I started my career as a knitwear designer, so I will always have a passionate love affair with sweaters. The stores are filled with some of the most irresistibly cozy, sporty and whimsical knits seen in many seasons. Knits have their fashion ups and downs, but we are currently spinning in one of the biggest sweater cycles in years.

Sweaters are the dominant apparel category for holiday 2012. Fresh shapes, colorblocks, fairisles, metallics, embellished and quirky intarsias are everywhere. When intarsias come back in style, you know you are in full-blown knitwear revival.  I suspect sweaters will be standout sellers for 4th quarter 2012 and will be back with a vengeance for 2013.

Shape is the biggest story with a flair for the dramatic. These scene-stealers are easy and oversized.  There are voluminous cardigans, off-the shoulder scoop necks, batwings, kimonos, crops and capes. Details include uneven hems, ties, wraps, outside seaming, sporty details and back interest. The silhouettes are full- fashioned or sewn into radically new shapes. Outside seaming is used to tailor and create interest.  Oversized shapes tend to have some close to the body element, like tight sleeves on a boxy wide crop. Dramatic necklines include oversized cowls, deep v’s, shawls, wide scoops and mega ruffles.

Color is either wearable sumptuous neutrals, especially greys and navy or mouth-watering bright and bold.

Gauges are either very chunky or drapey, soft fine gauge.

Fibers are soft and inviting, not itchy or harsh. Cashmere and merino wool dominate in fine gauge. For chunky machine knits there are complex blends of soft, lightweight wools, acrylics and slub yarns.

Techniques include machine and hefty hand knit Jacquards, fine gauge intarsias, pieced and patched materials and stitches, color blocking, cables, sporty details, embellished  jeweled collars and  bibs and ribs of all weights.

Here is a roundup of the looks:

Dix&Pond is the blog of www.dixandpond.com Creative and strategic consulting for retail and wholesale apparel, shoe and consumer product companies. Contact us for custom trend analysis, creative direction, strategic marketing, brand profiles, merchandising, etc.

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JCP Product Report Card

Ron Johnson was hired in November 2011 as the new CEO to turnaround JC Penney. It’s time for his annual performance review and the results are decidedly mixed.

No doubt, he set a lofty goal to transform a poky middle-income retailer into “America’s favorite store.” He changed the pricing structure from hundreds of yearly promotions to everyday low prices. As I have said before, with all Johnson’s deserved bravado (from his stints at Apple and Target), he can’t change human nature and the love of the deal. Consequently, his sales are in free-fall.

He has had success tidying up acres of monotonous space and carving it into more appealing brand-specific shops. Some areas are downright Nordstrom-like.

My focus of this review is the product-to-date. A retail brand experience has 3 core parts, price, presentation and product. The latter is clearly the hardest nut.

Middle and low-end retailers have to create or partner with vendors for exclusive merchandise to compete with focused specialty retail and better department stores. The wholesale market for branded apparel has disappeared, as retailers increasing filled square footage with their own private label product. Upper-end department stores carry a mixture of coveted wholesale brands and complement it with their own designs.

It is impossible for JCP to create compelling private product across an entire spectrum and cater to a divergent customer base. They are clearly trying to serve two low-income masters, the loyal aging customer and the young growing family. The store experience has big highs and lows, depending on who you are.

 Most specialty retailers focus on a category or a defined target consumer. For instance, Victoria’s Secret focuses on creating intimate apparel and beauty products with one taste level.  Even though Target is a department store, they have a contemporary vision for all their fashion products. They don’t cater to a range of tastes.  

Unless JCP is able to harness the best design talent in the world, they will never achieve product greatness across the board. It is very tough to build and manage a massive creative engine and serve many masters.

They will only succeed if the store experience can supersede “acceptable,” but not exciting product. JCP doesn’t have a soul. It doesn’t have brand authenticity, except Sephora. They are hitting on the big trends but, most of the products feel like lukewarm versions of someone else’s good idea. Average grade C+.

Here is a product report card:

JCP 4th Quarter Product Report Card

Dix&Pond is the blog of www.dixandpond.com Creative and strategic consulting for retail and wholesale apparel, shoe and consumer product companies.

  

  

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