Fashion forward

Women's retailers are using a wide range of strategies to get their clothes on people's backs.

Women's retailers are using a wide range of strategies to get their clothes on people's backs.

The women's fashion industry is an increasingly competitive market where heritage brands compete with snappy up-starts, and designers with a foothold in one demographic seek to appeal to new audiences.

It is also an industry in constant motion, where brands at the top of the pile can suddenly find themselves at the bottom of the heap.

And even though Hollywood arguably bears more influence on fashion marketing than ever before, PR professionals also attest that media opportunities have expanded beyond traditional women's magazines and into more mainstream lifestyle outlets.

Here PRWeek profiles four designers covering a range of price points and demographics. Yet despite different challenges, their outreach strategies share surprising similarities.


Wrangler47

For years, Wrangler was a rugged denim line for people who wanted a comfortable fit at a good value. Yet the company - which prides itself on its all-American attitude - has also moved into premium denim.

Outreach for the two-year-old Wrangler47 line is about merging the brand's Western heritage with hipper, trendier cuts, high-end fabrics, and a rock-and-roll sensibility.

"With the women's jeans market, there has been an increasing focus on premium denim," says Victoria Kearns, marcomms manager for Wrangler outdoor and contemporary brands, in an e-mail. "Price has become less and less a point of consideration for women on a quest for that perfect fit."

Christina Worthington, group account director at French West Vaughan, notes that consumers of premium brands aren't looking for the trend of the month, but are swayed by word of mouth.

"It's been a very strategic, deliberate leak," she says about the media relations strategy. "It was never a super-bold thing because that consumer doesn't want that."

Instead, FWV relied on its designer's involvement with the underground rock scene to get the word out. It also used editorial product seeding, press mailings, and events.

Kearns notes that the challenges of building the Wrangler47 brand include competing in a crowded market and having the staying power to endure the whims of its consumers.


Speedo

With the launch of its Axcelerate Activewear collection last spring, Speedo is attempting to move beyond bathing suits and has added pieces such as tank tops, T-shirts, shorts, jackets, and sweaters to its collection. "The challenge now is getting Speedo out of the pool," says Carrie Grandits, group account director at French West Vaughan, who has worked with Speedo for more than five years. "People are saying, 'It's not just Speedo bikini anymore.'"

Although women are choosing pieces from its new apparel range because of the items' functionality, Speedo acknowledges that style and star power can often make the difference in whether someone buys its line.

"There's a certain amount of trendiness involved; it really is fashion married with function," says Craig Brommers, Speedo's VP of marketing. "Women don't want to go to the gym in frumpy clothes anymore."

The most dramatic change in women's activewear, Brommers notes, is that athletes have become sex symbols, and traditional sex symbols are more athletic than in the past.

"Previously, sexiness would have been [waifish model] Kate Moss," he says. "Athletes have really become the new rock stars."

He adds that a placement in Lucky or Vogue is often more important to Speedo than the sports pages.

Speedo is working with seven-time Olympic medallist Amanda Beard to promote the line - while Beard is a swimmer, her overall healthy lifestyle has been a focus of many feature articles on her. Beard represents the new breed of athlete, who is just as likely to pose for a fashion or celebrity magazine as Sports Illustrated, Grandits says.

"I think our athletes have really evolved - they're into music; they're into pop culture," she says. "They're exposing themselves and not just their athletic sides."


Kenneth Cole

Women in Kenneth Cole's target demographic - trendsetters in their 20s and 30s who want fashionable clothing at affordable prices - are highly coveted by myriad designers, and celebrity endorsements are key.

But the brand also gets A-list support for its social message. The philanthropic efforts of Cole himself, who is the chairman of the board at amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, have been woven throughout the brand's outreach. In December, Cole created a PSA with celebrity AIDS activists featuring the tagline "We All Have AIDS."

The company unveiled the campaign with a press conference in New York's Bryant Park, which featured an installation of the activists' cement footprints. Stores sold out of T-shirts from the campaign, "which we were really shocked about," says Meredith Paley, VP of corporate communications, who also notes that the response demonstrates the campaign's part in reducing the stigma of the disease.

"The charitable angle is a big part of our corporate culture," says Paley. Cole, she adds, shot his first AIDS PSA with Annie Leibowitz 20 years ago, before the disease had the celebrity support it has today.

Susan Ashbrook, EVP of Rogers & Cowan's film fashion division, can attest to the importance of celebrity endorsements to young consumers.

She recalls that her idea of representing designers in Hollywood was met with some skepticism 13 years ago. But these days, LA is often at the center of the publicity effort for brands that include Armani and Escada, she notes.

The recent launch of a Kenneth Cole store at LA's Beverly Center drew a number of stars, including Collective Soul performing an acoustic set.

"You're putting together celebrities with VIP clientele," Ashbrook says.


Monique Lhuillier

When Monique Lhuillier expanded her highly acclaimed bridal line to include ready-to-wear evening dresses and daywear, the company focused on Hollywood's A-listers.

"It's a sophisticated customer from late 20s to 60-ish," says Tom Bugbee, Lhuillier's husband and cofounder of the label. "She's cosmopolitan; she's successful. She's very accomplished and stylish."

He says the brand is not trying to be edgy or avant garde. Instead, the company recognizes that its audience is more concerned with quality, craftsmanship, and detail than in finding the latest must-have items.

Outreach, therefore, has involved targeting celebrities who embody that aesthetic, such as Reese Witherspoon, and getting them to wear the collection. "It's a good way of presenting our products to a large audience," Bugbee says.

Paul Wilmot, founder of Paul Wilmot Communications, describes the outreach effort as a "double-pronged approach" of showcasing the line during red carpet events, as well as through the fashion media.

"People are still becoming aware of who Monique Lhuillier is," Wilmot says. "It's a war of attrition - it's one by one."

He adds that Lhuillier and Bugbee embody the lifestyle of the women who wear the line.
"[They] are very much part of the young, fashionable set in LA; she's almost a walking billboard for her clothes," Wilmot says. "It's a personality game here, too."

 

 

Wrangler47
Target audience: women ages 21-45
Price point: jeans range from $130-$175

Speedo
Target audience: women ages 25-34
Price point: Tops range from $30-$90; bottoms range from $35-$60

Monique Lhuillier
Target audience: women in their late 20s to early 60s
Price point: evening dresses average between $2,000-$7,000; daywear retails in the range of $250-$750

Kenneth Cole
Target audience: women in their 20s and 30s
Price point: Tops range from $40-$250; bottoms range from $120-$150

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