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WWD: Young designers in the spotlight

WWD: Young designers in the spotlight

WWD | MILES SOCHA Fashion has always been a youth-obsessed industry, but this year that obsession kicked into another dimension.

WWD: And the Next Celebrity Deal Goes to...

WWD: And the Next Celebrity Deal Goes to...

WWD | LISA LOCKWOOD WWD asked industry executives who in the worlds of celebrity, music and sports is ripe for a major apparel deal. Replies ranged from Eddie Redmayne, the 32-year-old English star of “The Theory of Everything,” to Taylor Swift, the red-hot 24-year-old singer and songwriter.

WWD: Kazakhstan: Luxury's Next Golden Market

WWD | CATHERINE BLANCHARD Everyone seems to be headed to Kazakhstan.

The oil-rich country bordering the Caspian Sea and Russia is attracting a slew of designers and retailers eager to tap into its newly wealthy consumers. Saks Fifth Avenue will open a store there this fall, while brands such as Hermès, Louis Vuitton, Eskandar, Ralph Rucci, De Beers, Tiffany and Harry Winston are sold there or have their own stores. Even Children’s Place and Steve Madden have opened stores in the country, the world’s ninth largest in terms of area.

They all see Kazakhstan as a fertile market, up there with China and Brazil. A.T. Kearney’s 11th Global Retail Development Index earlier this year ranked the country as the 19th most attractive market for retail development which, while down from 14th the previous year, was still ahead of Russia at 26th.

“It’s probably what Russia represented to brands eight to 10 years ago,” said Robert Burke of Robert Burke Associates. “It will be a very good market for luxury brands.”

Burke said that only about 5 percent of the market for luxury in Kazakhstan is from tourists, meaning most of the sales are to residents. Consumers there travel a lot, so they are aware of luxury brands and are becoming increasingly sophisticated fashion consumers. “When I first went there four or five years ago, every major brand was represented — Alexander McQueen, Giambattista Valli and others weren’t so far off what you would see in a U.S. department store. Kiton probably had 250 to 300 sleeves hanging.”

n 2011, salaries grew 7.5 percent in real terms compared with 2010, reaching 77,464 tenge ($532), according to Kazakhstan State Statistics. Workers in the financial, insurance, scientific, technical and mining industries often earn more than twice the national average (from 158,600 tenge for financiers to 142,900 tenge for miners).

According to Dana Akhtayeva, a stylist based in Karaganda, the economic upswing is not the only reason Kazakhs are spending on fashion. “Along with economic growth, and despite the [economic] crisis, people in Kazakhstan have begun to understand the psychological aspects of self-image,” Akhtayeva said.

“Buyers, especially women, are active in learning about brands and trends. Still, often the brand name plays a crucial role.…Some want the brand names front and center, in the most visible spot on their bags, T-shirts, jeans, etc.”

Customers in cities around the country can find the names they crave at multibrand boutiques, but Almaty is still the fashion capital of Kazakhstan.

Almaty is the country’s largest city with a population of almost 2 million. It was Kazakhstan’s capital from 1929 to 1991, and is still considered the commercial and cultural heart. Current capital Astana is the second-largest city with a population of about 700,000. Almaty is to Astana what Istanbul is to Ankara in Turkey, according to local experts.

The country has numerous smaller cities where shoppers can find international brand names. Jack Geula, the owner of Muschel GmbH & Co. KG, which has more than two decades of experience representing European designers in the former Soviet Union, said, “If you compare Kazakhstan to any of the other countries in the region — Armenia, Georgia, Uzbekistan, Mongolia — business there only happens in the capital cities. Kazakhstan has been developing for the past 10 years easy and there is a wider structure available.

“Almaty is still the top,” added Geula. “Astana is catching up, and then there is a wider gap after that.”

Mining capital Shymkent, oil-rich Aktobe, and industrial center Pavlodar are just a few of the Kazakh cities where multibrand stores sell premium brands.

J Brand, which distributes through its showroom in Milan, now sells in cities including Almaty, Astana and Aktobe. Kazakhstan is the third-most important country in the Commonwealth of Independent States in terms of turnover for the American denim maker. Muschel distributes brands like Just Cavalli, Lagerfeld and Cerruti in many Kazakh cities.

Cerruti is one of the most popular brands at the Cosmo boutique in Pavlodar, according to owner Natalia Russkih. “Our customers buy those brands that advertise in magazines,” she said. “If there aren’t ads, then there isn’t much interest.”

Shoppers in Kazakhstan have different tastes than their Western counterparts. “While having the brand name visible might be poor form in Europe, when Kazakh customers buy something Cerruti they want the brand front and center,” she said. The majority of Cosmo’s customers are women aged between 25 and 40, who are fashionable and on trend. “Our men are still conservative, but women are stylish and look for fashion. If one color is trendy, they want that color.”

For men, tailored clothing is more important than it is in Russia and Europe, as the casualization of men’s wear has yet to take on. “In terms of men’s wear, suits and blazers are still a very important part of business,” said Guela.

For women, religion and culture play a role in dress length. At Cosmo, customers are not likely to buy floor-length dresses, but they stay away from short hemlines. “Dresses are very popular here, but rarely do women buy dresses above the knee. They prefer dresses to the knee, or maybe a bit under the knee,” said Russkih.

Designer brands including Rick Owens still find more success in Almaty than in smaller cities. Luca Ruggeri, the designer’s commercial director, said the company “tried to propose our products in Astana, but in that city the collection was less capturing” than in Almaty. Still, Owens views the market in Kazakhstan as “quite relevant, despite the fact that we basically have business relationships only with Rush and the soon-to-open Saks Fifth Avenue in Almaty.” 

