NEW YORK — Nicole Miller is adopting a new strategy to crack the better sportswear market by licensing a secondary collection with Donnkenny Inc. called Nicole Miller New York.
The move represents the company’s first serious effort to break into broader department store distribution, aiming to reach May Co. and Federated Department Stores divisions that have not carried Nicole Miller products in the past. With a collection that encompasses suits, knits and sportswear, Nicole Miller New York is looking to compete with recent designer branded launches in the better zone from Calvin Klein, Tommy Hilfiger and Michael Kors.
Donnkenny has hired about a dozen employees to prepare for the spring 2005 introduction of Nicole Miller New York. It has named Elissa Bromer, formerly president of the Perry Ellis women’s division of Public Clothing Co., as group president. Sophia Tezel, who designed her own collection in the Nineties and previously worked for Miller, was hired as designer of the new line.
Miller’s 22-year-old business is primarily targeted to social occasion, bridal and contemporary categories, priced significantly lower than most designer brands and with the bulk of its distribution through stores such as Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s. Bud Konheim, chief executive officer of Nicole Miller, said the timing was right to partner with a manufacturer with the ability to produce a larger Nicole Miller collection.
“People think we are more commercial than we really are, but we’re not in this mass department store business,” Miller said. “Introducing this line is going to allow us at the same time to raise the level of the Nicole Miller collection.”
About a quarter of Miller’s runway collection — with retail sales of about $60 million — is currently priced at the high end of the market, but the designer would like to evolve her image from that of a special-occasion resource, selling bridesmaid dresses in bulk with an average retail price of about $300, to that of a prestige designer with prices ultimately ranging from $2,000 to $3,000 for a dress.
With 30 existing Nicole Miller stores around the country, including 12 company-owned locations, Miller said the firm has found little price resistance to higher-priced items from her runway shows and plans to increase such offerings to help differentiate her signature line from the new Nicole Miller New York license. Last year, the company introduced another secondary line called Miller Girl, which is positioned in the contemporary sportswear category, and this year began selling a collection of housewares at Bed, Bath & Beyond, which is expected to push Miller’s overall sales at retail to $600 million, Konheim said.
The new line “is the cornerstone of building the whole future of the Nicole Miller business,” he added.
The deal also moves Donnkenny, which has traditionally focused on moderately priced goods, further into the better range, said ceo Dan Levy. Average retail prices of the new line are expected to be around $98.
Bromer joined Public Clothing Co. two years ago to work on the Perry Ellis women’s sportswear relaunch under designer Patrick Robinson. A spokesman for Perry Ellis said the company is currently looking for a replacement for Bromer. She had been president of the Bill Burns division of Kellwood Co., the career divisions of Liz Claiborne and at Andrea Jovine.
Levy is looking to eventually reach $150 million in sales with Nicole Miller New York —?$100 million from sportswear and $25 million each from the knits and suits. In its first year, executives are expecting sales of around $10 million to $15 million.
The expansion of Donnkenny’s licensed business with Nicole Miller, including a signature outerwear line launching for fall, also helps strengthen the firm’s positioning as a branded and private label resource. Donnkenny also produces Z. Cavaricci junior and misses’ merchandise and Bill Blass women’s coats, under licensing deals.
In a separate announcement, Nicole Miller named a new sales manager to its Miller Girl division. Christine Benney, who was formerly director of sales and merchandising at La Cosa, will be responsible for sales of the collection and will report to Jennifer Mallicote, executive director of sales.