All Important Season

Stores look to cruise for smoother sailing.

15 July 2009

by Miles Socha with contributions from Samantha Conti Alessandra Ilari
Posted Wednesday June 17, 2009
From WWD Issue 06/17/2009


Stores Look to Cruise for Smoother Sailing
PARIS — Reflecting the still-choppy economic waters, the resort-cruise season is less about holidays and escapism and more about fashion and business realities.

Chloé Cruise 2010 Photo By Dominique Maitre

That means more clothes for desks rather than deck chairs, and modest sales expectations, with flat considered an applause-worthy target for many fashion houses at a time when department store sales are still down more than 20 percent.

Yet executives at European houses remain upbeat about the season, characterizing cruise as a consistent and large part of the total spring-summer business — upward of 70 to 75 percent — and a vital way to animate their own store networks.

“The pre-collections are very important to us and they continue to grow solidly, adding significantly to the business,” said Angela Ahrendts, chief executive officer at Burberry. “Because of shipping the stock prior to Christmas, not only is traffic at its peak, but you then have the longest selling cycle of any other collection.”

“It’s a full collection, and this is when we need new merchandise in the stores,” added Sidney Toledano, ceo of Christian Dior, noting deliveries start around the end of October and continue “month by month” through January. “It’s a big part of the whole season and it comes with a new story for our customers.”

Toledano stressed that the earlier the delivery, the better the sell-through and “optimizing the sell-through is what everybody wants.”

Ahrendts noted Burberry capitalized on its core categories of outerwear and accessories this season, and that “combined with consumer sentiment shifting back to more investment in timeless styles, which are at the core of our offering, works particularly in our favor.”

“Cruise represents 35 to 40 percent of the [spring-summer] collections, reflecting the number of styles and the depth of the offer,” said Bruno Pavlovsky, president of fashion at Chanel, which paraded its latest collection last month on a Lido Beach boardwalk in Venice. “It’s an important collection in the retail calendar as it reaches boutiques at the right time, in November, when Chanel clients have already purchased their winter wardrobes and are looking for new and fresh garments.”

Still, many European houses have been tweaking their offer in favor of a buy-now, wear-now mentality.

“We have to make sure the assortment corresponds to that trend,” said Ralph Toledano, chairman and ceo of Chloé, noting coats and pants are integral for stores in colder climates, and that styles targeted toward vacationers are waning. “Our customers are traveling less. It’s more daywear.”

“We’re all fed up with walking into shops and seeing winter clothes in the middle of summer and vice versa,” added Stella McCartney. “We treated resort as a series of months rather than a season, and there are various fabric weights for different times of the year. I realize that is boring from a design-creative point of view, but it was important for us to cater to customers.”

McCartney ceo Frederick Lukoff said he detected no change in interest level in pre-spring from wholesale clients. “The longer shelf life of the spring collection versus summer represents a strong incentive for retailers,” he said.

John Galliano said the tough economic climate heightens the need for “excellence, refinement and attention to detail. People don’t want the ordinary; they want the extraordinary.

“I think cruise is always a very exciting collection to work on, as it’s not exposed to the big runway of ready-to-wear. It is focused on the muse, the woman,” he continued, characterizing his approach as “keeping it simple, chic and being that uncompromising muse of femininity, style and modern sophistication.”

Dior Cruise 2010 Photo By: Dominique Maitre

Donatella Versace said her cruise business continues to grow rapidly. “Last season, it was twofold from the prior season and actually makes up about 60 percent of our sales in comparison to the runway,” she said. “Pre-spring continues to become more and more important, and so has the pressure to make it more fashion-forward.”

Having just returned from meetings with American retail executives, Valerie Hermann, ceo of Yves Saint Laurent, said she came back energized. “The spirit was trying to be very fresh and open to the future,” she said, lauding the opportunity to give editors and buyers proximity to the product. “Cruise has a perfect timing to better understand the market; to listen to the people.”

Hermann said discussions with retailers centered on strong price-value rapports, “sequenced” deliveries to keep sales floors looking fresh, and customer-oriented merchandising.

“It’s about the beginning of the season, more so than this American perception of cruise,” she said. “In the last few years, pre-collections have been progressively increased both in terms of sales and importance, but we now believe they have achieved a certain level of stabilization,” agreed Aeffe executive chairman Massimo Ferretti, noting pre-collections represent about 40 percent of the group’s turnover.

More small, independent European designers are also adding a cruise delivery to their repertoire, including Roksanda Ilincic and Richard Nicoll in London. This is the first season Giles Deacon is doing a pre-collection with his new manufacturer Castor Srl. “I think the resort-cruise season will definitely become bigger. The stores — and especially smaller boutiques that don’t carry the giant labels — are increasingly demanding it,” Deacon said. “It’s a great season for a small brand like ours, and a way for us to cater to the smaller stores that are not competing on markdowns. Also, the collection as a whole will have a knock-on effect, driving the spring collection as a whole.”

Reflecting a need to keep costs down during the downturn, fewer houses staged runway shows for cruise this season, with Dior and Gucci among those forgoing the runway.

“Unless there is a specific ancillary reason, as there was with the celebrations surrounding our flagship opening in Rome last July, we would not consider presenting the cruise collection with a fashion show,” said Patrizio di Marco, president and ceo of Gucci. “Instead, we opt for more personal showroom presentations for the editors and buyers.”

Still, he cited increasing editorial coverage on the collection in November in December, which fuels customer anticipation.

Indeed, with media interest in cruise still swelling, many houses create devoted campaigns for the season.

Chloé, for example, intends to feature styles from its cruise collection in future advertising campaigns, which in the past had been solely devoted to runway looks, Toledano said.

From WWD Issue 06/17/2009

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APPAREL , bargain news , STYLE/BEAUTY , TRENDS |

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