Other brands that multibrand boutique Rush distributes include Comme des Garçons, Jean Paul Gaultier, Vivienne Westwood and Miu Miu.

The Saks Fifth Avenue that will open in the new Esentai Mall in Almaty in mid-October will be the retailer’s first in the former Soviet Union. The three-story, 87,615-square-foot store is a licensing partnership with Kazakh luxury distributor and retailer Viled Group. Viled, which is the largest retailer of jewelry and watches in Kazakhstan, also distributes brands including Cartier and Christian Dior in Almaty and Astana.

Developed by Capital Partners and designed by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill architects, Esentai provides a new shopping experience for the region. Capital Partners marketing director Sandrine Moreau said, “The mall is the first of its kind in Central Asia.” Esentai is unique in its fit out — black marble floors, the latest lighting technology — and the brands that it offers. The first floor is dedicated to luxury, with Fendi, Gucci, Lanvin, Dolce & Gabbana, Burberry, Hugo Boss and Louis Vuitton stores.

The Vuitton store, designed by Peter Marino, is the brand’s sixth in the CIS region — with four in Russia and one in Ukraine — and its first in Kazakhstan.

“We are bringing something very modern into the market, and some of the best customers are in Kazakhstan. While they are hungry for something new, they are also very, very attached to their country, to their land. It is an interesting challenge to try find the right balance,” Moreau said.

Esentai’s advertising campaign integrates Kazakh culture with luxury clothing and accessories. The billboards feature Kazakh models posing in front of some of Almaty’s most famous sights, as well as the country’s rolling steppes and scenic mountains.

For those brands looking to enter the market, Almaty is home to the region’s most important fashion trade show, Central Asia Fashion. The ninth CAF brought 105 exhibitors and 1,500 buyers together. Italian nonprofit Entre Moda Italia, or EMI, which promotes the country’s fashion around the world, participated in the show for the first time in March.

“The Central Asian economy is growing strongly and we thought that it was important to find a fashion fair that would help us to make the right contacts,” EMI president Antonio Gavazzeni said. The company had about 30 firms exhibiting at CAF compared to 330 brands at the equivalent show in Russia, Collection Premier Moscow.

Still, Gavazzeni views the markets as complementary, “Moscow is historically the hub of the distribution system for all the CIS countries. Most Italian companies are already well established there and the level of competition is growing....The level of competition in Kazakhstan is lower,” he said. “Companies who decide to go there are real pioneers.”

 

WWD: Brazil Emerging as Luxury Force

WWD | MARC KARIMZADEH During the Olympics’ Opening Ceremony, Charlotte Olympia shoe designer Charlotte Dellal tweeted a TV screen shot of Team Brazil just as it was entering the stadium. That she is such a fan of the country is no surprise: Her mother, the well-known model Andrea Dellal, is a Rio de Janeiro native, and, as a child, the younger Dellal lived in Brazil’s second-largest city for a few years. These days, Dellal, now based in London, frequently turns to her “home from home,” as she puts it, for design cues. Case in point, her resort collection. Called “Glamazon,” it includes ankle-strap shoes decorated with metallic swirls that mimic the Copacabana sidewalk, as well as platform sandals flaunting flamboyant heels—mini birdcages encasing painted metal parrots. “It’s such a vast country that you can get inspired from so many different things,” Dellal says. “The people are very inspiring. The music is fantastic, and Carnival is one of my favorite times of the year.”

Dellal is not alone in her love for all things Brazil. If the country is best known for Corcovado, “Girl From Ipanema” (cue the “tall and tan and young and lovely”) and Gisele Bündchen, a different kind of Brazil is now emerging. Fueled by a boom of both the financial and creative kinds, the country is making a real impact on the fashion and accessories worlds at multiple levels—from serving as a leading design and retail inspiration (even Macy’s held a spring promotion called “Brasil: A Magical Journey”) to becoming an emerging market for luxury brands. “Brazil is enjoying an incredible GDP growth rate,” says Patrizio di Marco, global president and chief executive officer of Gucci, which has plans to open five stores there by the end of the year. “You have a number of high-net-worth individuals—similar to Russia and more than India—which says a lot about how important the market is. I think we’ll have more opportunities there.” Gucci is among the luxury brands with outposts in the new JK Iguatemi mall in São Paulo, which opened in July; it unveiled a dedicated men’s store there, while the brand has two more stores offering men’s and women’s product in São Paulo, as well as one in Brasilia, with a Rio opening slated for later this year. Other brands at the JK Iguatemi include Van Cleef & Arpels, Lanvin, Miu Miu, Bulgari, Prada and Chanel.

ROBERT BURKE, of consultancy Robert Burke & Associates, cites the explosion of creativity as a significant reason why the industry is taking notice. “Brazil represents a lot of sophistication, which people had underestimated in the U.S. before,” he says. “What fundamentally changed there is that it was a country dominated by local brands because of trade tariffs, but with Brazil’s economy, the number of ultrarich has grown. They travel internationally, and their appetite for international brands also grew—and so has their ability to buy these brands locally.”

