MAGIC Preview: Fashion Forward

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Fashion executives successfully maneuvering their way through this economy are finding success with trend-right styles and hot licensing properties.

Those heading to the upcoming MAGIC are breathing a sigh of relief now that CIT has secured a $3 billion bailout from its bondholders and gained some breathing room to restructure its debt. Plus fashion executives are feeling positive thanks to cleaner-than-ever inventories and a promise the economy could start to thaw.

No matter which, retailers and suppliers coming to the show have a little less pressure on their shoulders. "They've planned their business more carefully," explains Roseanne Morrison, fashion director for The Doneger Group.

Attendees will also have a bit more guidance than in the past to ferret out trends. Forecasting group Fashion Snoops is partnering with MAGIC on the presentation of trend galleries and educational seminars to help in buying decisions.

"For spring trends, we are creating the top 10 guide for each market to support buyers in their decisions for spring 2010," says Lilly Berelovich, president and chief creative officer of Fashion Snoops. "In a time of financial strain, everyone needs clear answers. We felt that calling out the top 10 would support them in the choices they need to make."

In terms of the latest looks, Berelovich sees the ladies' trends including modern geometry and architectural details and, at the opposite spectrum, soft colors and flowy sheer fabrications for the junior ladies market. Ripping and distressing everything is key from denim to tees to accessories, along with studding and biker looks, says Berelovich. For the young men's market, beatnick and vintage looks are popular, along with reference to the Industrial Revolution days with authentic shapes such as worker shirts.

Overall trends put the focus on a prairie look with fringes and denims; another offers a more modern story punctuated with black-and-white graphic looks.

Home on the Prairie

A key element in the prairie concept is denim. Despite downturns in many segments of apparel, jeans are solid. The NPD Group revealed dollar volume sales for total jeans rose 2.3 percent for the three months ending February 2009. Total apparel sales dropped 6.3 percent during that period. What's notable is that premium jeans grew 17 percent in 2008 and continues to expand. "With the newfound focus on fit by some of the commodity brands coupled with women's never-ending quest for the perfect pair of jeans, the passion for denim is alive and well," says Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for NPD. Denim pairs well with several fashion statements such as fringe, plaids, washed chambray and liberty prints.

Gaga Over Graphics

Offering another option, apparel marketers are showing a more modern story with knits and graphics—frequently in black and white. The designs are very clean, often in grid patterns. The silhouette features a very lean leg. Leggings will return for a third season as the perfect complement for large sweatshirt dress-style tops falling under the modern look. Hot looks will be technical knits, especially knit tops, which are said to be the "new sweatshirt."

Tights have seen an uptick as consumers view them as a way to update an older outfit. Dollar sales of tights, according to NPD, rose 11 percent for the three months ending February 2009. "Here is an example of where the current economy has actually helped drive growth," offers Cohen. "For a long time, the hosiery industry has been struggling to get consumers connected to the category and think of it as an important accessory to their wardrobes. And now, consumers realize that legwear in an inexpensive wardrobe makeover or enhancement, which has helped the sales of tights flourish."

Some of the looks for spring are continuations of ongoing trends. The long-lasting popularity of florals continues to blossom in spring, but with paler colors than the past two seasons of bright hues. Retailers said they are seeing more palm trees and romantic floral prints for both men and women.

And despite the notion that many people are out interviewing to find jobs, both apparel manufacturers and merchants said casual still rules. "Suits are just not happening," notes Morrison. But even within casual looks, she said, the focus is on clean and neat such as a crisp white shirt teamed up with shorts for men.

A notable trend expected to continue, however, is a move to casual dresses. Dress sales for the three-month period ended February 2009 jumped 11 percent. Many women are opting for a cute dress even for casual activities versus shorts or even capris.

In accessories, Abe Chehebar, chief executive officer of Accessory Network, predicts the fall will be about heavy metal studs with lady-like quilting and delicate textures. He also sees reptile skins, leopard skins and items with ruffles—again two very different takes on fashion. His color picks are reds and neon shades with hot items expected to include the knit infinity scarf, a hood scarf with pockets, and the texting glove in which the cover of the index and thumb can be rolled back.

