LOS ANGELES — Meet the new Bailey/44.
That Los Angeles contemporary brand that had become somewhat formulaic in more recent years with its go-to blueprint of striping and cutouts has been making some big changes the past few months it hopes will set the business and product assortment down a new path.
In the fall, the company brought on David Lazar as president of Bailey and sister brand Ali & Jay. Lazar prior to that had been serving as chief merchandising officer for the digital styling and shopping service Wantable with the industry veteran having held positions at Express as vice president of merchandising, led a turnaround as president at knitwear brand Three Dots and also launched businesses such as knit brand Twenty Tees and digital buying tool ThreadSuite.
Cofounder Shelli Segal transitioned to a board seat, stepping away from involvement in the day-to-day and product development. Meanwhile, former Vince head of creative Micheline Ip stepped in as creative director of Bailey/44. The rest of the executive team has been filled out with the hiring of Bailey/44’s director of design operations Abby Abrego at Bailey and Katie Henry as chief marketing officer for both brands. There’s also Anna Perna, who was brought on as director of merchandising also for both brands.
“The goal for us is to evolve from a traditional wholesale brand to have more control of distribution through the direct-to-consumer model that is obviously what’s on everybody’s mind,” Lazar said, speaking recently with the rest of the executive team in the company’s photo studio at its Vernon headquarters and distribution center. “This is not the first time you’ve heard this conversation. Selling into a department store and praying somebody buys something is a pretty rough business model.”
That said, Bailey/44 has been converting its Bloomingdale’s business to concessions, with the most recent at the retailer’s 59th Street location in New York, bringing its shop-in-shop count to 13 doors. The brand also has its own stores, one located at the Lido Marina Village center in Newport Beach and another at Westfield Century City. A third is set to open in La Jolla at the end of the quarter.
Lazar declined to pin a specific number of stores he could see the company growing to, instead saying the greater focus is firming up the digital presence — with a projection of 60 to 70 percent growth this year in that channel — and learning from the likes of an Everlane, Reformation, Casper and other digital brands that have served as case studies to the market on storytelling that bolsters their ability to sell.
“People want that emotional connection to the brand. They want to buy product, but it can’t be like Whac-a-Mole every time,” Lazar said. “That’s old and those things don’t work anymore. If you look at all the transactional brands, they’re all struggling. They only know how to send one key e-mail: 900 percent off and we’re going to give you a $50 bill to take something out of the store.”
Wholesale will remain an important part of the business when it comes to penetrating markets where the company doesn’t see the expense of a store buildout being justified, such as the suburbs or secondary markets.
Running alongside all the shifts in the business is also a transition in the product.
“We’re doing all that as we’re going through a product evolution,” Lazar said. “When it started, it was an innovator. It made sexy relevant to the contemporary customer. Unfortunately, the brand really hasn’t evolved over the course of time and continued to do a lot of the same thing. The customer evolved away from that overly sexy to where the market’s become more sophisticated and more polished. We were predictable. You knew you’d have a cutout somewhere. You knew the dress was going to be fitted. We were very prescriptive in our aesthetic.”
One thing Bailey has going for it is its pricing. It’s long sat at the opening price point for contemporary and will remain that way even as Ip continues to refine the designs. Most dresses at Bailey/44 are between $178 and $248 with woven tops ranging from $178 to $228.
The maturation of the line is evident as Ip walked through the seasons. The July 30 delivery marks the start of her point of view on the brand with a sportswear influence, injections of primary colors and the introduction of outerwear.
“We’re introducing more bottoms so you can mix and match. It’s not, you buy a top and you don’t have a bottom or a jacket,” Ip said. “You can actually pull off a whole outfit.”
That conversation continues the next month in August with a decidedly more utilitarian tone that mixes feminine and masculine: fairisle prints and a vegan leather moto jacket. Holiday ushers in velvets, lace and other rich textures. It’s all what the team hopes will be a subtle transition for the market.
“The immediate thing that I wanted to accomplish was not to lose that person who was buying this product,” Ip said. “My challenge was to make it current and bring in a new customer, but how do you keep that without losing the other one?”
It’s a question every brand seeking a turn in the business asks itself.
“Time is going to tell,” Ip said. “Now, we have newer products. It’s going to bring in somebody that’s a little different, has different aesthetics and so my challenge was to bring that all together so that I don’t lose one while I’m trying to also move forward with a new one.”