A Beautiful Trend

There is an explosion of color for spring 2012, but a quietly, enchanting fashion trend is sprouting amongst the 60’s-inspired mod cloths. This beautiful trend is the antithesis to all the city-slicker, color-blocked dressing. I call it Natural Beauties, a feminine, romantic trend, rooted in textural fabrics and hand worked textiles, bags and shoes.

This casual trend is wearable American dressing with a South of France vibe. It is the absence of color, a gentle combination of summer whites and parchment, with an occasional accent of saffron, navy or black. It mixes beloved casual staples with a “laundry-day” freshness, that speak loudly in a whisper. The mixture of contrasting washed cotton twills and rugged canvas with lace, voile, batiste, and chiffon can stop hearts and transport you to a faraway place!

This quietly beautiful trend is romantic and engaging.

This beautiful spring trend is romantic and enchanting.

Look for embroidered white on white blouses, washed denim jackets, skinny jeans, and long and short pleated skirts. Lace is universal in tops, bottoms, dresses, as well as accessories. Sweaters are loose, feminine openwork or delicate pointelle stitches. Textural, natural materials like raffia and straw are woven into totes, fedoras and cowboy hats. Shoes are summer global staples…sexy platform espadrilles, wedges and comfy slip-ons (think Tom’s and the new Splendid line). Soles are constructed or covered with natural materials including wood, canvas, hemp, and cork. Wrapped leather and friendship bracelets complement the free-spirited look.

This trend is a rolling classic. I expect it to grow in apparel seasons to come, as well as in home furnishings and interiors.

dix&pond is the blog of www.dixandpond.com

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Anthropologie -The Drag on Urban

Urban Outfitters recently released fourth quarter 2011 earnings that fell by 47.8%, as they were cutting prices to clear slow-moving holiday merchandise. Returning CEO Richard Hayne (former CEO Glen Senk has moved on to David Yurman) has pledged to get the ailing retail superstar back on track.

Admittedly, women’s apparel has been the problem. There has been weakness in women’s apparel at the younger Urban Outfitters division, but more dramatically at Anthroplogie, which targets a 30+ clientele.

An example of Anthropologie's stellar visual merchandising.

An example of Anthropologie's stellar visual merchandising.

Anthropolgie gets kudos for creating an iconic and unique brand experience in their stores. Their creative visual merchandising is second-to-none in women’s specialty retail. The daring use of unusual materials and space devoted to non-revenue producing theater is of legend. For me, the staged ingenuity has become the reason to visit the store and the merchandise is secondary. Visual merchandising is supposed to create excitement and drive traffic, and it accomplishes that. Their dark stores, filled with hand crafted products have a bazaar like quality, more “tourist attraction” than fashion purveyor. Mannequins are overly styled with pieces that may be very wearable in less fussy combinations. It is a treasure hunt through odd spaces filled with vintage inspired home furnishings, special gifts and arbitrary racks of apparel. It is more Green Movement, than fashion moment. Is visual merchandising dominating the fashion?

Anthropolgie has created an apparel marketplace for confident and avant-garde women. I applaud them for being risk takers in a copy-cat industry. They have created a big brand personality, but the difficulty of shopping the store and styling challenges the customer. She has to want an eclectic statement or be forced to sort thru cavernous spaces to find a pretty skirt, top or trend-right jean. Most women don’t have the time or confidence to do it, not to mention that fashion has gotten cleaner, slicker and more colorful lately. This division may have gotten bigger than the audience for its textural, third-world styling.

The complex styling of this dress makes it less salable.

The complex styling of this dress makes it less salable.

Free People stores performed better. Their stores are smaller and brighter than Anthroplogie and they benefit from their wholesale presence in fashion leaders such as Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s. The stores are eclectic, but have some stand-out fashion items, in a more conventional, approachable space. Urban Outfitters may be suffering from the highly competitive youth market and growth of competitors such as Forever 21. Their college age customers are laden with debt and short on cash.

The collective combination of these pieces is very avant-garde.

The collective combination of these pieces is very avant-garde.