Wayne Lederman, president of New York-based Leg Resource, which holds licenses for Betsey Johnson, Anne Klein and Nicole Miller, says his business has been expanding with private brands for specialty stores. "The overwhelming trend in legwear for fall '09 is texture," says Lederman. "Fabrications have branched into bamboo, modal, cashmere and cotton, alongside the staple nylon/spandex styles." In particular, textured tights continue to dominate, with textured knee-highs and over-the-knee styles also strong to complement the growing popularity of boots.

The economy has many consumers, especially young men, downshifting their spending and opting for classics that won't go out of fashion and inspired by the 1950s to 1970s, according to Burt P. Flickinger, managing director of New York-based Strategic Resource Group. "Think James Dean, Marlon Brando and Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke," suggests Flickinger.

Josh Lee, a merchandiser for Bill Hallman of Atlanta, reflects that shift. "For me personally, the economy has had an effect on what I wear. I used to be about finding unique fashion-forward pieces. I am definitely much simpler and more classic than compared to last year. I think more practically about what I wear every day."

Licenses Perk Up In Sluggish Economy

When times are tight, apparel manufacturers, marketers and retailers take the avenue of featuring licensed apparel for a simple reason—there is a built-in audience. Manufacturers don't need to spend to establish a name for a brand, retailers can put the merchandise out and consumers have an instant recognition. NPD's Cohen says for retailers, licensed merchandise offers a product with built-in brand equity. "If I have a positive relationship with a brand in its core product that should resonate outward into its licensed product," says Cohen.

"Retailers like to carry licensed brands because of the lifestyle association the brand would offer. And because of that awareness you can sell it for a little more." Introducing a licensed line is a way for a retailer to have "instant traction" with shoppers, adds Cohen. "They can launch a line quicker and easier through a name brand than as a private label designer business."

Flickinger notes that there has been a proliferation of licensed apparel, with many pockets of success such as Japan's Uniqlo stores which carry licensed artists' designs to G-Unit from the rapper 50 Cent to Calvin Klein.

Target, Sears, Macy's, Walmart, Nordstrom and Kohl's are all among the retailers boosting their emphasis on apparel licenses. Macy's emphasis on its celebrities in clever commercials has helped burnish the image of the troubled retailer. There will be more support from Apple Bottoms via Nelly's appearances to promote a new men's fragrance and a new album. Walmart made a big splash last year with its Hannah Montana statement that was so successful that the behemoth went right to actress Miley Cyrus this year for a line in collaboration with BCBG Max Azria Group. This shows how important both the real actress and the alter ego, Hannah Montana, are in licensed apparel. The trend-right collection will bow in all Walmart stores and on walmart.com for fall at price points under $20.

The Miley Cyrus line is the second major teen country star Walmart has linked with recently following its debut of a line of cami dresses by Taylor Swift under the label L.E.I. by Taylor Swift. Other programs at Walmart include America's Next Top Model, No Boundaries and Op.

Many companies are ramping up their licensed offer. Hasbro, for example, is unleashing its largest apparel program in the 90-year history of the company with licenses on more than 20 of its notable brands including Monopoly, Tonka and My Little Pony. But its most robust programs are tie-ins with Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, followed by G.I. Joe: The Rise of the Cobra. Across the brands, apparel items will range from T-shirts, outerwear, sleepwear, footwear, babywear, underwear and loungewear at retail prices from under $10 to $80. Mary Lassell, Hasbro's director of entertainment and licensing, says styles are being created by several vendors to appeal to a range of consumers and retailers. "We want to have our properties represented anywhere we can," says Lassell. "We are working with both our in-house creative team and licensed partners to make sure that each retailer has the opportunity to interpret our icons in a way that would connect with their customer."

Even trendy fashion boutique Kitson in Los Angeles will be sporting Transformers T-shirts, which will likely draw on vintage Transformers' art from the 1980s, while at Old Navy or other mass market outlets, Transformers tees will be "much more literal" with images drawn directly from the new movie. "That is exactly what kids want," says Lassell. In fashion, she notes, "It is a very different place."

