Originally a family-run enterprise out of Pittsburgh, Tex., the 45-year-old line went bankrupt and shut down in May 2000, only to be sold and reestablished two months later. In the scramble approaching the August market that year, the new owner, businesswoman Hong Le, hired three former Mike Benet staffers: Ann Tobias, designer; John Healy, national sales manager, and Judy Marshall, operations manager.
A major brand in its heyday, Dallas-based Mike Benet had the distinction of dressing the singing group The Lennon Sisters for “The Lawrence Welk Show.”
With a new guard in place, Tobias feels freer than ever to add contemporary and high fashion elements to the line.
“For so many years, Mike Benet resisted any kind of change, and as a creative person, it’s easy to get stifled that way,” she said. “Now we’re growing up, moving to the city and developing a more refined, sophisticated look, as are the prom girls.”
Adding to Mike Benet’s prom and pageant categories, the new sophisticated eveningwear division jacks up the line’s target age about 20 years. For this group, Tobias channels the concepts of glamour and couture found in the other divisions, but with a forgiving eye attuned to a more mature consumer. Corseted gowns are offered in the eveningwear line, along with dresses that enhance areas like the neck, back and shoulders.
“Buyers are budgeting their deliveries a bit more quickly, but prom is going to happen regardless of the economy. A girl is going to work two jobs if it means getting that special dress,” said Miller.
Since its rebirth in 2000, Mike Benet has worked hard at rebuilding relationships with retailers. Strategies to recoup the 4,000 accounts once held by the company include magazine advertising, direct mail programs and sponsorships of pageants, including Miss Teen USA.
Available through the Rick & Sarah Miller showroom at 9W123, Mike Benet has 500 accounts and a projected volume of $2 million wholesale for the year.