I think this retail luminary has the ability to glow again. Feminine, lady-like fashion, is trending now and plays to their forehand. They don’t need to compromise their identity. They just need to clean it up and simplify the message.

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix and Pond consulting.

The New Neutral for 2012

Color trends evolve slowly and steadily. They rarely appear unexpectedly. This year we are caught without much warning in a tidal wave of cheerful yellow apparel, accessories, home products and decor. From tender sorbet to banana to sunflower, this optimistic, south-facing color family, is the new neutral for spring 2012!

For the past year or so something strange has come over me. Colors that never excited me have become my new favorites. Whipped butter, baby chick and day lily have infiltrated my brain. Yellow, a non-existent color in my closet, is going to play a starring role in my black and white wardrobe this spring. I was tasered by a buttercup, patent leather Ted Baker tote. Until I got home, I didn’t I realize what I had done.

Yellow is the new neutral for 2012!

Yellow is the new neutral for 2012!

Perhaps yellow is the antidote to years of recessionary malaise? This burst of sunshine is most modern when worn with other bold brights, or historically unusual parings like bright yellow with grey or beige. It pops in prints played off of grey and white. Yellow can make a vibrant or delicate statement in active wear, shoes, jeans, handbags, lingerie, dresses, accessories and home decor. I expect it to gain steam and be with us for a while. Even if it isn’t your most flattering color, you can get your yellow fix away from the face in a jean or boot.

I especially like the use of yellow this season by BCBG, J Crew, Crate and Barrel, Rag and Bone, 7 for All Mankind, Robert Rodriquez, Sam Edelman, Sperry, Rebecca Minkoff, Tory Burch and Ted Baker.

Dix&Pond is the blog of dix & pond consulting

Another Approach for Ann Taylor?

Designing a line of clothing is like putting on a Broadway play every season. Sometimes the new one is better than last season’s, sometimes not. It is nearly impossible to have a continuous upward graph when creating a new product line in the notoriously fickle fashion field. The Recession of the past several years, has put retailers on the defensive and exacerbated the issues.

Ann Taylor window, March 2012.

Ann Taylor window, March 2012.

Ann Inc. just reported fiscal 2011 results. The larger Loft division reported a 10.5% increase in total comps (including all channels), with an 8.1% in store comps for the year. In contrast, Ann Taylor had a 1.1% total comp increase, with a 10.9% decrease in store comps. CEO, Kay Krill is promising improvements at Ann Taylor…”among the number of changes underway, we are evolving the assortment in-store to offer her a better balance within each category, including more color choices, greater versatility and more depth in key fashion items and marketing looks. In addition, we will be offering more depth and breadth in opening price points in virtually every category to provide her with even greater value.”

I have soft spot for Ann Taylor. In my early career, the brand defined upscale fashion for ladder-climbing women. I was an ardent fan. In my heart, I still want them to succeed. As a designer, industry insider and former alpha-customer, the myriad problems are obvious to me.

In my opinion, they responded to the Recession with sparse inventory, lower quality fabrics and abdicated core basics. Colors have been hit or miss, at times exciting and occasionally, thoughtlessly unwearable.

The big advantage of specialty retail and e-Commerce is that these channels are easier to shop than department stores. Busy women don’t have time to search the collection-based apparel assortments of department stores to find a basic tee, a pair of black pants or a great white shirt. Interestingly, the best performing areas in department stores are sold in categories, handbags, shoes, jeans, cosmetics, dresses, etc. The problem is specialty retailers keep trying to offer collections vs. understanding shopping simplicity is one of their core advantages.

Ann Taylor used to be reliable for a decent assortment of well-made, consistently fitting casual and dressier pants. They also were a great place  for terrific white shirts from basic to highly styled. Who could tell they weren’t from Theory? You could count on deep inventory in quality tees for the season; who needed J Crew? Shoes became boring and generic, the day they parted ways with Joan & David.

