Category : Indoor

Absolutely fabulous

The fashion business has suffered from a poor economy and other issues, but positive developments continue to bolster both retailers and manufacturers. A brief overview of retail and manufacturing developments is presented. Information is included on designers, the Passy retail area of Paris, new developments in body shaping garments, the Kathie Lee Collection of Wal-Mart, Olympic Games licensing, retail areas of Chicago, IL, and New York, NY, and the popularity of denim clothing and T-shirts.

They come, they go, they rake in the dough. An exuberant trunk show climate points to what many see as a solid resurgence in the designer business.

For Escada, it was $2 million in five days at Lilly Dodson. For Chanel, two blockbusters in less than a month: $1.7 million in only two days at Bloomingdale’s and $1.8 million at Bergdorf Goodman in three days. Richard Tyler, it was $244, in one day at Nordstrom in Seattle, and $325,000 in two days at Ultimo in Chicago.

Chanel is leading the charge, breaking trunk show records at Bloomingdale’s and Bergdorf Goodman. The Chanel event at Bergdorf’s in May was described by store chairman Stephen Elkin as the best ever for a single vendor, with just under 200 units selling in a price range from $1,295 to $5,200.

Several styles sold out, including a tweed pantsuit and a double-breasted navy pantsuit, each with 14 units sold; a popcorn black and white suit and a single-breasted black crepe skirt suit, each with 24 units sold, and a notch-collar black wool crepe jacket with 18 pieces sold. In dresses, 14 of 16 units in three styles sold in the $4,500 range, he added.

The Escada trunk show, held at the Lilly Dodson store in Dallas, sold 1,840 units of apparel and a few hundred pairs of shoes — including 27 of the signature patchwork jackets that were a visual nod to head designer Todd Oldham, at $1,450 a throw.

“We are putting our eggs in the designer basket — it’s ahead 30 percent this year,” said Bill Dodson, president of the women’s specialty store and its adjoining Escada boutique. With a few exceptions, like Laurel, Escada Sport and a few others, we’re definitely cutting back on bridge. We experimented with bridge and diffusion for two years, thinking it would offset the economy — it hasn’t been successful.” The store stages between 20 and 25 trunk shows yearly, with 22 planned this year. That business also is ahead 30 percent.

“The customer is very responsive to special events — she loves to see an entire collection,” Dodson explained. “Pricewise, she’ll go up or down from Escada — but mostly up.” The Gazebo, Dallas, a women’s designer store, is setting a few records of its own this spring, too.

A two-day Michael Kors fall show last month racked up $243,800, with 344 pieces sold. The results topped last year’s fall show by over $100,000.

Bestsellers included a three-quarter-length shearling coat, six sold at $2,400; a black leather and matte jersey dress, nine sold at $785; and a group of pastel doubleface wool sportswear.

The Tyler trunk show in Seattle, held earlier this month, included such bestsellers as a white silk zip quilted jacket, 11 at $1,995; 11 tuxedos at $2,590 and eight black beaded stripe double-breasted jackets at $1,750 with matching pants at $920. In Chicago, best-sellers included five navy duchesse satin off-the-shoulder tops, $850, with matching skirts, $1,200, and six navy chalk stripe double-breasted jackets, $1,895, with matching pants, $795, and vest, $895.

To retailers, all this vigorous activity is indicative of a healthy rebound for the designer set.

“This is about true value at a high level,” said Charles Bunstine, president of Barneys New York here. “We’ve had high, high, high double-digit increases. There’s a consistency of quality and design, and the customer is responding to it from both a fashion and financial perspective. It’s a great investment.”

Armani and Jil Sander continue to be star performers in the designer area, he added. “They have just been tremendous,” he said. “They both continue to grow. The customer’s purchases are growing not only in number of customers buying, but also in depth.” The lure of shapers is far from over. First it was the cleavage-enhancing bra phenomenon. Now retailers are reporting enthusiastic response to waist-definers.

Merchants said the growing popularity of items designed to provide a wasp waist and hide midriff bulge is being fueled by the new breed of shaped suits and dresses for summer and fall.

Hot items range from high-waisted one-piece cincher briefs made of nylon and Lycra spandex and control waistbands with hooks and eyes, to long line busters and merry widow corsets that also contain the hips.

But that doesn’t mean the bust is being neglected. For fall, vendors are coordinating an abundance of padded, push-up bras to go with waist-defining items.

Paula MacDougall, merchandise manager of foundations for Federated Merchandising Corp., said, “Waist shaper corset briefs are what’s really hot, and we’re very bullish. Right now, my shapewear business is 15 percent up over a year ago, and it’s being generated by waist-cinching items.”

