May 27, 2009

News flash: Forever 21, copy on!

While the NYPD continues to do its part to support local designers by raiding Chinatown counterfeiters, higher-profile copycats keep sailing along: A mistrial was declared today in the potentially landmark Forever 21-Trovata trial after jurors claimed irreconcilable differences, reports WWD. The trial, which avoided earlier unsuccessful copyright arguments by claiming Forever 21 had copied "trade dress" -- signature nonfunctional details that mark a garment as part of Trovata's brand. The similarities are patently obvious, even to the untrained eye (photo: Forever 21's garments top, Trovata's below), but since design elements cannot be copyrighted, the legal arguments can become truly arcane. Evenly spaced 4-hole buttons, really? Regardless, the hoped-for ruling to clarify intellectual property law regarding fashion designs has still failed to materialize.

Photo via NY Mag

May 22, 2009

News flash: Fashion, out on the town and around the world

Knitting lessons at Barneys? Rock shows at 3.1 Phillip Lim? Believe it – Fashion's Night Out, a special event from no lesser luminaries than New York mayor Michael Bloomberg and freshly-minted TV personality Anna Wintour, is arriving Sept. 10 in New York as well as as-yet-unnamed cities in Britain, France, Italy, Spain, Greece, Japan, China, Taiwan, Russia, Brazil and India. 

Without any real details posted, it's hard to tell whether the magnitude of this year's event is a mark of retail desperation, a sign of feisty can-do attitude, or some combination of the two. But in a nod to society's altruistic mood, the designers and retailers involved are not only saving themselves, but nobly collecting clothing in a drive that has yet to be explained on the event's website.

May 20, 2009

News flash: Small is bigger than ever

Pop! Among luxury fashion retailers, Comme des Garçons was a trailblazer in opening pop-up shops, starting with a guerrilla store in Berlin – opened in 2004 under the conditions that the rent had to be under $1,000 a month, and the decor had to come in under $2,000 in all. The unassuming little storefront was such a success that it became a permanent fixture (above) in Berlin, and has since spawned 30 more CdG pop-ups. Now, with the economy making swanky flagships taboo, Europe's more traditional fashion houses are opening temporary stores around the world: Hermès in the Hamptons, Chanel in Moscow, and Louis Vuitton in Tokyo.

And the trend isn't limited to the high end: Big-box retailers from OfficeMax to Radio Shack and even Wal-Mart are opening up mini-concept stores that concentrate on one specific area, hoping to catch customers who don't have time to stroll the longer aisles and even longer check-out lines of their larger stores. Banana Republic is getting in on the action, too, with a dedicated accessories store that opened Friday in San Francisco. Designed with "an urban town house-art gallery motif," the boutique is luxe, though its prices are not: 80% of the merchandise is priced under $100.

May 13, 2009

J. Crew (New York)

While Abercrombie flounders, another brand with a similarly preppy heritage is working wonders. Under the leadership of spurned Gap CEO Mickey Drexler, J. Crew has completely shed its '90s-era identity as a catalog company hawking affordable, bland button-downs and khakis, to become a retail power player, a staple of Michelle Obama's high-low wardrobe with its colorful, up-to-date, fresh yet ladylike women's styles and complementary accessories; as well as a go-to designer for simple, well-priced wedding gowns and bridesmaids' dresses. Their little-sister brand, Madewell, is beloved by youngsters and fashion writers alike for its slim yet rugged, classic yet on-trend, Americana-inspired selection of rumpled jeans, stompy boots, and soft cotton shirtdresses. 

And now, the J. Crew juggernaut is expanding its hold on Soho, with its third-ever freestanding men's store opening next door to the much-hailed Topshop colossus. With its separate suiting department, antique furnishings, and restored original storefront, the new shop could be the middle-class man's answer to Tom Ford's uptown palace.

Now for a dose of reality: In spite of the critical raves, same-store sales were down 13% in the fourth quarter of 2008, leaving the company with a net loss of $13.5 million for that quarter. But Drexler and other execs took no bonus for the year, and say they're looking to make long-term investments in the company's future with developments like the men's store, a separate children's catalog, and a new in-store concierge service.

May 12, 2009

News flash: Abercrombie losing sales, minds

Quiz: Your dominance of the teenage mall crowd has been crushed by a recession that's sending kids over to your similar, but lower-priced, rivals, while your higher-end line was sagging even during the boom years. Do you: A) hold giant sales? B) start closing stores? C) concentrate on reviving your main line? or D) open a giant flagship on 5th Ave. for your children's line? 

Well, if you're Abercrombie and Fitch, the once-invincible preppy-wear chain that built its brand on Bruce Weber's homoerotic images of underdressed male models and its ever-present wood-clad, dimly lit, heavily perfumed stores, you choose option D. After watching same-store sales decline 30% in February, 34% in March, and 22% in April, A&F has been quietly discounting merch at its A&F and slightly cheaper Hollister stores, but refuses to advertise the fact. Instead, it would seem they're counting on a new children's store in the failed Hickey Freeman location on Fifth Ave to revitalize the brand. Good luck, guys – you're going to need it. 

Meanwhile, in case there was any doubt as to where Abercrombie's former customers are now heading – lower-priced teen brand Aeropostale's sales are up 20%.

May 6, 2009

News flash: The gold standard is back!

Okay, we all know times are tough, and lots of shoppers simply don't have the cash on hand to spend the way they used to. The solution? Give it to them. Forget coupons – sportswear mini-chain Olive and Bette's is now accepting gold as payment, reports the NY Times, with licensed gold buyers on site at each of its four Manhattan locations to weigh unwanted jewelry and offer money for it on the spot. Similarly, organic denim brand Loomstate is teaming with jewelry designer Jill Platner for an event tonight at which guests can turn in their gold in exchange for store credit  – valid at Jill Platner, naturally. 

Photo via NY Times

May 5, 2009

News flash: How to make money in fashion retail?

Answer: By getting out of fashion retail! At least that's the shocking new plan at Henri Bendel, the innovative New York department store founded in 1895. The retailer is ditching its entire apparel section, which was known for helping young designers get their start, most recently through their open calls for unknown talent, and carried styles from such rising stars as Matthew Williamson and Jason Wu.

As it turns out, although fashion dominated Bendel's image as well as its floor space, clothing accounted for only 25% of sales. Instead, the new Bendel's will be pared down to its more lucrative beauty, accessories, and gifts departments, and smaller stores carrying only the house brand will open in  shopping malls around the US.

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