NEW YORK — Peerless Clothing has big plans for its latest label — really big.
The country’s largest tailored clothing manufacturer has signed National Basketball Association legend Shaquille O’Neal to headline a new collection of suits that will be sold exclusively at Macy’s. The line, which is being introduced for spring, quietly made its appearance on the Macy’s Web site this week and will begin rolling out to stores between now and March 1.
The collection of suit separates and sport coats is available in both regular and big and tall sizes and retails at $400 for the jacket and $150 for the pants.
“I wanted something that would make me look sexy,” O’Neal told WWD in an interview at the Macy’s Inc. executive offices here earlier this week. Most of the merchandise available for big men — O’Neal is 7 feet 1 inch tall and weighs 325 pounds — is “boring and makes me look old,” he said. “I can buy underwear and tank tops, but there’s not so much available in 54XX.”
So when he met Ronny Wurtzburger, president of Peerless, and bemoaned the clothing choices in the market, they decided to work together.
“I want to be able to wear Donna Karan, Burberry, other high-fashion lines, but I can’t,” O’Neal said. “So we said, let’s do a suit line, but not limit it to big and tall.”
O’Neal, who has a reported net worth of $350 million, according to the Web site Celebrity Net Worth, said he generally has his suits custom-made, at a cost of $2,800 and up. But it was important for him to offer a reasonably priced option for regular guys.
“The main conversation we had was to make it affordable,” O’Neal said. “And I want to be able to shop with my friends.” Despite his bank account, O’Neal said he still shops at Wal-Mart all the time and his mother is a big fan of Macy’s. He went on to tell a story about how a woman once berated him in the street for putting his name on a shoe that was out of the price range of most working families. “So I was the first guy to drop an affordable sneaker at Wal-Mart,” he said proudly. More than 220 million of the Shaq basketball shoes, which retail for less than $30, have sold at Wal-Mart, O’Neal said.
Wurtzburger said: “We’re not creating a big and tall line, but a fashion line, driven by a person with tremendous character and a tremendous following.” O’Neal has over eight million followers on Twitter and in excess of four million Facebook “likes,” according to his assistant. He plans on getting the word about the new clothing line out through these social media channels.
Wurtzburger said that when working with any brand — Peerless has licenses for DKNY, Lauren Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein and others — “it has to have credibility and character. And Shaq’s character is flawless.”
O’Neal responded with a laugh: “I’m pretty good, but I’m not flawless. That’s a lot of pressure.”
Although he retired from professional basketball three years ago, O’Neal continues to be a household name. Calling himself a “touchable superstar” and a “people person,” O’Neal admitted that it sometimes surprises him that young children know who he is. “If they don’t recognize me, that’s fine, but I’ve been famous a long time,” he said.
Wurtzburger characterized the Shaquille O’Neal collection as “classic with a touch of fashion,” and said O’Neal has been active in the selection of fabrics for the line. Peerless presented the athlete with a variety of samples and produced the ones O’Neal preferred. “When I dress, I want to look like the common man and wear a professional business look,” O’Neal explained.
Richard Arnstein, executive vice president and general merchandise manager of men’s wear for Macy’s, said since the line was added online last week — with no advertising or fanfare — about a dozen pieces have sold. Carrying the line both in stores and online also allows Macy’s to “create an omnichannel experience,” Arnstein said.
He said that offering the line in a wide range of sizes — it’s available from 36 to 60 — was important to Macy’s. “We wanted to create a line for everyone that fit everyone.” Wurtzburger added: “And we wanted one price for everyone. Only at Macy’s can this happen.”
Arnstein declined to provide a volume projection for the line, which will be “merchandised as a capsule in our tailored clothing world.” It will have its own signage in stores and O’Neal plans to make in-store appearances to promote the line at the company’s New Orleans store on Feb. 15 during the NBA All-Star Weekend, as well as in the Lenox Square unit in Atlanta on March 15. As of now, there are no plans for him to make a personal appearance at Macy’s Herald Square.
“We like newness and people with a personality,” Arnstein said. “And we’re excited to try something new.”