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Heading to Marc III: Jacobs Eyes Better Sportswear Collection

Marc Jacobs wants to bring his hipness to the masses and is in talks to produce a better-priced line, lower priced than even Marc by Marc Jacobs.

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NEW YORK — More Marc is on the way.

Marc Jacobs wants to bring his hipness to the masses and is in talks with various companies around the world to produce a better-priced line — even more accessible than his Marc by Marc Jacobs collection.

“I want to dress the people that shop at the Gap and people that go to those kinds of stores in their local towns,” said Robert Duffy, president of Marc Jacobs. “With Marc Jacobs, you can see the entire collection on the West Coast and on the East Coast, and even Marc by Marc is not everywhere. I would like to have a collection that would be distributed much broader and it’s not something I am ashamed of. I am in talks with a number of people and it’s something that’s new for me because Marc and I have never done that. When we find the right partner, we’ll do it.”

Duffy said the idea of doing a better-priced line and one that would retail less than Marc by Marc Jacobs — a pioneering label that established a fashion bulkhead somewhere between better and bridge — is something he has always wanted to do and the timing now seems right.

Sales at Marc Jacobs have been estimated at more than $50 million through its collection, Marc by Marc Jacobs line and retail operations. U.S. sales of its women’s collection business have been estimated to comprise about 30 percent of the business, while the Marc by Marc line has been estimated to take up about 40 percent of sales.

While the concept is still in the developmental stages, Duffy said a deal might be finalized within the next year and the line would be licensed to another party to produce.

“I would love to do jeans under $100 and T-shirts for $40 or $50,” Duffy said. “I love the idea of buying jeans and T-shirts and purses that are just good and have integrity at that price. It’s always something I wanted to do for a company like ours.

“We have a jewel of a collection line and a jewel of a secondary line. And Marc by Marc is really a complete and total collection, that encompasses handbags to shoes, and I want it to remain that way. But they’re both very specific, focused and targeted at a specific audience.
“Still, I have always wanted to become this big player in the world of fashion for young people and I’ve always wanted to have a broader distribution. I want to be everywhere and I’m not going to be doing that with the [two] collections we have. I want this to be more accessible to more people and to sell all over the country —all over the world, and not just in urban centers.”

What this better-priced Marc Jacobs line might be called remains to be answered and Duffy said their team is playing with a lot of names. “I have a bunch of different names, but nothing has been finalized,” he said.

Marc Jacobs is partially backed by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton and Duffy pointed out that chairman Bernard Arnault is aware of this business prospect — and is supportive.

“I know this is something that Mr. Arnault supports, too. I talked to him yesterday and he knows this is something I want to do and he likes the idea,” Duffy said Friday. “He’s a smart man, and he knows the future of this business and every single product or company he controls all have a different heritage. But he loves the idea. If you’re successful and he sees that you have a track record, he’ll be supportive.”

A better-priced Marc Jacobs line would place the designer, whose collection is coveted by celebrities and artists like Sofia Coppola, Winona Ryder and Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth, in a league with other big-name designers who have also reached out to the masses — namely Ralph Lauren with his licensed sportswear line Lauren by Ralph Lauren, produced under license by Jones Apparel Group; Donna Karan with City DKNY, a licensed division of Liz Claiborne Inc.; and potentially Calvin Klein, whose business was sold in December to Phillips-Van Heusen Corp.

As reported, PVH said it plans to launch a better-priced women’s collection under the CK Calvin Klein label in 2004. A new men’s better sportswear business is currently being developed in-house by PVH, while the women’s business will most likely be licensed.

Based on the volume of some of these businesses — the Lauren line did $548 million in net sales last year and $1 billion was what Bruce Klatsky, chairman and chief executive officer of Phillips-Van Heusen, projected as the combined potential for the new men’s and women’s Calvin Klein businesses — it seems likely that this latest Marc Jacobs venture would compete on a similar playing field.
In terms of price alone, it also would place Jacobs in competition with his former employer, Perry Ellis International, which also produces a women’s sportswear line in team with Public Clothing Co.

Meanwhile, Jacobs is exploring other partnerships to complement his business, such as developing a home collection through his signature stores. Duffy said he has identified someone with whom he’d like to collaborate with creatively and it would be more upscale.

“It’s just evolving. Marc had met someone in Europe that he quite liked and I quite liked. I love the idea of someone with us designing furniture,” Duffy said. “Like what you’re sitting on you can also order or buy. That’s how everything evolves for us. We don’t have a specific business plan.”

Jacobs launched his diffusion Marc by Marc Jacobs collection at retail in February 2001, his second attempt at a lower-priced line, four years after Marc Jacobs Look closed in the U.S. From the onset, the Marc by Marc line was a smash-hit at retail and now is carried at stores such as Fred Segal, Scoop, Bergdorf Goodman, Barneys New York and Bloomingdale’s.
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