She doesn’t have to have it….

For the past several years women’s apparel sales have been lackluster. Handbags and shoes have taken the spotlight and continued to outperform while apparel languishes. The excitement in shoe and bag design is palpable. Designers have continued to up-the-ante in footwear and bags, in bold colors, fresh materials and pushed the limits on new shapes. Confidence has spurred a creative explosion in these categories. This has added up to multiple seasons of big personality accessories winning hearts and wallets, in a down cycle of consumer sentiment.

Women’s apparel is another story. Here are several reasons for the depressed fashion phenomenon.

There is a lack of creative risk taking in apparel by wholesalers and retail merchants; call it retail sameness, fear of failure, wholesale and retail firms have a bad case of stage fright. They’re driving with eyes in the rear view mirror and trading down on quality. Many look to the past for the future and figure the safe road is the way to hunker down. Recessionary assortments of apparel are a counter intuitive bland diet for a customer with no appetite. Consumers have to be stopped in their tracks and wined and dined with fresh novelty and must-have styling.

There is a dearth of contemporary brands for the wealthiest segment of the market. Boomers+ have the money, but there is a lack of fashion forward casual brands suitable for the aging customer. This segment must choose between dowdy mature offerings or “do I look foolish” in this uber-short contemporary dress? Consequently, they turn to forward accessories to look current without looking like a sorry soul. This is an opportunity to reach a big underserved market.

Size matters. There is a lack of larger sizes for an “expanding” population of all ages. Women bigger than a size 12 or 14 can’t find much in most specialty or in mainstream areas of department stores. A huge part of the population is literally ignored. Larger women have to turn to the democratic accessory and beauty departments for a fashion update.

It is frustrating to shop for apparel in traditional store formats. Most women today are strapped for time, have short attention spans and an overwhelming sea of options. It is difficult to shop for an item, when most department and specialty stores are organized by collection.  If she needs a white top, she is forced to shop a whole store or department to find the item. A harried consumer will bypass department stores for the ease of shopping a simpler format with item depth, like J. Crew. Handbags, shoes, cosmetics, jeans and lingerie tend to outperform other areas. These departments are classifications, not collections and easier to shop. Part of the rapid growth of online shopping is that it simplifies the process. It quickly nets the offer to classifications.

The best accessories come from wholesale branded companies like Prada, Kate Spade, Tory Burch, Longchamp, Coach, Michael Kors, to name a few. Bags and shoes are two areas where there is little private label. Consumers are validated by brand authenticity and the inherent status of branded accessories. For the most part, private label apparel is subject to large committees of leadership, who all put their stamp on the offer. Subsequently, they can water down the soup.

Accessories are the easiest way to update last year’s wardrobe. Apparel like accessories, is an emotional buy. It is unfortunate that most traffic doesn’t covert to a sale, only a disappointed customer. Compelling merchandise is the key way to improve conversions. If wholesaler and retailers continue to offer vanilla assortments, the consumer will continue to spend her disposable income on the latest accessories and technology.

 The following pictures are “best-foot-forward” displays from some major retailers. Their brand identities are indistinguishable. Do you think “she’s gotta have” this merchandise?

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix&Pond consulting…strategic and creative product development and brand consulting.

The Feminine Five

Colored jeans are getting all the press, as the biggest trend you can get your mannied paws around this season. There is another huge trend quietly demanding the hearts and wallets of the fashion obsessed and ordinary mortals alike.

I call it The Feminine Five, five big trends in women’s (and girls) styling that can inspire romance novels and separate the girls from the boys. These ladylike details, fabrics and techniques are infinitely flattering and straddle the boundary of classic and fashion. They fit into most women’s lifestyles, contemporary and classic and work on all ages. Consequently, they are ringing registers around the world.

The trend looks especially modern when paired with casual pieces like jeans, shorts and washed jackets. These trends take on a dressier attitude when worn with refined pieces like tailored jackets, pleated and pencil skirts.

5 top fabric and styling trends!

