Confirmed in New York

Denim, drinks and deejays were all on hand at To Be Confirmed, the denim trade show that made its U.S. debut here last week.

While exhibitors were more focused on men’s merchandise, women’s brands showed a broad variety of styles, mostly for immediate spring business.

To Be Confirmed was originally held in London, in February 2000, with the hopes of fostering an aura of exclusivity. The U.S. edition, which ran Jan. 27-28 at Milk Studios in New York’s Meatpacking district, attracted 63 brands from Europe, Japan, Canada and the U.S. Roughly 80 percent of exhibitors were men’s wear labels.

“It’s very personable,” said April McBroom, an account executive at Marithe & Francois Girbaud. “Everybody is exchanging ideas in a great and relaxed atmosphere. A lot of the stores are up-and-coming and the people are trendsetters.”

Girbaud’s breathable bamboo denim dresses and skirts gained the most attention, McBroom said. Denim skirts in any length, capris, and low-rise “Seamory” jeans in rinse stretch denim were popular. The Paris-based company also gave buyers a fabric preview of the premium Japanese denim it will use for fall.

One exhibitor at the show introduced a retro-looking track suit by Hummel, the Danish soccer outfitting company, which previously had been available in the U.S. only to teams. Jeanette Bronee, president of BB Co. Inc., Hummel’s U.S. distributor, said she launched at To Be Confirmed to target denim-driven customers.

“The pants are low-rise boot-cut and wear like jeans,” she said. “Everything has been taken from the archives and researched through old catalogs.”

Hummel track suits come in bright green, brown, red and blue as well as other colors. Bronee said Seventies color combinations like dark brown with light brown trim were popular. Slim-fitting short-sleeved soccer T-shirts in similar colors were also favored.

At Toronto-based Geek Boutique, wholesaling jeans for $60 and up, director of sales John Cosentino said he was trying to build his presence in the U.S., but complained that he processed fewer orders than he had at London editions of the event.

At Evisu, vice president of sales for the U.S. and U.K. Vince Gonzales said that hand-painted versions of his firm’s bottoms, wholesaling for $210 to $300, garnered attention. Kimono-inspired prints used to trim the bottom and waistband of jeans were also key items, he added.

He said he was pleased by the buyer turnout, adding, “I like smaller stores and all the right people were here.”

The show had a distinctive feel, requiring vendors to display their wares on industrial clothing racks and with only one small sign per booth. Curtains separating collections, tables for writing orders, posters and advertisements were not allowed. Vendor space was pushed against the outside walls in two rooms with midcentury vintage sofas and chairs scattered throughout, creating a lounge-like feel. Apple Martinis were served throughout the day as exhibitors’ dogs ran freely throughout the rooms.

Buyers said while the laid-back atmosphere was a nice change from the typical trade show, they complained that loud music and martinis distracted sales reps.

“There were times when we were looking in a booth for five minutes and nobody came to help us,” said Maria Ayalla, women’s buyer at Patricia Field. “I liked the vibe, but I don’t know how much business got done. I find it a little bothersome when you have to yell over music when you’re trying to write an order.”

Ayalla said she didn’t place any orders at the show, but would follow up with vendors during the days after.

“I think it could definitely be expanded and is worth checking out,” she said, “even if just to see what people are doing in Europe.”

Atrium owner Sam Ben-Avraham, said To Be Confirmed could use more of a business mind-set, though he did place orders.

“I think they could focus a little more on business, there were a lot of two o’clock martinis,” Ben-Avraham said. “It was the type of merchandise that you can’t buy too heavy on, but it was very interesting. There were a lot of designers with cool stuff.”

Show founder Markus Klosseck said the idea for To Be Confirmed came from buyers in Europe that complained about maze-like aisles and over-the-top booths at larger trade shows. He added that he’d like to boost the number of women’s exhibitors at future events. He also said he might stage another edition of the show in August.

