NEW YORK — Call coat firms the undaunted brigade.

This story first appeared in the June 18, 2002 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

The recession, unseasonably warm weather and terrorist trauma took a toll on outerwear sales in 2001, but makers are determined to stage a comeback this fall and winter with more focused and fashionable lines.

“In a lot of ways, outerwear is a new category. We’re not the same old coat form anymore,” said Bernard Holtzman, president of Harve Benard. “People really want diversification. Today, people have wardrobes of coats. There’s plenty of business to be done.”

Harve Benard has seen fall bookings increase by about 28 percent over last year, with many stores interested in light-weight styles; faux shearlings; down-filled, diamond-patterned jackets, and cashmere coats. Holtzman said his 35-year-old firm updated its fall collection with a greater variety.

“Stores are starting out with a few garments,” Holtzman said. “If it works, they’ll chase the business.”

Weatherproof Garment Co. expects sales to jump substantially over last fall, as the brand continues to establish itself in women’s, now entering its fourth season in the sector, said Fredric Stollmack, president.

“The coat market is lousy, but we’re trying something a little different,” Stollmack said. “The challenge is to have a little bit of an edge without driving the missy customer away.”

What that means is offering shearlings in unusual pastels and down coats in more contemporary silhouettes. The collection is also priced about 10 percent lower than last year, with wholesale prices in the $37.50 to $67.50 price range. The sharper prices are a nod to the trading down of consumers to stores such as Target and other mass market stores.

Weatherproof has doubled its advertising budget and will launch a fall print and outdoor campaign, including a Times Square billboard in August and September. The $2 million outdoor buy will also be posted in Chicago and Dallas. Stollmack said more advertising is needed in “a somewhat lackluster market,” and it’s “a wonderful time” for media rates.

Many buyers placed their fall orders in March and April, a month later than usual, he said. Once they have an indication of bestsellers, they “will go after the business with a vengeance,” he added.

Cinzia Rocca will spend about 25 percent more for its fall print and outdoor advertising compared with its first U.S. ad blitz last year, said Denise Bongiorno, managing director. Shot in Milan, the campaign plays up the company’s Italian heritage, as a curtain-raiser for its 50th anniversary next year.

The brand’s introduction of a 20-piece evening coat collection has helped boost fall orders by 30 percent, Bongiorno said. A cashmere cape, a mink-lined walking coat and fur-trimmed silk satin coats are in the group, which retails for $400 to $2,200.

There will also be a few newcomers in coat departments this fall.

Outerwear manufacturer Bernardo Fashions, which created a collection of washable suede outerwear last year, has introduced washable leather outerwear in its fall collection. The pieces, which come in a variety of styles and colors, are designed for machine-washing and hang-drying. As with the suede products, Bernardo has teamed up with Woolite Fabric Wash to bring the washable leather styles to retail, where styles will sell for $129 to $199.

“After three years of research and development, we’ve perfected the first leather consumers can care for at home,” said Stuart Pollack, president of Bernado.

Bubblegum, a junior label that has been licensed to Global Apparel LLC, has launched a 30-piece line for fall featuring teen-friendly features, such as cell-phone pockets and shoulder straps so wearers can take off their jackets without removing them completely. Jackets in down, corduroy and denim are among the offerings. Hats imprinted with the Bubblegum logo will be a freebie for shoppers who buy down peacoats.

To draw attention to the new label, posters, signs, displays and special events will be held in select stores. The first-year projected wholesale volume is about $5.5 million, said Danny Fodiman, co-president.

“People are looking for better products and value pricing,” he said.

Fodiman, who runs the firm with his brother, Robert, said Global picked up the label because it has a strong following in the junior market and does not overlap with its other label, Regency, which is in better department stores.

The Levy Group will unveil its licensed Dana Buchman line of coats in 100 doors in 20 department store chains, according to Donald Levy, president of the Levy firm.

Active-inspired styles from that label, as well as the company’s licensed Esprit and Liz Claiborne coat lines and its proprietary Braeten label, are an important part of fall orders. But more units of those items must be sold, since typical staples of leather and wool coats carry high price tags.

“I thought the business would be a little tougher for opening orders, due to last winter’s heat wave and terrorism,” Levy said. “But we were pleasantly surprised.”

Nevertheless, Levy expects dollar sales to be flat this year, even though unit sales are tracking ahead of last year. But in the current market, that isn’t such a bad thing.

“Being flat in a down market, where a lot of stores have cut their budgets, means we’re ahead,” he said. “Stores are being more conservative because of last winter’s difficult weather. If more companies would be honest, they’d admit they’re down in fall bookings.”

Searle also expects its wholesale business to be flat versus last fall, said Steve Blatt, president and chief executive officer. The weather will be the biggest factor affecting fall sales.

Blatt also noted that many stores canceled orders and slashed prices early in the season, but most realized that move was premature. This year, some are planning to bring in outerwear in August to get a jump on the business, but the most significant business should be done after September, he said.

Shearlings are “excellent,” and fur-trimmed coats and long coats are leading the charge for Searle’s fall orders, Blatt reported. The brand’s short coats used to outsell longer versions, but now women consider the longer ones to be a better investment, he added. On the downside, wool coat sales are “difficult,” he added.

Linda Sheldon, president of Fairbrook’s Donna Karan and DKNY licensed coat division, said “exciting shapes and fabrics with interesting trims” have helped put fall orders ahead of last year’s numbers. The collection is also “tightly edited” and slightly smaller than last fall to make buying easier for stores.

Retailers are being more careful with their budgets, but they’re also looking for “more fashion,” Sheldon said.

“There’s a lot of sameness. Women are looking for something a little more special,” she said. “They really don’t want basics.”

A reversible shearling and basket-weave wool coats are bestsellers in the DKNY line, and a coat with a tulip-shaped bottom and an embroidered velvet coat are key items in the Donna Karan collection. There are also more nylon jackets, but Sheldon noted that the company has no plans to compete with The North Face or other active-oriented lines. DKNY’s nylon coats, for example, have ruching for a “shaped, sexier look than in the past,” she added.

In reporting its first-quarter earnings for the three months ended April 30, G-III, the New York-based outerwear maker, reported a net loss of $4.2 million, or 62 cents a diluted share. That compares with last year’s more modest loss of $2.9 million, or 44 cents. Sales for the period retreated 26.1 percent to $12.7 million from $17.2 million a year ago.

“During the first quarter, we put the worst of last year’s operating environment behind us and positioned the business for a solid rebound in the current year,” ceo Morris Goldfarb said in a statement. “We have worked hard to clear excess inventory and look to achieve healthy levels of full-priced business.”

In reporting the earnings last month, Goldfarb added that the company’s booking trends have “improved considerably” in the last two months.

Goldfarb said G-III will continue to make strides in augmenting the company’s sports licensing business. G-III recently extended its license agreement with the National Football League and has added two new lines of vintage apparel licensed from Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association.

Good growth potential is also forecast in the Cole Haan women’s line. G-III also makes women’s outerwear under the Kenneth Cole, Colebrook, Cole B., Nine West and Siena Studios labels.

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