Contemporary: fashion’s growth engine
As contemporary resources continue to cash in on consumers’ desire for edgy clothes that don’t break the bank, they are staking out growth opportunities.
Sometimes it’s through brand extensions, sometimes through expansion abroad. It might be pinned to items, like capris, instead of collections, but whatever the method, growth is the goal.Laundry by Shelli Segal, Bisou-Bisou by Michele Bohbot, BCBG Max Azria and Poleci are considering the addition of higher-priced, bridge collections. Executives say their plans are still in the early stages, but many hope to put together a line by next year.Bisou-Bisou, Laundry and Poleci, which offer dressed-up styles, are expanding into casual.
Bisou-Bisou launched L’Om, a yoga-inspired collection that was shipped to stores last month. Poleci unveiled 224, an active-inspired weekend-wear line last month at retail, and Laundry is coming out with its own version called Laundry MI for fall.BCBG Max Azria, Leon Max, Poleci and Bisou-Bisou are some of the labels staking a claim in the overseas market. Some are building their own stores; others are going the wholesale route. Bisou-Bisou opened the first of several stores in Paris last fall at 182 Boulevard Saint-Germain. It operates another 48 stores overseas.Several contemporary resources are banking on items to build their business. ABS last spring unveiled ABS Essentials at retail, and BCBG is launching its own Essentials Collection next month.“Contemporary has been one of our high-growth fashion areas,” said Kathy Bufano, executive vice president of Macy’s East. She is projecting double-digit growth for spring. Among her key resources are BCBG, Bisou-Bisou, Laundry by Shelli Segal and Max Studio.
“The price points are friendly, and it taps into a fashion customer,” Bufano said. “We don’t sell designer, and we don’t sell too much bridge at our stores.”Among some of Macy’s East’s early spring highlights are woven stretch shirts and pants, pleated skirts, camisoles, crocheted shrugs and twinsets from Laundry; knee-length skirts from BCBG Max Azria, and drawstring pants from Bisou-Bisou.Bufano said in the past two years Macy’s East had increased its real estate for contemporary by about 10 percent.“Contemporary is doing outstanding,” said Frank Doroff, executive vice president of Bloomingdale’s, who said he expected double-digit growth this season. Some of his key resources are BCBG, Laundry, Katayone Adeli and Theory. Best-selling styles so far this spring are capris, white shirts, knee-length shorts and tank tops.Laundry, which ended last year with a wholesale volume of $100 million, plans to increase that by $30 million this year through a variety of strategies — expanding the number of in-store shops, building more freestanding stores and rolling out MI, the weekend-wear line, according to Susan Clatworthy, president.This year, Laundry plans to open 10 to 15 in-store shops. The company currently operates 80 such shops in Rich’s, Bloomingdale’s and other department stores. Laundry is also sprucing up its concept shops at Dayton Hudson and Marshall Field’s with better visuals.
Laundry, which opened its first freestanding store in SoHo last year, plans to open more stores, according to Clatworthy, and is close to signing a lease on Beverly Boulevard in Beverly Hills, Calif. The company also operates three outlet stores on the West Coast and just signed a lease in Woodbury Commons, Woodbury, Conn. That unit is due to open within the next six months, Clatworthy said.As for its MI line, Clatworthy would not comment on sales projections and said wholesale prices have not been set.The company, whose business is divided equally between dresses and sportswear, now sees a need to reach new customers.“It is a natural evolution,” Clatworthy said. “It is a way of embracing new customers and serving the needs of our existing customers. We are taking our customer to the next level.”
BCBG Max Azria is out to develop a global brand. Its expansions — domestic and global — are expected to be financed in part by an undisclosed investment group, now negotiating for possible minority equity.That is expected in late March or early April, a company spokesman said.
BCBG, which operates more than a dozen stores overseas, plans to open a second store in Tel Aviv on March 13 and units in Taipei, Taiwan and Singapore this spring, Azria said.
BCBG will open three stores in Paris, two of of them within the next couple of months. One will be at Place de la Madeleine, the other on Rue du Faubourg Saint Honore. The company is still searching for a site for the third store.BCBG, which currently operates more than 60 freestanding stores in North America, generated sales of $200 million last year. Sales should top $260 million this year, according to Azria. About 80 percent of the business is from the BCBG label; the remainder is from Parallel, its streetwear line; To the Max, its junior line; Maxine, its misses’ label, and Herve Leger, which it acquired last year.
BCBG will add four units in the U.S.This month, BCBG is rolling out what it calls BCBG Essentials: scoopneck T-shirts, tops with three-quarter sleeves, tanks and jackets. Fabrics range from matte jersey to cotton knits.Leon Max, owner of the label that bears his name, is mulling a number of growth opportunities. He said he planned to increase choices in dresses and knitwear. Dresses, which accounted for about 15 percent of the mix for the fourth quarter last year, will be about 25 percent in this year’s fourth period.Knitwear, responsible for 40 percent of last year’s fourth quarter, will be about 50 percent. The remainder will be in pants, skirts and T-shirts.