MacDougall singled out the number-one selling item over the past two months: an all-in-one high waist cincher and brief by Flexees by True Form, called Instant Slimmer.

“We’ve been selling 2,000 units a week,” said MacDougall.

“The entire shapewear business is hot at Saks Fifth Avenue,” said Kerri Gakos, vice president and divisional merchandise manager of intimate apparel.

“We felt that the whole emphasis on the waist, and belted looks and shaped suiting would give us the opportunity to put waist-cinching items in more Saks stores. We are making it a focal point of our assortments.”

Gakos added that waist cinchers have become an important merchandising segment of “shapewear focal areas” within foundations departments at all Saks units.

A spokeswoman for Sears, Roebuck said, “We have two fashion items that are firm control waist cinchers. It’s a very hot category, but it’s not in all of our stores. We are addressing our Sears customers to this product, and we find them to be very enthusiastic about it.”

However, the key to Passy’s future may lie in Franck & Fils, a big, rambling specialty store on Rue de Passy’s western end, which was acquired last year by Bernard Arnault, president of LVMH, Europe’s largest luxury conglomerate.

After a decade of decline, Franck Fils is long overdue for a recovery. If it happens, Passy will have the locomotive for its future that it reeds.

Chic Streets

Designer streets are buzzing again. Among those whose real estate is once again at a premium are New York’s Madison Avenue and Chicago’s Michigan Avenue.

In New York, designers and national chains are scouring for space from the East 50s up to the 70s on Madison Avenue, which had been in a slump the last five years. At the same time, rents on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue have hit an all-time high.

New projects on Madison include Calvin Klein’s flagship store on the northwest corner of Madison and 60th Street; Italian accessories manufacturer Etro’s store between 63rd and 64th Streets, on the west side of the street; Prada’s upcoming flagship on 70th Street, just off Madison, and Giorgio Armani’s two-level, 12,000-square-foot store on the northwest corner of 65th Street.

While megastores are giving streets like Fifth Avene and 57th Street a more populist flavor, the national chains moving to Madison Avenue have not detracted from its cachet — nor are they likely to, since realtors report there’s virtually no space available.

Retailers and brokers trace Madison Avenue’s turning point to the opening of Barneys New York in September 1993. They said it helped lure a well-to-do young customer to the street, which had traditionally been a prime shopping area for older, no-less affluent customers. Meanwhile, everybody wants to be on Michigan Avenue, from upscale tenants like Malo Cashmere to off-pricers like Filene’s Basement.

The former is opening a boutique in the Westin Hotel, while the latter recently took over the I. Magnin space on North Michigan Avenue.

“People who’ve established themselves in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles are realizing that this is a vibrant street,” said Stanley Nitzberg, a principal of Mid-America Real Estate in Chicago. “People are realizing there’s seven million people and $1.1 billion in retail sales in 10 blocks along Michigan Avenue. There’s a market here.”

According to Nitzberg, there is virtually no available space on Michigan Avenue. Rents have reached $150 to $175 per square foot, “which is unheard of here,” he said.

Since February, Borders, Victoria’s Secret and Ghirardelli Chocolate opened stores on Michigan Avenue. Levi’s, Eddie Bauer, Marshalls and Linens n Things and a Viacom/Blockbuster corporate theme store with movie theater are scheduled for next year.

Denim and Baby T’s

Powered by aggressive advertising that targets all demographics, the denim machine just keeps going and going.

Five-pocket jeans, items such as skirts, vests and shirts, short and long dresses — it’s all selling, with steady double-digit increases every season.

Recently, J.C. Penney, whose own Arizona line is approaching $900 million in annual wholesale sales, uncovered a new trend — the scooter skirt, essentially a pair of shorts with a flap over the front The retailer sold 25,000 units of the style inside a few weeks this spring.

And the denim phenom isn’t confined. to the moderate market. They are getting interested, too. Calvin Klein, one of the most enduring names in designer denim, is revving up his jeans business with European licenses as well as a new separate company here. Arnold Simon, president of CK Jeanswear, said business will rise 500 percent this yea

On the juniors circuit, the T-shirt continues to be the star. Whether sunflowers week and military emblems the next, the junior customer has yet to tire of the look Design 90, a junior knitwear firm here has been shipping baby T-shirts for about nine months. “It’s still happening, and going forward, shine has been incorporated into the baby Ts with rayon yarns and shiny polyesters,” said Robert Cesaria, vice president.

Cesaria estimates that he’s shipped over 450,000 units since he started with the item, which wholesales from $5.50 to $9.75.

Giving Futons A Better Name

If Sean Pathiratne has his way, the word “futon” will gradually fade from the home furnishings lexicon.