Just as international labels are hitting cities like Rio and São Paulo, Brazilian fashion brands, including Melissa, Schutz and Jack Vartanian, are making inroads in the U.S. São Paulo-based shoe designer Alexandre Birman, whose family owns Arezzo & Co., one of Brazil’s leading women’s shoe companies (as well as the Schutz division), isn’t surprised by the new momentum. “Brazil was the first country to really get out of the financial crisis of 2008,” Birman says. “Our recovery was the fastest in the world, and that drove the attention of many investors to Brazil, who, consequently, brought money here, allowing [local] companies to gain in scale and to have the possibility to invest more overseas.” Birman notes that Southern Brazil’s Vale dos Sinos region is the third-largest shoe-manufacturing area in the world, with a cluster of 20 cities that boast such centers, from tanneries to sole producers. “It was an area colonized by Italians and Germans and their families after the war, and they brought a lot of people that knew about shoe manufacturing to the area,” he says. Shoemaking aside, Birman cites three other main reasons why Brazil is having such a moment: the contemporary art scene, which is thriving with artists like Adriana Varejão, Beatriz Milhazes and Vik Muniz; the 2014 FIFA World Cup to be held across multiple Brazilian cities, and the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio. “Brazil is a buzzword and buzz place,” says designer Monica Botkier, whose resort lineup was inspired by the idea of chic, exotic travel, and, naturally, Brazil. “There was always the notion of Brazil. Now the country is catching up to its own reputation,” she says. Judith Leiber’s creative director, Jana Matheson, also looked to the country for resort, most notably with her minaudières, some in the shapes of parrots and frogs, and others crystal-embellished to resemble palm trees. “We design holiday and resort in the middle of winter, and as I was working on the collection, I thought, If I were to go out of town, where would I go?” says Matheson. “If I were to hit a beach, I thought I’d be very happy to be in Brazil, and so I thought about hardware development and beach glass in these watery liquid tones.” Rafé designer Rafé Totengco, meanwhile, was dreaming of a trip to the Copacabana. His structured mother-of-pearl, resin and stainless-steel minaudières loosely reference the designs of Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer, while totes are worked in vibrant graphic motifs. “It’s this celebration of color, more than anything else,” Totengco says. And, he adds, who can’t use a little Brazil in their lives? “The girls from Ipanema, the boys on the beach, the Fasano [design hotel chain]…how could you not want to be there?” Totengco says. “It’s got rhythm.”

WWD: EBay Links With Designers for Holiday

WWD | DAVID MOIN

If Target and Neiman Marcus can do it, why can’t eBay?

Corralling designers for exclusive Christmas products has become a trend and now eBay has hooked up with Billy Reid, Chris Benz, Fallon, Jonathan Adler, Ruffian, Steven Alan and Tibi to create the eBay Holiday Collective, WWD has learned.

It will be a limited-edition gift collection of men’s and women’s apparel, jewelry, travel and electronics accessories and home decor, available on eBay for the 2012 holiday season. The Collective marks the first time eBay is collaborating with a group of leading designers to create an exclusive collection, though the giant online marketplace is not new to designer exclusives, having in the recent past worked with Derek Lam, Narciso Rodriguez, Alexander Wang and Rebecca Minkoff.

Last week, WWD had an exclusive report on an unprecedented collaboration between Neiman’s and Target, whereby they are teaming with 24 Council of Fashion Designers of America designers, including Carolina Herrera, Lam, Diane von Furstenberg, Jason Wu, Marc Jacobs, Oscar de la Renta and Tory Burch, to create The Target + Neiman Marcus Holiday Collection. It will be sold beginning Dec. 1 at Target and Neiman Marcus stores, as well as at target.com and neimanmarcus.com, and feature products priced from $7.99 to $499.99, with most items less than $60.

In a different designer spin on holiday, and on a smaller scale, Macy’s for Christmas 2011 partnered with designers Karl Lagerfeld, Kinder Aggugini, Matthew Williamson and Giambattista Valli on creating exclusive gift-oriented products. Earlier in the year, the very same designers did separate one-off collections for Macy’s Impulse contemporary departments.

Other Web sites and retailers, particularly those that pride themselves on selling differentiated product, could come out with announcements soon on designer collaborations for Christmas, particularly if they want to publicize the programs in fashion magazines with long lead times. Many retailers and brands, from J.C. Penney Co. Inc. to Josie Natori and Bergdorf Goodman, have already unveiled holiday 2012 collections. EBay will release specifics on products from its Collective later in the year.

“Designers realize that the retailers need unique product so they are much more open to doing that. Multitasking is something designers have gotten used to,” said Robert Burke, president and chief executive of the consulting firm bearing his name. “I suspect you will be hearing things in the next few weeks.”

“We are certainly thinking about exclusive products with designers on a lot of levels,” and not necessarily just for Christmas, said one top executive from a major fashion Web site.

Another source said Penney’s is keen on holiday tie-ins with designers, in addition to those the chain has going for fall such as with Betseyville by Betsey Johnson, Lulu Guinness and Vivienne Tam.

Price points are not a problem for most designers, since they will trade down to mass chains and department stores, or even luxury chains seeking holiday gifts that are more affordable than the usual offerings at other times of the year. However, sales people at upscale stores aren’t always so enthused about cheaper products because it means less commission.

The eBay Holiday Collective will include more than 40 gift items, priced from $50 to $100, in a wide range of categories. Each of the seven designers created at least five items.

The Collective will go online starting Nov. 12, a few weeks before The Target + Neiman Marcus Holiday Collection gets served up. The eBay collection will be available globally, via Fashion Vault, which is eBay’s destination for special events, limited-time sales and exclusives. Free shipping anywhere is part of the program. As with all of the merchandise that appears on the eBay marketplace, merchandise from the Collective will not be owned by eBay.

“The eBay Holiday Collective marks another milestone for eBay in the fashion category,” said Jeff Somers, the general manager of eBay Fashion. “Similar to the recently announced Neiman’s and Target and Nordstrom and Topshop collaborations, our partnerships are another sign of the retail revolution under way. As consumers seek seamless, multichannel, anytime-anywhere shopping, creative collaborations point to the future of commerce. Our focus is on enabling commerce, and we’re achieving that by serving as a partner to retailers of all sizes.”

