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So goes the bridge market this year, as Dana Buchman exits the arena to become an exclusive moderate line for Kohl's and Ellen Tracy transfers hands, creating an opening for other collections to fill the vast spaces these venerable brands once occupied. While this could be read as yet another bad sign for the long-troubled bridge market, players with a more contemporary aesthetic are looking at the change as the kick the tired floor has needed.
M Missoni, Tory Burch, Lafayette 148, Eileen Fisher and Magaschoni all are reporting increased space and orders for 2008 — up as much as 50 percent — even as general retail and macroeconomic environments contract, illustrating the shift has begun.
Charles Nolan, which launched exclusively with Saks Fifth Avenue in fall 2004, expanded into a full wholesale business with 185 doors for spring. A year after Premise's spring 2007 launch, the line's sales are up more than 10 percent from fall 2007 to fall 2008, going from 75 to 110 doors. Vittadini, a bridge-priced relaunch of Adrienne Vittadini, is returning to about 175 doors for fall, and other lines such as William & Augusta are choosing to launch in the bridge price range, reflecting a gradual shift from recent years when new design talent zeroed in on contemporary.
Compounding the market's changes is the ongoing shift in the bridge consumers' preferences, changing the departments from floors of power suits targeting a women in her 50s to ones filled with lines best described as "contemporary graduates." According to Jill Doneger, a bridge market analyst for The Doneger Group, the thirtysomething consumer who grew up in contemporary, but has since grown out of it, now matches the numbers of the mainstay bridge customer.
"The customer and her circumstances have dramatically changed, and both better and bridge brands need to change with her — with fresher assortments, more youthful sensibilities, more forgiving silhouettes," said Catherine Sadler, president of the New York marketing firm Catherine Sadler Group. "In bridge, many brands look like luxury versions of the contemporary floor and the younger, more casual brands (such as Tory Burch and Elie Tahari) are stealing space from old standbys like Ellen Tracy and Anne Klein."