B. Lucid Broadens Its Base

In an effort to complement its core junior leather and suede business, New York resource B. Lucid is boosting its sales force and increasing its emphasis on denim.

The company, run by president Steve Zellman, recently hired a new vice president of sales, Bonnie Sussman, and national sales manager, Terry Bernardi. Both are previously of Lucky Brand Dungarees and report to Zellman. Former vice president of sales Linda Jackson has left the company.

Part of the new duo’s mission is promoting the Sawary and Fresh Hype jeans brands, which complement the company’s core offerings, they said. Wholesale prices for Sawary, a Brazilian line, start at $22, while Fresh Hype’s start at $56. Both brands emphasize low-rise fits and new washes.

“They’re the opposite ends of the world, in terms of the consumer, but it’s the same account book,” said Sussman, explaining that both lines are sold primarily to specialty denim stores.

Sussman added that both lines are merchandised with quick fashion cycles and multiple seasons, rather than emphasizing basic styles and reorders.

Zellman said he expects the lines and his new staff to help him grow the company from its $36 million in sales last year to around $50 million this year.

Gianfranco Ferre, Sunbird

After opening its first freestanding U.S. store in the Miami area late last month, Gianfranco Ferre Jeans is planning to expand in Florida and into California over the next two years.

The company opened a 1,000-square-foot unit at a Bal Harbour retail complex on Jan. 24. It expects the store’s sales per square foot to hit $800 in its first 18 months of operation and rise up to $1,000 a square foot within two years. The store houses women’s and men’s apparel in a chic, minimalist space with charcoal marble flooring on the second floor of the mall.

“The store allows us to portray our image and get closer to our customer,” said Patrick Guadagno, president of IT USA, which produces the Gianfranco Ferre Jeans line. “We chose Bal Harbour in Miami because it draws an international mix of Europeans, South Americans and hip locals that fit our customer profile.”

He said the company aims to have 12 to 15 U.S. stores over the next five years. Within the next year, the company plans to open another unit in Miami Beach’s South Beach area. After that, it’s off to California, with hopes of stores in San Francisco and Orange County over the next two years. There are also plans for European locations.

IT USA is the U.S.-subsidiary of Ittierre SpA, a manufacturer headquartered near Rome, that also produces D&G Dolce & Gabbana and other lines through licenses. In the U.S., the line is carried in specialty stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, Bendel’s and Texas-based Tootsie’s.

The jeans collection is a spinoff of the Gianfranco Ferre designer line. The main line’s signature white blouses are interpreted also in the jeans line. This fall, to distinguish the jeans line, the label will be shortened to Ferre Jeans.

The Gianfranco Ferre main line has existing stores on Madison Avenue in New York and in Beverly Hills and will also open within the next few months on the first floor at Bal Harbour Shoppes.

Isaacs Sells European Unit

In keeping with its plan to streamline operations and focus on higher-margin products sold under its license for the Marithe & Francois Girbaud brand, I.C. Isaacs & Co. said Friday that it has disposed of its European subsidiary.

The company sold all the outstanding common stock of its Spanish subsidiary, I.C. Isaacs Europe, to the subsidiary’s management in exchange for repayment of $100,000 of intercompany debt and the assumption of the European unit’s liabilities.

The New York- and Baltimore-based marketer of branded sportswear expects to take an aftertax charge of approximately $1.2 million in the fourth quarter of 2001 as a result of the disposition.

“We are pleased to have disposed of the European operations, which were a persistent drain on the company’s earnings and resources,” said chief executive officer Robert J. Arnot in a statement. “At this time, we believe that substantially all expenses not related to our Girbaud business have been eliminated and that all inventory that is not Girbaud products has been sold. We look forward to putting our efforts into better capitalizing on the opportunity for growth of the Girbaud brand.”

In November, Isaacs said it would not renew its licensing agreement with Beverly Hills Polo Club in the U.S. and Europe.

– Scott Malone and Joshua Greene with contributions by Dan Burrows and Georgia Lee, Atlanta

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