Somers added that the seven designers were chosen based on “their genuine enthusiasm for eBay and because each brings originality and a distinct point of view, and embodies the entrepreneurial spirit of our marketplace.” The designers are also compiling wish lists and gift lists featuring their favorite finds from eBay. These gift guides will be accessible online and through eBay’s mobile app.

“I am an avid eBay shopper and often find great items for our home and our shops on eBay, so the collaboration was a natural fit,” said Reid.

“To have the opportunity to collaborate with eBay, in the company of such inspired designers, for the holidays, is such a treat for me,” said Benz.

“It has always been my goal that Fallon be an attainable collection for the fashion conscious,” said Dana Lorenz of Fallon.

“I am obsessed with eBay,” said Adler. “EBay has changed the way I shop, and, I’m afraid, distracted me from doing my work — but that’s another story.”

WWD: Women's Fashion Sales Face Challenges

WWD | DAVID MOIN

NEW YORK — As designers gather at tonight’s CFDA Awards at Lincoln Center, the women’s fashion business is at a crossroads and creativity has never been needed more.

The flagging women’s apparel business is primed for a jolt.

It’s accepted fact that shoes and bags have lit up the industry for several years now, and that’s not expected to change anytime soon. Too much stuff with too little imagination has women’s apparel pretty much adrift in a sea of sameness. Women’s wear sales have been dragging since well before the recession. Of equal concern is that there appears to be no easy answer to fixing the problem.

Even as retailers appear to be crawling back with improved profits and sales and growing cash reserves, women’s apparel has not been leading the way. Instead, accessories such as shoes and handbags are now the star performers — and are likely to remain so for the foreseeable future. And if the malaise in women’s apparel remains prolonged, it will have a huge impact on what and how much stores buy, the space they devote to apparel and the ability of new designers to break through into the spotlight.

“Fine apparel is particularly challenging right now,” Neiman Marcus president and chief executive officer Karen Katz told WWD last week, just after the luxury chain reported a 35 percent profit gain in the last quarter. “For us, this was really the first quarter where we experienced a change. It’s not a price issue.  There are lifestyle changes. Customers have been very discerning. They want something very unique, very fashionable, something lasting for her wardrobe.”

Designer labels that read a bit more casual are doing well, Katz  added. However, “We have to rethink how we edit the designer collections.”

“Certain areas of women’s apparel, contemporary, sexy and flirty are doing extremely well. Certain areas with classic brands aren’t doing as well,” Saks Fifth Avenue chairman and ceo Stephen I. Sadove said in an interview. “Overall, the women’s business is healthy, but it’s being driven more by fashion — where it’s more contemporary. Some brands are more suited. More formal may not be the way people are dressing. That is a change in taste.”

Even designers admit women are increasingly finding it tough to find clothing they want to wear, since they now are looking for clothes that can as easily go from work through dinner.

“It’s really important to realize that today, women have one wardrobe. Years ago, they would have a wardrobe for work and a wardrobe for weekend clothes,” said Gary Muto, president of Loft.

The bulk of the business — designer apparel, classic and traditional sportswear, suits and tailored looks, outerwear, basics, misses’ and juniors — has been in the doldrums for some time, although contemporary sportswear, dresses, knitwear, skinny jeans and colored denim experienced good gains. Statistically, there’s little question that women’s apparel overall lost ground, or had minimal growth in the past year. According to The NPD Group market research firm, women’s apparel in the U.S. rose just 2.9 percent to $80.16 billion last year, a figure that includes inflation, which distorts real growth, and is low compared with mid-to-high-single-digit gains retailers posted for their entire businesses.

In 2011, dresses rose 17 percent to $10.9 billion, though suits were down 17.9 percent to $1.02 billion; jackets slipped 0.1 percent to about $1.7 billion; pants dropped 0.6 percent to $2.97 billion; jeans declined almost 3.3 percent to $7.79 billion, and coats fell 3.4 percent to $2.07 billion. Women’s accessories did better, rising 3 percent to $34.92 billion and sweaters rose 5.6 percent to $11.05 billion. Women’s footwear was up just 0.5 percent to $25.04 billion.

“The volume areas for business in women’s apparel are failing in relationship to other areas,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for NPD Group. “Women have dramatically changed how they perceive the importance of sportswear. They’re buying across a much wider range of products. The fashion industry has been out-fashioned by every single other industry where consumers spend money. There’s more fashion in food than apparel.”

For several seasons, Nordstrom Inc. has been unhappy with its women’s apparel business. Pete Nordstrom, president of merchandising, said this spring some “pockets” in women’s performed better than others and cited the modern and casual sides and “good growth” in activewear and lingerie, which in many cases are getting increased space on Nordstrom’s selling floors. He also said by the next conference call the company will have hired a new general merchandise manager in women’s to succeed Loretta Soffe, who quietly left in January, reflecting the difficulties.

Moderate chains are also challenged, like J.C. Penney Co. Inc., which is reinventing and has been plagued by basics that don’t sell. Gap Inc., which has been enduring multiyear turnaround efforts, showed some life this spring by capitalizing on the bright color trend but needs to find a new identity. Sears Holdings Corp. remains prosaic and requires a fashion overhaul. The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. is trying to find the right balance between updated and traditional. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. perennially has problems selling anything but basics in apparel. The Talbots Inc., which was just sold to private equity firm Sycamore Partners, thereby escaping a potential bankruptcy, needs to find a contemporary look to reclaim its mature clients that defected to Chico’s FAS and elsewhere. Amongst the younger set, Urban Outfitters Inc. and the nation’s slew of youth chains seem to be cannibalizing each other.