Ann Taylor should be a contrast to Loft, with better quality, more sophisticated products. Loft is doing well, but why try to compete head on? As a former Ann Taylor fan, the Loft quality never did it for me. Ann Taylor today could be any one of a number of faceless specialty chains. Some thoughts for improvement:

Offer a better value to the customer thorough improved fabrications, not lowered prices. Ensure depth in the core replacement basics needed every season. What about a permanent white shirt area like an Anne Fontaine? How about a basic pant area that carried the core styles of the season? Create a section for tees, where white would NEVER be out of stock. Add more compelling bags and shoes that are less concerned with price and more focused on fashion and quality. How about some traffic-building accessory brand names such as Brahmin, Tory Burch, Longchamp or Kate Spade?

It is time to take a counterintuitive, novel approach to change the fortunes at Ann Taylor.

Dix and Pond is the blog of dix& pond consulting

Low inventory levels are obvious at Ann Taylor.

Low inventory levels are obvious at Ann Taylor.

Accessories Update: Graphic Art

Designers are getting graphic this spring with dramatic, scene-stealing black and white accessories. These mighty shoes and handbags are going to command the attention of classic style icons and fashion-loving city slickers alike.

Dynamic black and white houndstooths, checks, stripes, dots, geometrics and florals are adorning wedges, espadrilles, pumps, sling backs, platforms, sneakers, flip-flops, totes, shoppers and more. These high-contrast patterns make a huge statement and generally prevail over an entire outfit. They are emotionally driven items and highly useful in a woman wardrobe, so are sure to fly out of the stores.

Graphic black and white accessories are seen on all levels of the market, but the some of the best shoes and bags are from Salvatore Ferragamo, Ann Klein, Sam Edelman, Kate Spade, Stuart Weitzman, Christian Dior, Alice and Olivia, Marc Jacobs, Tory Burch, Charles David, Pour La Victoire and Converse.

Scene-stealing graphic accessories for spring 2012.

Scene-stealing graphic accessories for spring 2012.

Not So Basix Dresses

The best fashion has the ability to stop you in your tracks and take your breath away. I was transported by this tulle and crystal confection  by Basix Black Label. This dress is pure fantasy, the captivating promise of a Cinderella night. Maybe I could dance the lead in Swan Lake? This OMG dress is suited for an elegant Grace Kelly type chicster, ready to quietly steal the show and bring men to their wobbly knees.

This confection is D5154A by Basix Black Label.

This little confection by Basix is D5154A.

Basix Black Label (part of D+ I Fashion) is a wholesale manufacturer of cocktail, evening, special occasion dresses and dressy separates available at upscale stores such as Neiman Marcus. (See Basix Black Label.)

Exclusive Club Monaco

Ralph Lauren is clearly among the greatest brand builders in the history of the fashion industry. It is no wonder why the Ralph Lauren Corporation purchased Club Monaco the urban casual, Canadian-born specialty wholesale and retail company. They have been quietly growing this little jewel in their portfolio since 1999. They currently have more than 65 stores in North America and locations in Europe, Asia and the Middle-East. They have yet to launch their e-Commerce site. Holiday 2011 sales at Club Monaco were up 17%.

Back detail is an alluring touch at Club Monaco.

Back detail is as alluring touch at Club Monaco.

The stores are filled with sophisticated, casual clothing suitable for the lifestyles of contemporary men and women.  It is a textural collection with that mixes high-quality fabrics and neutrally based color stories. Modern and minimal pieces easily mix into the wardrobes of the tastefully hip, such as trench coats and pleated skirts. There is an unstudied sexiness to the chic pairings with a strong sense of identity. Even the accessories are distinctly on-trend, not the cheesy, key items blown out by most specialty retail chains. (See Club Monaco)

Club Monaco is far from a household name yet, and that is part of its appeal. They only have about 65,000 Facebook fans, but this” little engine that could” is judiciously expanding their reach. Ralph Lauren will continue to shepherd this brand carefully, so it is surely not going to lose its je né sais quoi.

A Passion for Sperry

Sperry, the signature shoe brand of the nautical crowd has gone Broadway. It is no longer just doing summer stock around the docks of Nantucket and Marblehead. This 77-year-old, iconic shoe brand is having a significant fashion moment. It has truly achieved cult status and is being worn by stylish women and pretty-young-things, year round. You know you have arrived, when Nordstrom gives you full tables of the best real estate in the shoe department, adjacent to Uggs! They have become a most-wanted shoe by coastal prepsters and comfort-seeking fashion lovers alike.

