Kathryn Conover can testify to the cynical nature of the dress trend.
Conover did a $30 million business with her eponymous dress label in the Eighties, and after a period rich in denim and sportswear, the ready-to-wear veteran has returned with the second coming of her better dress line to capitalize on renewed interest in the category.
As a division of the $30 million moderate dress company Ronni Nicole II Inc., Kathryn Conover soft launched a better-priced Kathryn Conover capsule dress line this past spring at Nordstrom and Lord & Taylor, and the first full collection will hit stores for spring 2008.
“I was itching to get back into the dress business because they looked so great,” Conover said. “I’ve never before seen dresses worn like they are now. The revival of dresses has been predicted for almost a decade, but no one could have guessed how exciting and fabulous they would be in their latest incarnation.”
The line, carried at L&T, Dillard’s, Nordstrom, Bon-Ton, Belk and specialty stores, wholesales for $49 to $150. Wholesale volume for this year, with its capsule collections, is projected at $5 million, and is anticipated to double in 2008 to $10 million.
After shutting down the Kathryn Conover New York line in 1991, Conover served as design director for the Liz Claiborne dress division from 1991 to 1993, then consulted from 1993 to 2003 before designing bridal under the label Kathryn Conover Bridal.
When the dress cycle sloped upward a year ago, Conover met with Liza Diamond, a principal in New York-based Ronni Nicole, a moderate line that wholesales for $29 to $49.
“We have been getting requests from retailers to give them a slightly higher-end product than Ronni Nicole because all of the department stores are trading up and we wanted to follow that trend,” Diamond said. “When we heard Kathryn was available, it was perfect. When you are talented, you keep that talent and get better and better as time goes on.”
Conover is banking less on her name recognition — as she tries to attract the daughters of the first generation who wore Kathryn Conover — than on the dresses, which use silks, knits, cottons and jerseys. In contrast to her occasion-driven line in the Eighties, the new Kathryn Conover has added elements like sleeves and pockets to the dresses.