The line wholesales from $20 to about $200.“Contemporary is getting a bit of overflow of funds from the bridge areas,” said Max. “It is still a growth segment because it is responsive to consumer demands. It is an items business.”The label, which reportedly generated volume of $50 million, is in about 1,500 doors, including such key accounts as Bloomingdale’s and Burdines.It is also expanding beyond clothing. It will launch a handbag division next month in 50 doors, and its distribution is expected to increase to 150 doors. It is also negotiating with potential licensing partners for shoes and sunglasses, Max said.Freestanding stores are another growth venue.
The company has 14 licensed stores overseas, all in Asia, and this year plans to add 50 more, expanding into Europe, Max said.It operates 12 flagships, but wants to add three more this year — in San Francisco, Hong Kong and London.Poleci, a division of Danilo’R Inc., is pegging its growth to 224, its new weekend line, and to building its international business.The line, which made its debut last month, is in about 200 doors and within the next couple of years should be in about 500 doors — the same distribution as its collection label. Some of 224’s looks that have booked well for summer are martial-arts-style cotton jackets and pants and cotton ribbed tops.“We wanted to be able to dress her for the weekend as well,” said Janice Levin-Crock, co-owner and designer.The 224 collection wholesales from $14 to $60. It is about 35 percent less expensive than the signature label.Levin-Crock estimated first-year sales could be about $3 million, and 224 eventually could account for 30 percent of its overall business.Poleci reportedly rang up sales of $15 million last year and should post a 30 percent increase this year, Levin-Crock said.Poleci’s business overseas is about 10 percent of overall sales, but Levin-Crock believes it could be about 20 percent next year. The company started shipping to Asia three years ago, and the label is now being launched in Europe. Last fall, the line was shipped to England, Scotland and Ireland.After a rough re-entry into the contemporary market two years ago, ABS appears to be on the right path. Last spring, it scrapped its pants and skirt suits and is doing mostly separates.“I am not force-feeding anything,” said Alan Schwartz. “I am not making suits. I am going to wait for the category to get strong. Right now, I am going with the flow.”Pants have been the winning silhouette in separates — at all lengths and widths. The category should account for about 70 percent of ABS’s sportswear business for the first six months, he said. The remainder is in skirts and tops. Last year, pants accounted for about 35 percent, Schwartz said. Styles include two-way-stretch cargo pants, shirt jackets with Velcro closures and dresses with hardware. ABS’s emphasis on items has cannibalized its denim collection a bit, Schwartz admitted.The ABS label is in about 2,500 doors; the jeans line is in about 300 doors.
Last year, sportswear generated a wholesale volume of about $40 million, while dresses, 65 percent of which were eveningwear, rang up sales of $27 million.
“Separates have been so strong that they have spilled over into eveningwear,” Schwartz said.Schwartz, who projects a 10 percent increase in day dresses and a 30 percent increase in eveningwear, said he was confident he could double the sportswear business. “It was in such a slump last year,” he said.Other contemporary names are also making inroads.
Shoshanna, a new contemporary collection of dresses and lingerie that made its debut at stores last holiday, should post a wholesale volume of $1 million in its first year, based on an “overwhelming response to the collection at retail,” according to Felica Marie Geller, director of marketing and public relations.“I was surprised that it would have such a broad appeal,” said designer and owner Shoshanna Lonstein. She said her line appealed not only to someone in her 20s, but also to someone in her early 40s.About 80 percent of the collection is in dresses; the remainder, in thong bikinis, bustiers and lace-up tops. The collection was unveiled at eight doors, including Scoop, Bloomingdale’s 59th Street and Henri Bendel, and distribution has been expanded to 85 doors for spring.Geller said the collection did well at Intermezzo, a trade show held at the Show Piers last month, ringing up about $180,000 in orders.
Some of the looks that have checked at retail are plaid halter dresses, strapless printed dresses and lace-up bustiers.Garson International, founded as a leather sportswear resource six years ago, has branched into new categories. It expanded to outerwear a year after its launch, and then last holiday moved into knitwear. Its knitwear is currently in 250 doors, but its distribution is expected to expand to 1,000 doors, according to Marc Garson, president and owner. He pointed out that wovens are another big opportunity, adding that he would like to launch a collection of jackets and pants by the end of the year.Key retail accounts are Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus.Some looks that have booked well for summer are stretch boucle knits and leather pants, Garson said.The label is positioned at the low end of the contemporary market.
Knitwear wholesales from $20 to $35 and leather sportswear, including jeans and skirts, ranges from $75 to $225. Garson International has also scored big with its two-year-old licensed partnership with XOXO to produce junior outerwear. The outerwear is currently in 1,500 doors, and Garson believes distribution could be expanded to 3,000 doors by the end of the year.Last year, its XOXO business accounted for $5 million of its overall wholesale volume of $11 million. Garson projects a 25 percent increase this year.