Retailers, consultants and designers queried over the past year said the apparel industry is beset by too much inventory, insufficient innovation, sameness and a failure to keep up with the changing lifestyles of women. Most apparel, they said, lacks the right stuff, which boils down to value, quality that lasts, and versatility, meaning looks that are equally suitable for work or dinner afterward, or as wearable for weekday or weekend occasions. It helps when products are tied to social, environmental or health awareness causes.

“There’s an enormous amount of distribution. Everyone is carrying apparel, including sporting goods chains and drugstores,” observed Janet Grove, who was chairman and ceo of Macy’s Merchandising Group from 1999 to 2009. “With the resurgence in dresses, sportswear gets diminished.  The biggest thing that affects the success of sportswear is to react quickly to selling. It’s the Zara model. The more structured careerwear has kind of gone away. All these things go through cycles.”

Fashion experts also said money once spent by consumers on ready-to-wear and sportswear is shifting to accessories and shoes, two categories increasingly associated with fashion, status and innovation. Dresses, too, for the last four years have been on a run because they’re simpler and easier to put on than suits or sportswear outfits, and it’s a look that can be easily enhanced with cardigans, status handbags and shoes. But last fall, over lunch at the start of New York Fashion Week, a veteran fashion director lamented the women’s fashion business, summing up what seems to be an industry malaise. Shopping the women’s market, said the fashion director, “is just not so much fun anymore. There’s not that much creativity.”

Allen Questrom, the stylish former chairman and ceo of Penney’s, Federated Department Stores Inc. and Barneys New York, echoed the sentiment. “I don’t see much out there that’s new and different. There’s a lot of stuff. If something is new and different, people will buy it. When the iPod came out, nobody asked about the price. They lined up to buy it.”

“I shopped all the major stores in New York last week. There was a ton of merchandise and it was singularly unimpressive,” said Gregor   Simmons, a New York-based buying consultant for retailers. “Contemporary apparel really drives the women’s business. It takes inspiration from designer, gives you fashion, and it’s not a luxury price point.” Otherwise, “a big chunk” of women’s apparel is in the doldrums. “There’s an overassortment of labels that tend to copy each other.”

“I think the preoccupation by many manufacturers and designers to cost-engineer to make up for big price increases in raw materials and labor has resulted in a reduction in innovation and creative product development,” observed Arnold Aronson, managing director of retail strategy at Kurt Salmon Associates. Sucking costs out of apparel production, more often the case in moderate merchandise rather than high-end apparel, leads to less detail, like fewer buttons, and less interest from consumers, Aronson said.

Some see women trading down by shopping stores like Forever 21, Uniqlo and Zara that provide alternatives and could be taking sales away from traditional department stores and older specialty chains. However, Express ceo Michael Weiss said, “I don’t believe women trade down in quality but do want to spend less. They might buy fewer Christian Louboutin shoes but will still buy them.”

In terms of square footage, women’s remains the most important category occupying more square footage than any other, though stores have been adding square footage in accessories and shoes. “There’s been a real shift to accessories for many women shoppers. They realize they can update a wardrobe through shoes and handbags. Shoes are becoming more and more distinctive in design and style,” said consultant Robert Burke.

 

“I still believe the only way to be successful in apparel is to be successful in women’s wear,” said Lisa Schultz, executive vice president of apparel design at Sears, taking a somewhat different take.

In an era of cross-shopping, with consumers not particularly loyal to one retail tier, the price spectrum of brands that continue to do well shows the challenge faced by department and specialty stores. At one end are labels like Balenciaga, Prada, Oscar de la Renta, Versace Collection, Armani Collezione and Akris Punto, while Milly, Lafayette 148, J. Crew, Diane von Furstenberg, Tory Burch, Valentino Red, Helmut Lang, Moschino Cheap & Chic, BluGirl Bluemarine and Eileen Fisher are among those doing well in contemporary. Then there are the standouts among the mass or casualwear end, including Lululemon, Land’s End, and Joe Fresh. The private-label business is growing, with stores like Macy’s, Belk and Saks increasing the presence of in-house brands.

“The customer is voting on newness,” said Kathy Bradley-Riley, senior vice president and general merchandise manager at Doneger Group. “Merchandise that is close to something she owns or is reminiscent of last year, she chooses to pass on.” But there are definitely bright spots, Bradley-Riley noted, citing printed sheer tops, dresses that are increasingly visible amid sportswear collections, shapes that seem new such as uneven hemlines and lace and crochet trims. “She is reacting to anything that is feminine, and buying a lot of modern fashion-right product. Traditional, classic has been more challenging.” Regardless of the shopper’s age, “she is definitely thinking younger.”

“The business in women’s rtw is more uneven than accessories, jewelry, men’s and home,” acknowledged William Taubman, chief operating officer of Taubman Centers Inc. “There are entire theories revolving around why this is happening, but I would say customers are reaching an age where they’re buying less clothing and lifestyles are changing.” For many retail tenants in the malls, core sku’s have been declining because of lifestyle changes, Taubman noted. “The suit used to be a basic, and when women were wearing suits, the handbag took a backseat. If you take the suit away and don’t have to wear it, the handbag can be more of a statement.

“It’s been really difficult for some operations to restructure their core offerings.”

WWD: Fendi's Baguette Takes Center Stage

WWD | MILES SOCHA

PARIS — It’s baaack — the original “It” bag, that is.

