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Designer Democracy: Rushing to Better for Big Volume and Riches

Better sportswear is suddenly chic, attracting the likes of Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, Nicole Miller and Ron Chereskin to its volume-oriented realm.

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A look from City DKNY.

Photo By WWD Staff

An AK Anne Klein look.

Photo By WWD Staff

A look from City DKNY.

Photo By WWD Staff

NEW YORK — The better sportswear category has become the newest cool hangout, attracting some of the most chic names in fashion to its broad confines.

Designers such as Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, Michael Kors, Oscar de la Renta, Nicole Miller and Ron Chereskin are looking to better sportswear as a way to build their brands and attract a wider audience in these cash-conscious — yet style-conscious — times.

Bud Konheim, president and chief executive officer of Nicole Miller, which will launch a better-priced sportswear line next spring, said, “That is what prestige has become. It’s not dressing the princess of Brunei, and [designers] who are respected are people who are able to capture a wide audience.”

New entrants staking claims in the better realm, though, are finding themselves in a shifting landscape. The Lauren by Ralph Lauren better label, which last year pulled in $548 million in sales for Jones Apparel Group and is at the center of a legal battle between the company and Polo Ralph Lauren Corp., has reverted back to Polo, as reported. The development left the valuable square footage previously earmarked for Lauren in department stores open for discussion.

While Lauren, to be produced by Polo, is moving quickly to keep its space without skipping a beat, the competition will include a new better-priced Jones New York Signature line. Calvin Klein, now owned by Philips-Van Heusen, is entering the better arena through a licensing deal with Kellwood Co., as reported, while Kors’ name has come up in reported talks for a similar project with Jones. De la Renta, meanwhile, is said to be negotiating with J.C. Penney Co. on a moderate-to-better sub-brand.

The sluggish economy is making the fight for better all the more fierce. The unemployment rate rose to 6.4 percent in June and the Federal Reserve Board’s Monetary Policy Report, submitted to Congress last week, began by describing the U.S. economy during the first half as “subpar.”

Against this backdrop, there’s a developing philosophy in the fashion world that those who stick to the notion that designers should only do designer-priced clothing might be left in the dust. Design has become democratic, observers said, and can be found from affordable venues like Target and QVC to the bastions of Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys New York.
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