Pathiratne is president of Lifestyle Solutions Inc., a major manufacturer of futon frames. His choice of words: “sofa-bed convertible.” In fact, that’s what he now calls his product in his promotional literature. To Pathiratne, “futon” too often conjures up the image of the disposable, cheap contraption used by college students.

Low-cost futons will continue to occupy a niche on the floors of mass merchants and warehouse clubs. But if the futon category expects to gain acceptance with high-end consumers and traditional retailers that have so far shied from this category, the products and image will have to be more upscale — and challenge the cumbersome fold-out sleeper sofa, according to Pathiratne. Other manufacturers of futon products are starting to think along those same lines and devoting more effort to quality workmanship and the promotion of style.

Furniture stores are a key part of this plan, according to Pathiratne. “Furniture stores are the next frontier,” he said. “For furniture stores that sell sofas and sofa beds and move the customer up, this is perfect for them.”

Some of the more forward-thinking furniture stores, such as R.C. Willey and HOM, are starting to offer futons as potential alternatives to these best sleeper sofas. The appeal for a consumer? Easy conversion from sitting to sleeping; high-style, hardwood frames; a mattress that rivals a conventional bed; a rainbow of covers that can be changed with the seasons. Add to that the fact that a futon is lighter and less cumbersome to move and suddenly the whole aging boomer and retirement categories are interested.

Tony Wolf, president of Wolf Corp., a futon mattress manufacturer, launched a Serta-licensed futon line last year, which could add to both consumer and retailer appeal. He sells to the retailer both a frame and a futon mattress, which is then sold under the Serta name. A retailer eager to limit its suppliers now has the opportunity to buy these two components from one source

Bob Naboicheck, president of Gold Bond Mattress Co., a family-owned manufacturer of futon mattresses and conventional innerspring mattresses, expects futon sales to continue to climb. He cited the “bang for the buck” factor during a soft economy.

“In any soft or down market where customers are looking more for value, futons will excel,” Naboicheck said. “I think futon sales will continue to outpace upholstered sleep sofas, daybeds and the other alternatives that one would have for a convertible sit-and-sleep product. Our futon business has been phenomenal, especially in the upgraded, better [futon] mattresses. You can go from a Yugo to a Rolls Royce in a futon for maybe a hundred dollars.”

But making that same jump in quality in the innerspring category would be several hundred dollars, he added.

Advantages for the retailer? He enjoys the sale of a product that rivals a $499 sleeper sofa in price, and the easily removable fabric covers offer a constantly changing floor display.

And those covers are a big part of the push. John Christiansen, customer service manager at SIS Covers Inc., a manufacturer of futon covers, has seen a sharp upswing in the quality of covers demanded by consumers. Leather covers, for the first time, are making a dent in the market. A consumer can get the look of a $3,000 leather sofa for a fraction of that cost. Fabric covers, too, offer fashion statements, as contemporary patterned fabrics with a rainbow of colors and hues take off. Futon stores still have the lion’s share of business, but the improved quality and styling of the covers has turned the heads of a growing number of mainstream furniture stores and mattress shops, Christiansen added.

Assuming the futon industry does go more upscale in 2003, who’s going to get that business? Independent futon shops have been the innovators and spear carriers for quality futon products thus far, but, according to one vendor, “they can’t rest on their laurels.” Dilution at the retail level for quality merchandise will continue to grow, and the same independents that have been the anchors for the futon industry could see their business erode if more retail furniture chains sell the big-profit, low-inventory, high-end products.

Otis Bed Manufacturing Inc., a producer of futon mattresses as well as conventionally shaped foam mattresses, broadened its retail presence by going into Costco warehouses, as well as continuing its existing retail base at the middle to upper price ranges.

“It helps bring more positive awareness of futons to consumers,” said Karen Day, director of sales and marketing for Otis Bed. As a board member of the Futon Association International, she is trying to give the word “futon” a more upscale connotation.

“I think there needs to be more awareness that they really are a viable, functional piece of furniture you can have in your home for years,” Day said. “Dealers should not be afraid of the price. They should just go for it. Try it. But if they do jump into it, they should get a good mix and don’t be afraid of the higher ticket items because you will sell it.” Retailers also need to understand that the three-component makeup of a futon (frame, mattress, cover) with its array of options for a consumer can work for them.

“They find it a little bit difficult to put the whole thing together,” she said.

For 2003, Day expects futons to continue to get more upscale, as latex, viscoelastic foam and other premium products get used more. She also thinks that better-engineered futon frames, such as Otis’s Futonic adjustable electric massage unit, will gain in acceptance.