These boat shoes are Milly for Sperry.

These fun authentic boat shoes are Milly for Sperry.

In recent years, Sperry has taken more fashion risks with color and unique materials and patterns. The beloved Top-Siders have been updated with tasteful glitter, sequins, quilting (see my fav Black Quilted Authentic 2-Eye Boat Shoe ), metallics, patent leather and prints. They have kept the original spirit of the brand, and intrigued a new generation. The looks are optimistic and playful, never drab and street-oriented. Color is a key driver for the classic market. This is generally the formula for updating an iconic shoe, don’t mess with the original “chassis”, just give it a modern, body restoration. Once you have renewed the brand core, you can add new models, wedges, sandals and boots.

Sperry’s recent collaboration with up-market Milly was a brilliant move. Milly appeals to the modern classic Kate Spade and Tory Burch crowd. Milly is the second best thing to doing it with Tory. Touché. (See Milly for Sperry)

Sadly, their cousin Keds hasn’t had the same success. In my opinion, it has been a series of missteps, low-end distribution, off-the-mark colors and patterns. They also have tried too hard to make it hip and young, instead of taking an ageless, lifestyle approach. The ageless approach is inherent in successful color-driven classic brands, i.e. Ralph Lauren, Coach, Jack Rogers, Lily Pulitzer, Vera Bradley, J. Crew, etc.

My only issue is with Sperry’s stores. The brand experience in the stores is generic and overly literal to the waterfront theme…think flags and wood. They should have taken a more nuanced and sophisticated approach to their by-the-water identity. The stores are incongruous to their new-found fashion status. They could have paid subtle homage to their heritage while creating an upscale fashion lifestyle store. As a Sperry fashion customer, I don’t want to identify with the brand in their stores’ terms. I want the “reassurance” of buying my Sperry’s at Nordstrom. Let’s face it; their best marketing coup is an aisle table in Nordstrom!

In my opinion Sperry has the potential to become a complete lifestyle brand. They have already licensed numerous products including eyewear, luggage and watches. They should capitalize on the current success of accessory categories and keep apparel offerings minimal. With razor-sharp vision and continued risk taking, I think this beloved vintage brand has potential to become a lifestyle powerhouse, in the likes of Coach.

These sexy platforms and wedge are Milly for Sperry.

These sexy platforms and wedge are Milly for Sperry.

Minty Fresh

Mint and aquas look especially fresh with off-beat colors such as citrine and pops of bright coral.As a dedicated color hunter, I’m always scouting for colors or color families that are quietly emerging or haven’t been important in a while. The pale to medium greenish aqua family is sneaking up on us, with delicate seafoam, dinner mint green and green-toned turquoise washing up on all levels of the apparel market. They range from super pale, to dusty to white-washed brights. Except for the palest of mint greens, these colors have been omnipresent in home and stationery for a long time, but haven’t been important in women’s apparel.

It is often hard to explain the genesis of a color trend. Designers are influenced by color trend services, social influences and personal and brand preferences. We have been slugging it through tough times and this optimistic, sun-kissed color family is a virtual walk down Worth Avenue. These beachy-keen, retro 50’s, colors pack a sugary wallop. They are all over the market in collections as varied as Rachel Roy, Diane Von Furstenburg, Lululemon, Converse, 7 for All Mankind, Hudson, Free People, , Rag and Bone, St. John and J. Crew, in everything including dresses, tops, jeans, yoga wear, sneakers and sweaters.

The surrounding color players, will keep the palette modern and out of matronly, insipid territory. Pastel seafoam or minty green looks especially fresh paired with off-beat colors or deep pops such as citrine or bright coral. These colors are well anchored with pure white and navy neutrals. Head-to-toe dinner mint or greenish turq can a cause a serious toothache without an unexpected, modern accent such as a nude shoe or coral tote.

This fresh, emotionally charged color family is sure to gain importance in upcoming seasons.

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