Fendi’s Baguette — the shoulder jewel that helped ignite the luxury handbag craze and propelled a bidding war for the Roman house — is back in the spotlight. Next month will see the launch of a 345-page Rizzoli tome chronicling the Baguette’s history, and limited editions of six of the bag’s most famous iterations are slated to arrive in Fendi boutiques worldwide, followed by a series of in-store events.

The initiatives, marking the bag’s 15th birthday, also signal a strategic thrust for the company, where new chairman and chief executive officer Pietro Beccari is putting Fendi’s iconic products at the forefront of development. The move echoes some of the work he did in his previous role as executive vice president at Louis Vuitton, where a Core Values ad campaign lit a flame under Vuitton’s historic monogram leather goods.

“In this time of a quick-changing, fast-paced world, it is important to remain close to one’s roots and values. The Baguette represents the perfect expression of this and of Fendi’s DNA,” Beccari told WWD in an exclusive interview, his first since joining Fendi in February. “It’s probably true that the Baguette was the bag that invented a fashion for bags and probably initiated the so-called ‘It’ bag phenomenon. But thanks to its unique shape that embodies the whole history of a maison, the Baguette has evolved into a timeless piece.”

Although Beccari declined to talk numbers, market sources estimate Fendi has already sold close to a million units of the slim-lined purse, small enough to tuck under the arm like a loaf of French bread. Fendi Baguette bags retail from about $1,000 up to $3,000 and more.

“It was very spontaneous. There was no marketing plan around this bag,” Silvia Venturini Fendi recalled about her 1997 invention, characterizing it as a reaction to minimalism. At the time, she recalled that handbags were mainly functional objects, frequently black and often “boring.”

“They were treated like accessories and very separate from fashion. You didn’t see many bags on the runway, only in the showrooms,” she said.

In 1999, LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Prada teamed at the height of the luxury acquisitions boom to take a 51 percent stake in Fendi, valuing the company at $950 million. In 2001, LVMH bought Prada’s 25.5 percent holding for about $260 million and has subsequently bought out all minority shareholders.

Beccari noted that Fendi never stopped selling the Baguette, and has since turned out more than 1,000 versions of the style, in materials ranging from fur and sequins to crocodile skin. The reeditions include a denim style embroidered with flowers, and another pavéd in colorful embroideries and small mirrors. He credits the handbag’s diversity for its longevity.

“The fashion world is right now saturated and bombarded by real or presumed ‘It’ bags,” he said. “But for a long time, the Baguette has abolished the ‘fashionable’ handbag convention, the one that provided the same handbag for everyone, a coveted object to be flaunted in its uniformity.”

To be sure, the “It” bag phenomenon — exemplified by the Baguette — has waned in recent years, industry observers agreed.

Pamela Golbin, chief fashion curator of fashion and textiles at Les Arts Décoratifs in Paris, said the trend was a reaction to the minimalist fashions pioneered by Belgian designers and Austrian Helmut Lang as the millennium approached. “There was no decorative embellishment. It was the perfect time for accessories to become the central part of the wardrobe,” she explained.

Today, “there’s more of a balance between accessories and clothes,” she stressed, characterizing the handbag as a “very desirable object,” but without the hysteria that once engulfed it.

According to Robert Burke, president and ceo of consultancy Robert Burke Associates in New York, shoes supplanted handbags as an obsessional focus in recent years, possibly because they are less expensive amidst ongoing economic turmoil. In handbags, consumers have been gravitating toward quieter styles “with a little more longevity,” Burke said, noting that, “Hermès hasn’t suffered during the economic crisis.”

Burke stressed that there are pitfalls to “It” bags, principally the risk of demand withering once the market becomes saturated.

“When an ‘It’ runs out, it can come to a screeching halt.…Growing strategic businesses in prudent ways is probably where brands are leaning more today,” he said. “I would rather have a brand with a strong category of business rather than an ‘It.’”

Burke cited Celine, Givenchy and Valentino among European brands that have done a good job building a solid accessories business, and placing limits on distribution.

According to sources, top luxury players like Chanel tightly control quantities of their most in-demand handbags so as to not  endanger their coveted status.

For his part, Beccari stressed that, “Fendi wants to go for a less compulsive and feverish consumption.”

Venturini Fendi recalled that she approached the Baguette bag like the Roman house does its furs: with an eye to high craftsmanship, surprising techniques and being “a bit subversive.”

She attributes the success of the Baguette to multiple factors. Its short strap and diminutive size were counterintuitive to the functional, even ergonomic approach of what was on the market in the Nineties. The fact that it came with a multitude of embellishments was a welcome reprieve from the monotony and uniform nature of fashion then. “We were all dressed like black spiders,” Venturini Fendi recalled.

Scarcity helped, too.

“Fendi was small at the time. You couldn’t find the bag so easily and that made it precious. It started to become like a fever,” Venturini Fendi explained. “I always say: It was the right bag at the right moment.’”

The Baguette also foreshadowed the use of celebrities as marketing vehicles for leather goods, although Venturini Fendi insisted all of its famous devotees came calling, not the other way around. Among the first was Madonna, snapping up several Baguettes at the Rome shop. Then came a call from Patricia Field, who asked if she could borrow some for Sarah Jessica Parker’s new series, “Sex and the City.”

“It’s like a marketing case study, but really it wasn’t,” Venturini Fendi marveled.

Parker, among contributors to the Rizzoli tome, notes that Fendi was the first big design house to loan the show items for her character. “It really opened the floodgates and influenced the story line — especially Carrie’s habit of spending more on fashion than her home,” she writes. “Once Fendi loaned us items, everyone was more willing to do so, which helped us dramatically in conveying Carrie’s decadence.”

