NEW YORK — Having tried out a few different images in the past five years, Eddie Bauer, the 80-year-old brand that first made its name as a Seattle sporting goods store, is now playing up its rugged outdoor American style.
The Seattle-based company hasn’t veered away from its heritage, but it has placed a greater emphasis on updated styles. Enter Fabian Mansson, H&M’s former president and chief executive officer, who joined Eddie Bauer 15 months ago in the same capacity.
“My message is, ‘If you haven’t checked us out lately, you should really do it now,’” he said, after a walk-through Tuesday of the brand’s spring and summer collection at Central Park’s Boathouse. “We’re repositioning the company between missy and juniors. It’s for the woman who doesn’t want to show too much cleavage or be falling out of her pants, but she doesn’t want to look like her grandmother, either.”
Spiegel, its parent company, has faltered, filing for bankruptcy earlier this year. In the last five years, Eddie Bauer has had its own fits and starts.
“There was a stint where it went younger and then quickly went back to the casual outdoor business,” Mansson said. “After that, there was a shift to dress casual. The company had been sliding during those changes. Comp-store sales were down for several years. But last quarter was the first increase for comp-store sales.”
Sales of women’s apparel represent half of Eddie Bauer’s estimated $1.3 billion in sales.
The brand’s updated looks — hooded ripstop nylon jackets, “time-worn” sweaters designed to look like old favorites, low-waisted chinos and a Teflon-treated windproof and waterproof parka — are featured in the spring catalogue. The company ships a total of 80 million catalogues annually. The spring book plays off the brand’s rugged outdoor image, with photos of women in rowboats, hiking and beachside in Bath, Maine.
That location is not too far from L.L. Bean, the Freeport, Maine-based brand favored by outdoor enthusiasts that earlier this year notified the U.S. Bankruptcy Court overseeing Spiegel’s reorganization that it would like to be kept informed about whether Bauer assets are for sale. Of that development, Mansson said, “The short of the story is Eddie Bauer is not for sale. Could that change? Yes, possibly, but you could say that about a lot of companies.”
Mansson, a native of Sweden, noted that Bauer’s American heritage is highly marketable. The company’s namesake patented the first parka and redesigned the badminton birdie. Jim Whitaker, who wore an Eddie Bauer jacket when he became the first American to climb Mount Everest, in 1963, will present a slide show of his travels tonight at the Eddie Bauer store here on the Upper West Side.
“How many apparel companies can say they’ve been around for 80-plus years? We’re totally an American brand. We’re part of the American landscape from the mountains to the water,” said Mansson. “Maybe I appreciate that more as a foreigner coming here.”
As for how that stacks up compared with the trend-oriented world of H&M, Mansson said, “The thing with H&M is it’s quick fashion at low prices. We’re all about a quality American brand that’s more casual based. You won’t see the swings and the shifts [in fashion] that H&M has. But it still means getting the inventory as scheduled, building inventory at the right time and having the right price points. The dynamics are basically the same.”