5 top fabric and styling trends!

Lace fabric is everywhere from netting to heavy over-embroidered cottons. Lace fabrics are found on tops, skirts, shorts, dresses, shoes and bags.

Ruffle mania has continued to dominate on tops, skirts and dresses; from bold irregular ruffles at Crewcuts to tiny reflective ruffles on Lululemon sleeves.

Eyelet fabrics are having a renaissance on breezy tops, shorts, dresses and flouncy skirts. They lean folkloric or juvenile worn head-to-toe or in color.

Crochet details are showing up on shoes, bags and trims, as well as lacy crochet sweaters.

Pleats and peplum details are found on skirts, tops and casual and tailored jackets.

The Feminine Five are found in many of the hottest wholesale and retail brands – Free People, Zara, Club Monaco, Robert Rodriguez, Milly, Alice & Olivia, Joie, Rachel Zoe, Diane Von Furstenburg, Kate Spade, Ralph Lauren, Ted Baker, Christian Louboutin and many more.

I expect these highly salable styling trends to continue in seasons to come.

Dix& Pond is the blog of Dix& Pond Consulting.

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British Invader – Ted Baker

English fashion often has a quirky sensibility to it. It can range from dowdy, dipped-in-color royal style to avant-garde street wear. Proper classics touched with a whimsical twist are also a hallmark of British design. The fascinator hats, worn by UK women at festive, formal occasions are a perfect example.

A unique Ted Baker dress.

A unique Ted Baker dress.

There are many UK fashion and beauty brands invading American shores. Burberry is the international superstar, but gaining terra firma are Hunter (the famous Wellington boots, shoes and bags), All Saints Spitalfields (progressive street fashion), Thomas Pink (shirt maker for men and women), Barbour  (classic outerwear), Butter London  nail color (trend setting color), Illamasqua cosmetics (“makeup for your alter ego”), and many more. Some of these companies have decades of brand history and others are relative newbies.

One of my favorites is the irreverent, colorful, ladylike Ted Baker. The London-based Ted Baker , was started by the designer in 1987, as a men’s shirt company and now makes menswear, womenswear,  accessories, fragrance, skincare, footwear, eyewear and watches. They are especially known for their feminine colorful sportswear, accessories and whimsical handbags. The unique personality of the brand stands out in a vanilla retail landscape. I’m especially enamored with his patent leather bags, clutches and printed vinyl totes.

Ted Baker has their own international retail stores and is found at better retailers like Bloomingdale’s and Nordstrom. Preferring not to advertise, they have grown mostly by word of mouth. Now you are in on secret!

Dix&Pond is the blog of Dix & Pond consulting. Follow me on Pinterest

Ted Baker colorful and retro accessories.

Ted Baker colorful and retro accessories.

Miu Miu – A Journey Without Leaving Home

When shopping brick and mortar, I try to let myself be led by the call of great merchandise. I never shop recreationally, since I spend so much time in stores. I want to be transfixed and enticed by products so compelling, that I am stopped in my tracks. This is a rare and special occurrence. More often than not, when perusing shoe departments, I stop short at the sight of  Miu Miu shoes (the Prada sister brand). These over-the-top, scene-stealing pumps, stilettos, sandals and sneakers bring me to my wobbly knees. These sexy, shiny, jewel encrusted shoes are for the wanna-be bad girl, in all of us.  Miu Miu has the ability to take me on a fantastic journey without leaving home!

These stilettos from Miu Miu hit a glam slam.

These pumps and sandals from Miu Miu hit a glam slam!

Miu Miu is designer Miuccia Prada’s nick name, pronounced Miou, Miou. She started this avant-garde line of apparel, shoes and accessories in the early nineties, as a slightly less expensive line to Prada.  A serious growth story, Prada CEO Patrizio Bertelli, expects the Miu Miu  brand to double from around $500 million. You get rewarded for exceptional work!

