability. What little e-commerce these sites will provide will have minimal overlap with retailers, whom, resources said, they did not want to antagonize by competing against them for customers.
In fact, some of the sites will allow stores to order new merchandise or check on the status of an already placed order.
For a better-priced dress resource like Maggy London, however, the Internet is purely about brand awareness, according to Bonnie Fox, director of merchandising.
“The site first and foremost will be creating brand identity,” she said. “And when customers have a lifestyle need, we will be able fill it. If we don’t have it, we can tell them where to get the dress in their area. It’s about giving them the best customer service that you can — and being on the Internet is the future.”
Fox said the maggylondon.com site should be live by the fourth quarter and will include a section tentatively called adDress Maggy, where customers can ask questions about fashion in general or Maggy London styles in particular. Fox said she will answer some of the questions personally.
The Internet will also play into the label’s international plans.
“Once you’re on the Internet, you’re global,” said Fox. “And that would be the most efficient way to go global. As far as putting our product in stores overseas, the Internet would be the best way to do that.”
For the first time in company history, Maggy London has retained a public relations firm and is consulting with an advertising agency to book space in magazines for the fall/holiday seasons with the tagline: “Maggy London. Who knew?,” Fox said.
Diane Von Furstenberg has already got a site up and running — at dvf.com — but Paula Sutter, president, said it will be relaunched at the end of September and will allow surfers to e-mail Von Furstenberg directly.
“The Web site is our way of continuing the direct dialogue that Diane has with her customer,” Sutter said. “There’s a lot of usefulness in the site, and we feel like that is the way we want to approach our customers right now.”
Also on the horizon is DVF sportswear, which will bow for spring retailing, Sutter said. “We are evolving into a more lifestyle resource,” she said.
Construction will continue through the second half on the first DVF freestanding store, adjacent to the company’s offices and design studio in Manhattan’s West Village.
For Oscar de la Renta, the focus will be on its advertising, which is a shift from years past, said Adam Lippes, vice president and creative director.
Shot in New York by photographer Arthur Elgort, the ads feature two models — Alessandra Ambrosio and Marcelo Boldrini — as a young, rich couple ready for a night out.
“The images are a departure from last year,” Lippes said. “This is much more lifestyle.”
Last year’s campaign, he said, was shot on an Italian island and had a more romantic theme.
“Now I want to get to the relationship between people,” he said.
The company is also considering a new concept for its in-store boutiques.
While the plans are not finalized, Lippes said he “does not want to get away from Oscar’s Latin heritage,” with the designs.
At this point, the concept will be “very modern in feeling but rich in materials” including stone and light wood, Lippes explained.
On the Internet front, cardelarenta.com should be up by the end of July, Lippes said, with a focus on information, including photos of the current collection and eventually an archive of all of de la Renta’s collections.
By the end of the third quarter the company will have opened three more boutiques in Central and South America, where it has a strong jeans and sportswear following under separate licensing deals in women’s and men’s wear.
E-commerce is a small portion of the Nicole Miller Web site and will remain so after a relaunch set for the end of September, said Bud Konheim, chief executive officer. Currently, only women’s and men’s accessories such as handbags, neckerchiefs and ties are available online.
“We have so much going on that it was hard to satisfy everyone’s curiosity,” Konheim said. “We’re staying in it, but it’s not driving the business right now.”
The second half of the year is also geared to promoting the sportswear part of the company, he said. To that end, Nicole Miller is targeting its advertising at the sportswear segment in places like Marie Claire and InStyle, plus regional magazines like New York and Chicago Social.
Nicole Miller will also focus heavily on retail in the coming months.
“We’re opening stores as fast as we can find the right locations with the right deals,” Konheim said. “But we’re very nervous about getting into a lease that we’re not thrilled about.”
Locations under consideration include West Palm Beach and Boca Raton in Florida as well as North Brook, Ill. The company is also in negotiations for a boutique in Short Hills, N.J.
Yet with all the expansion there will be one store closing, he said, while not detailing the exact location or timing. The company will have 36 stores after the closing.
“We’re pruning the tree because having branches all over the place doesn’t help anything,” Konheim added.
By the end of the year, he said, the company will stop production in India because of poor quality, delivery, dependability and pricing.
“Yet we’ve been successful there, so you’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” he added.
Gregg Marks, president of Kasper, said he anticipates a 10 to 15 percent increase in the suit business in the latter half of the year as the suit continues to be fashionable and practical.
The company’s Internet site — kasper.com — receives about one million hits per month, Marks said, and includes some e-commerce elements, as well as information about store locations and links to weather, news and horoscopes.
“It’s giving us more awareness,” he said. “It’s another way to connect to the customer. You have to connect with them and make them loyal.”
Kasper is also planning a major advertising push for the fall debut of its Anne Klein Suits and Anne Klein II lines, with images planned in fashion magazines such as Vogue and InStyle.
At the ENC division of Kellwood, Penny Aschkenasy, ENC executive vice president, said better eveningwear designer David Meister will open a daytime line for spring retailing. It will ship in mid-December, she said.
“He’s got the line designed already,” she said. “It will be in retail priced no higher than $200. It’s very whimsical, very colorful and really a different side of David.”
With the new line, the company will launch an accompanying ad campaign in magazines and outdoor billboards. Additionally, Aschkenasy is looking to hire a sales manager for David Meister in Japan and Hong Kong.
For ENC’s Studio Ease division, Aschkenasy said they have hired a public relations firm to continue building brand awareness for the $40 million moderate dress label.
“We do a lot of business and we’re still not as recognizable as we should be,” she said.
Additionally, she said, ENC is looking to make a “couple” of acquisitions in the coming weeks with one potentially happening by September. She declined to be more specific.
At Kellwood’s Halmode division, the higher-priced dresses are not selling as well as dresses in the moderate category, said Jay Diamond, Halmode president and chief executive officer.
“Business is soft in the better category,” he said. “Things are doing better in opening price points and moderate. As the economy slows down and things are getting a little bit softer, people are looking for more value.”
The Sag Harbor line will debut a television ad campaign in the fall that will mix dresses and sportswear, Diamond added.
At Victor Costa, the upcoming presidential inaugural season this winter may prove to be the real millennium.
“We find it a great opportunity in that upwards of 8,000 people attend the inaugural balls and daytime events, so our dress business is great every four years,” said Scott Harris, ceo.
By the end of the year, Harris said the Victor Costa Web site should be live. It is set to include consumer and retailer sections. Retailers will be able to check on shipments and consumers will find current styles and store availability, he said.
As for Zola Evening by David Minka, an eveningwear resource that started shipping in January, the goals for the latter half of the year include a site due to go live in October and continued growth through key retailers like Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus and Jacobson’s, said Kenny Zimmerman, ceo of Kenny Z, which owns Zola Evening and Emma Black.
The site will be strictly informational and include photos of the current collection and store information.
On an international level, the company is planning to open a sales office in London, Zimmerman said.
“I’d rather start in England because we sell to two stores there, and people can come there from Spain and Germany, for example,” he added.
Zimmerman feels volume could reach $1 million in Europe by the end of this year and top $3 million by 2003.

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