Asked if the “It” bag phenomenon still persists, Venturini Fendi said she detects an almost opposite trend.

“We have seen so many bags, so many companies that weren’t leather goods specialists making bags,” she said in an interview. “I think everyone was trying —sometimes too hard — to do ‘It’ bags.”

The consequence? “We want real bags again. We’re going back to leather,” said Venturini Fendi, noting this impulse yielded the Peekaboo bag, a discreet framed handbag she likes best in hand-stitched Selleria leather. “I think we are in a moment where we want simple or very, very high design…the most exquisite leather…or something surprising, colorful, crazy and different.”

To that end, Fendi in 2008 mounted a design competition in Asia called “Design Your Dream Baguette” and commissioned one-off versions from famous artists, including Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Richard Prince, that were auctioned off for charity.

“I’m not so obsessed by the next ‘It’ bag,” said Venturini Fendi. “I just want to follow the same path: doing things with freedom, and experimenting a lot. It’s the only good recipe.”

WWD: Bridget Foley's Diary: A New Day for Robert Lee Morris

WWD | BRIDGET FOLEY

Question: How did you find the Artwear artists, did they come to you?

Six-hundred-fifty uninterrupted words later, Robert Lee Morris has discussed judging talent; artistic patronage; rule-breaking; fearlessness; CFDA awards; the “artist mentality, breaking the rules, changing the way things are”; agents of change; Virginia Wolfe; “the Occupy Wall Street people, the Marc Jacobses, the Pamela Loves”; wayseers.org founder Garret John LoPorto; Bob Dylan; Albert Einstein, and “things [that] can happen in your relationship with the universe that says, ‘You can rest now, if you want to rest [or] take another stab at it from a different angle. Hey, how about we try making a real brand out of you, like a brand that would be a world brand?’”

The gift certain creative types have for articulating large truths as they perceive them and bringing them back to the merch is just one more thing to love about fashion, particularly when you buy into the genuineness of message, if not necessarily the message itself, in full.

Morris is genuine, and, some might say, out-there. The founder at the age of 23 of an artistic commune in Wisconsin, where he began developing the sculptural, sensual metalwork that would become his signature and make him a fashion-world sensation, speaks softly as he delivers heady thoughts. Spirituality, ancient influences, the natural world and futuristic musings shape both the person and his work, while dominating his conversation — even as he embarks on a new and critical phase of his brilliant, if up-and-down career, now in its fifth decade.

Before Alexis Bittar, before Eddie Borgo, Lisa Jenks, Pamela Love and even Tom Binns, Morris forged a major fashion path for jewelry while insisting on its core artistry; those who followed are indebted. Before the CFDA Incubator — for that matter, before the CFDA cared enough about young designers to incubate — Morris conceived, assembled and nurtured the artisinal jewelry gallery Artwear.

He is a true trailblazer whose renown and influence far exceed the scale of his business. Though never technically out of business, turnover has been tiny for years, including through the transition between owners; last July, Haskell Jewels bought the company from Clover II.

Today, market officially opens on a major relaunch, and Morris couldn’t be happier. He discussed his new situation recently at his new base, a compact three rooms situated in the Haskell headquarters at the end of a long corridor, past the showrooms for the company’s other jewelry brands — Miriam Haskell, M. Haskell, Betsey Johnson, Kenneth Cole and Simply Vera for Kohl’s. Though he moved in only last month, it looks and feels like a space long-occupied, filled with the treasures, results, books, tools and some of what some of us might call junk, of a lifetime of acquiring, scavaging and creating. When Morris packed up his longtime studio downtown, he originally wanted to take only the essentials and send the rest home, but the process proved overwhelming. Except for a serious edit of the books, it all came uptown, where it makes for daily rediscoveries.

Artifacts range from the childhood treasures of an Air Force brat to a small statue that was his father’s — Hercules wrestling an unidentified king, the latter, Morris points out, “yanking his…” Ancient-looking metalwork — a primary inspiration — is everywhere. Morris found the piece of a cow’s skeleton on his property in Sante Fe, N.M., and a sculpture of a boat was crafted years ago by a beloved professor-mentor. One room seems too visually overloaded to lend itself to the stated purpose of meditation room; a seating area was, he says, “made into this Zen garden place for me.” The most visually calm part of Morris’ fiefdom, the showroom, couldn’t belong to anyone else. On view: multiple CFDA and other awards sharing counter space with demonstrative display pieces including vertical metal tubing and signature female torso sculptures (“How can you get tired of the human body?” Morris muses), all foils for the kind of bold metal collars, cuffs and rings on which he built his reputation. These include versions of archival pieces as well as new designs. It all looks impressive and of the moment.

Morris’ assessment: “Perfect. My experience with contractors is that it takes a lot of back and forth before they get it, and the work [first] comes in lighter or crappy. This came in better than I could ever imagine. Look at this cuff! To me, it was like the universe [took me to] the right spot. Finally.”

That right spot is total ownership by Haskell, which bought all the company’s assets, including trademarks; SoHo store; department store and QVC businesses; archives, and any future new categories into which Morris might forge. That’s fine by Morris, who has not been the master of his own business destiny since 1998, when he sold his company to M. Fabrikant & Sons, which partnered with Clover Corp. but subsequently sold that firm in 2006. The purchaser of Clover Corp. then formed Clover II. The situation never panned out at the high end, though the QVC business has fared well. “We were not growing, we were shrinking, and my potential and my vision was bigger than that, and I stood really strong,” Morris says. “When I got here, I had a fire under my butt.”