You have to have a certain jet set lifestyle to don these duds. The average mortal, even if they can afford the pricey shoes, doesn’t live the life. I suspect they are selling millions of dollars worth of hope and worn on rare occasions, unless you are a middle eastern princess , Russian oil oligarchess or American reality star!

dix & pond is the blog of dix& pond consulting.

Timelessly Chic – Newport News

2012 is undoubtedly one of the most colorful years in women’s fashion. Neon color and uber brights will stop you in your “espadrille trodden” tracks. These enchanting hues can transport a working girl from cubicle to samba, in a flash of Tangerine Tango!

Amongst the colorful chaos stands a timeless, American, nautical inspired trend. I call it Newport News, elegant, simple, a tad preppy and screaming good taste. It perennially rears its lovely head in transitional seasons, like early spring and summer. Think dry cottons…canvas and twill, breezy voiles, openwork sweaters, rope soles and handles and leather luggage details. Simple two-toned stripes and nautical motifs are the primary graphics.

Newport News - American Nautical Trend for 2012

This is more of an important accessory story, than full-blown “down-on-the-docks” dressing. It can just be one refined item like J Crew’s sequined anchor top or as simple as a striped boat neck from Rugby. Make it modern by pairing refined pieces with more casual ones. Like sequins with denim or a sateen striped clutch with a rustic knit sweater. Bottoms include denim shorts, slim and flared jeans, as well as pleated long or short skirts.

In shoes, think fabric…espadrilles, ropey wedges, ballet flats, as well as boat shoes. For bags there are roomy fabric totes, wicker clutches, back packs and sturdy leather bags. Longchamp’s white Le Pliage totes are also perfect “nautical chic”.

Officer’s navy and sail white are the primary tones, but can be accessorized with brazen accents of banana, poppy, emerald or orange.

The best “Newport News “accessories and clothing can be found from the beloved, usual prepster suspects…Rugby, J Crew, Madewell, Kate Spade, Milly, Tory Burch, Sperry, Coach, Longchamp, and Ralph Lauren.

Newport News is a natural trend for home decor. The contrast of polished with casual textures, is perfect for an urban loft or coastal cottage.

Dix&pond is the blog of Dix& Pond Consulting.

 

In Step – Colorful Shoes

For several years, shoe and handbag sales have been far more robust than women’s apparel. In an economic downturn, women turn to accessories for a wardrobe update. A strong new silhouette, pattern, status brand or colorful accessory can refresh existing apparel basics. It is not surprising that women have also turned to exciting and unusual colors and finishes in nail polish recently. Nail color is one of the fastest growing areas in beauty, as it gives a woman an inexpensive way to make a daring fashion statement. Beauty companies like the shoe and accessory manufacturers have continued to “up-the-ante” and offer color where no woman (or many manufacturers) dared to go in the past. They have created some of the most showstopping footwear lately and are getting paid for their risk taking. I expect this emotionally driven shoe trend to continue in seasons to come.

Colorful shoes are a huge footwear trend for 2012.

Shoes and bags have taken center stage over apparel sales in the past few years. Very colorful statement shoes and bags are a dominant accessory trend for 2012.

Who needs another basic black pant; but who can resist a pair of hot pink “life changing” sandals?

The hottest trend in shoes (and handbags) this year is strong, unabashed color and pattern. Bright, neon, pastel colors and prints are on sandals, wedges, espadrilles, pumps, platforms, two-tone oxfords, flats and athletic shoes. Personally, I couldn’t pass up orange patent wedges from J. Crew and was mesmerized by a yellow patent Ted Baker bag. Banana yellow? I have never owned a yellow accessory in my life.

Some of the best colorful shoes this season are from unexpected sources…Stuart Weitzman, Cole Haan and Nike. Great color and patterns can be found from J Crew, Tom’s, Sperry Topsider, Kate Spade, Fendi, Giuseppe Zanotti, Brian Atwood, Prada and many more.

Did you buy a colorful shoe this season?

Dix&pond is the blog of Dix& Pond Consulting.

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

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.

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