VENDORS: THINK FASHION, NOT FROST

Byline: Leonard McCants

NEW YORK — For the second half, outerwear vendors, for a change, are more interested in leather than weather.
Although not a stellar coat season last year, coat manufacturers are looking to the second half of 2000 with anticipation that trendy new styles, continuing retail performance of leather and even an acquisition or two will increase sales for fall and holiday.
Leather vendors have been enthusiastic for more than a year as leather outerwear and thin, soft coat styles, pants, skirts and dresses continued to sell well through spring. The good news seems to be continuing into the upcoming coat season, they said.
“Starting sales have been very strong, particularly in leather,” said Richard Madris, executive vice president of Winlit Group, which holds the license for Ellen Tracy and Guess leather lines at the bridge and contemporary levels, respectively.
Combined with a renewed focus on fashionable outerwear at the designer level, resources are predicting that weather may not necessarily be the dominant factor this season in the coat department. Women who were dissuaded from buying a coat last year because of a mostly mild winter will find several new options in a variety of silhouettes, vendors said.
In particular, London Fog which entered Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in September, is seeking to add more directional styles like python prints, pearlized luster looks and silky twills to its stable of rainwear and traditional outerwear pieces.
“We have to make sure that product is geared to our key consumer,” said Paul Shriber, trade division president of London Fog.
Shriber said the new products may not be immediate bestsellers but will allow the company to slowly update its image.
“These are all not ‘first in the marketplace,’ but they are things that London Fog may not have been known for in the past,” he said.
Shriber also said the company is working to meet its bankruptcy specifications and that London Fog should emerge from protection by the fall. The company shuttered most of its retail operations as part of its exit strategy and, into the second half of the year, London Fog will focus on helping its retail accounts market the brand.
To that end, London Fog is planning to include some of its new and youthful advertising and marketing images in departments stores and in its packaging. As previously reported, the company has employed supermodels Maggie Rizer and Scott Barnhill for a fall campaign which includes no raindrops or other weather-related themes, but rather clean images that play up its titular connection to London.
By the end of the year, Shriber anticipated there will be a London Fog Web site. For information only, the site will allow consumers to view current styles and link to sites, such as Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, to buy online.
“We’re trying to be careful that the Web site keys into the consumer,” Shriber said. “One of the things that we’re looking at is being as user friendly as we can.”
The Amerex Group is focusing heavily on the Internet during the second half as well. The firm has an existing site for its Static label that is tied to a new advertising campaign, which recently broke in young women’s magazines, and the company is working to upgrade its Amerex Group corporate site.
The Static campaign is a first for the division and will also include outdoor placement in New York and Los Angeles.
“We’re spending a huge amount of dollars (for the campaign),” said Ira Ganger, president of Amerex. “For us, it’s a big increase in advertising because we’re going where we never went before.”
Furthermore, Ganger said, the company is looking to make several acquisitions by the end of the year, especially in the wool and leather areas. Its recent acquisitions include the M&L operations of Biscayne Apparel, Gerry Sportswear performance outerwear and Moonstone Mountain Equipment.
Also on tap, Amerex is launching 1 Madison, a moderate-priced women’s outerwear brand, for spring retailing. The line will focus on microfibers, fake silks, fake suedes and brushed poplin blends in anoraks, stadium lengths and short jackets.
The focus for the second half at Harve Benard will be luxury fabrics, like alpaca and cashmere, and classic looks such as wrap and trenchcoats, said Bernard Holtzman, president and chief designer.
“It will be coats that don’t look like you’re going skiing,” he said.
Holtzman noted the company is trying to incorporate fashion-item coats early in the season, like bright, colorful jackets, hooded jackets and peacoats.
“The problem is that you don’t get the coat area until bathing suit season is over,” he added.
The company is also planning to introduce a Web site to go live in late fall. There, consumers will be able to view product lines and find where they are available. In addition, there will be a monthly newsletter from the design department telling readers about fashion trends.
At Fairbrooke Enterprises, which holds licenses for Calvin Klein, CK Coats, Donna Karan, DKNY, Isaac Mizrahi and Perry Ellis and owns the Drizzle brand, the key second-half trends are based on supporting retailers with visuals and selling specialists. Any online selling would come from the store’s individual sites, said Jaimee Marshall, a Fairbrooke marketing consultant.
At DKNY, coat season will bring prices reduced by 25 to 30 percent compared to last year, as the division is looking to present a more focused offering without sacrificing quality or brand identification.
“With the support of the retail community, the collection became more wool dominated,” Marshall said.
The final six months of the year — typically the best season for the outerwear business — could rival last year’s positive results as novelty skins, lambskin and color are all selling well, according to Madris of Winlit Group.
“The trend is toward newness and looks that will coincide with popularized and stylized sportswear,” he said. “Leather and textured outerwear will complement the sportswear.”

What’s Ahead
London Fog plans to emerge from bankruptcy protection in the fall.

Fairbrooke has decreased the prices of DKNY coats by as much as 30 percent compared to last year.

Leather is expected to continue to perform well at retail this winter.

Amerex Group is launching 1 Madison, a moderate women’s coat label, for spring retailing.

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