Haskell principal Frank Fialkoff views Morris as a shining presence within his stable. “We feel we acquired a real, true American icon designer,” he says. The two go way back. In the mid-Seventies, Morris consulted on the Pierre Cardin collection at Swank and, later, on Karl Lagerfeld at Victoria Creations. In both situations, Fialkoff was president. He became interested in buying Robert Lee Morris after learning of its availability from his accountant. “It came to me, it was the opportunity I’d really been waiting for,” Fialkoff says. “To have a vehicle with a true designer, something I owned top to bottom so I could control it — distribution, licensing, everything, and really build a business.”

Under Haskell, the brand features an “iconic core” and three fashion collections per year. Much of the former is comprised of Morris’ highly recognizable classics; the latter, of themed groups. Prices have been adjusted downward, now $150 to $1,000 for most pieces, though there will be some more expensive one-offs. Morris attributes this adjustment to the fact that he will no longer work in through-the-roof silver but in plated brass finished with various patinas. “I’m giving away a secret,” he says, anticipating others to pick up on the color idea. “You can plate in green and in copper and in all these colors — warm bronze, tobacco, shades of black and steel — so you have a symphony of colors. They have weight and they’re flexible.” Of the launch fashion groups, French Cuff, based on overlapping points, was designed for Donna Karan when Morris rejoined her for a runway season a few years back and the collection was never produced. Galactic is an exploration of spheres and “the whole idea of futuristic mechanisms — futuristic armor,” he says.

Morris’ story is well-known, though one chapter gets the lion’s share of the attention. Most people think first of his now-legendary collaboration with Karan; his arresting, powerful metal jewelry and other hardware were as integral to her early aesthetic as the jersey “easy pieces.” Their relationship started at Anne Klein. When Karan went out on her own, she asked Morris to work with her. “So many people have said to me, ‘I was the first one to ever discover you when you and Donna did that collection [in 1985],” he recalls. “I always want to say, ‘I guess you missed the first 10 years or so.’” By the time he started with Karan, he’d won the Coty Award and worked with Calvin Klein, Geoffrey Beene and Kansai Yamamoto.

Morris calls his time with Donna Karan and other collaborations “euphoria.” (Calvin, he muses, was “a party.”) “Whenever you’re working with a group in a harmonious way, creating something all together is euphoric. So being with Donna for all those years was euphoric. Being with Lagerfeld for a brief period of time was euphoric. When it all works together in the end and you have to skin yourself alive to get there, it’s worth it.”

In the nine years with Karan, he recalls, “we made a very strong impact and statement in fashion and jewelry.” The mood changed in the early Nineties, as the company grew and the pressures of doing two collections increased. Morris was about to move to New Mexico and become a shaman — by that point, he’d studied shamanism for 13 years — but then met his wife, who had no interest in the Southwest, and they stayed put in New York. But more had changed than the pressure to produce; fashion jewelry became virtually nonexistent on the runways as heroin chic ruled. It was, Morris says, a dismal time. He credits Tom Ford with forcing its comeback during his Gucci heyday: “He showed Halston-esque, Perreti-esque, Donna Karan-esque, Robert Lee Morris-esque stuff, and suddenly there was this huge explosion. FIT came calling for a retrospective.”

A decade-plus later, in 2007, came the CFDA’s first Geoffrey Beene Lifetime Achievement Award and, the following year, Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen asked him to do a collaboration for their Elizabeth and James line. The Olsen connection, he says, “exploded my name to a whole new group of people who didn’t have a clue who I was. I found myself getting reinvented over and over again.”

Morris clearly appreciates being appreciated. He points out that the Olsens credited him as a mentor in their 2007 book; similarly, Kris Ruhs, a former Artwear artist, cited Morris in his tome.

Through Artwear, Morris was in on the transformation of SoHo from its pre-gentrification condition of edgy-industrial grit to, first, a thriving artistic community and, then, a tourist-centric retail mecca. He opened the store on Madison in 1977 but moved it to lower Broadway, “a magical space,” the following year. There he spent Sunday mornings from 9 to 12 looking at the work of jewelry makers — even today, he insists he’s not a jewelry designer but an artist who makes jewelry — giving thumbs up or down as he saw fit, and supporting the best of the former, even when the jewelry didn’t sell. He notes that point of departure between traditional retail and genuine patronage, and the thought triggers his long commentary on what it means to be an agent of change. “It’s dawned on me in a very simple sense, what I’m doing all this time is that I’ve been an agent of change, and I’m attracted to other people who are agents of change, and they are the ones who are leading the country right now.”

That said, his most immediate anticipated change concerns serious growth of the business. Industry sources say volume could grow from next to nothing to $10 million within two years, after which, assuming strong design and proper nurturing, growth could skyrocket. “We’re reintroducing Robert,” Fialkoff says. “We’re giving him all the resources he needs: the manufacturing, the sourcing, the advertising, any help he might need in design, and to relaunch the jewelry in the finer stores globally. And then we’ll follow up with other products that make sense.” He mentions watches, possibly next year. Morris says there could eventually be handbags, eyewear, a fragrance.

The firm enlisted Robert Burke as a consultant for the launch and beyond, and is close to signing with a major advertising agency.

Morris feels confident the universe had taken him to the right place. “I’m a very big part of the fashion world,” he says. “But on the other side of me, I’m wild, free, antiestablishment. I have the passion of a kid still. I don’t want to spend time in another board meeting, because I’ve got work to do and I’ve got things in my head that want to come out in material form. I don’t want to waste my time going to too many trunk shows, because I’d rather be back here making.

“I know,” Morris continues, “this launch is going to be huge.”