Looking ahead, Hasbro plans to forge license deals through its new TV network created in a joint venture with Discovery Communications. Set to debut in late 2010, it will feature children's and family programming. And its Stretch Armstrong property is being made into movie, with a current release date of April 15, 2011, another franchise the company hopes to expand through licenses.

Old Navy is also featuring a collection of products from Marvel Entertainment. Hymie Shamah, president of C-Life Group of New York, the holder of 50 licenses, including the contract with Marvel Entertainment for the line for Old Navy, says the collection is being energized for late 2009 with special anniversary designs.

"Thankfully, our business has grown significantly this year. The tee business overall is good. Anywhere from Bloomingdale's to the big boxes, T-shirts represent the entry-level price tag into a trend," observes Shamah. "It's not quantum physics. Nothing to wear? Buy a new tee, look cool, feel good." In particular, Shamah has seen growth with specialty mall retailers, including Journeys and Buckle.

Tees are an important component of the Shaun White collection and Target has announced it is continuing its Shaun White 4 Target collaboration. "The Shaun White 4 Target collections bring a new element of progressive style to Target. The line is a great addition to our product offering that we're happy to deliver to our guest year-round at very reasonable prices," says Trish Adams, senior vice president for Target. The collection includes inexpensive, yet fashionable items priced at $7.99 for a boy's graphic tee to $34.99 for young men's jackets. Shaun White first debuted in fall 2008 with a limited-edition collection for boys and young men. After a successful premier, Target and White expanded the partnership to year–round availability. White has been riding for Target for more than seven years.

Kohl's is expanding its Avril Lavigne line called Abbey Dawn for juniors by extending the line to smaller sizes. The line includes layered tees, leggings with cartoon skull graphics and a zebra hoodie with ears. And, although High School Musical may have sung its last note, retailers say Ecko Red sales have been buoyed by the celebrity power of Vanessa Hudgins who appears in advertising.

Disney, always a leader in licensed apparel, says it will have a "refreshed" presence at MAGIC as the firm works in collaboration with several of its licensees. "From Disney Couture to BLOC28 by Disney, many of our fashion-forward, junior to adult fashion lines will be shown," says a spokesman.

A virtual fashion show has launched on the official Disney Consumer Products channel on YouTube, revealing the company's fall tween apparel lines based on series "Jonas" and "Wizards of Waverly Place."

The Jonas-inspired line features a "preppy collegiate" look and includes skinny pants, button-down shirts, tailored vests, walking shorts, polo tops, beaded-wrap bracelets and faux ties, while the Wizards of Waverly Place collection features "boho chic" stylings on tunic-length printed tops, peasant blouses, distressed miniskirts, fitted skimmers, skinny denim, necklaces and bracelets.

Both lines have begun to roll out this month at retailers, including JCPenney, Kmart, Sears, Walmart, Target and DisneyStore.com. The two tween fashion collections can be viewed at www.youtube.com/disneyliving.

Some other notable happenings in apparel and licensing is the 10th anniversary of SpongeBob SquarePants, which Walmart is getting behind in a big way. Next year, it will be Dora's turn to hit her first decade. Sears, in an attempt to curry the taste of a young and hip crowd, is reported to be testing an edgy license called Pink Cookie. Also on the horizon, buyers expect big things from Twilight and the Princess and the Frog. Walmart, for example, is planning Twilight tees.

Apparel is even expanding from other licensed categories. Celebrity makeup artist Mally Roncal, the founder and creator of the Mally Beauty cosmetics line sold on QVC and elsewhere, is gearing up to expand her brand into a lifestyle collection, including apparel. "We have been getting a lot of emails from our customers who want more stuff," says Roncal who is also in negotiations for a TV show. "We are looking at T-shirts and clothes and fun stuff like that."

Fashion News

Winx Rules Runway

Winx Club, the TV series from Italian producer Rainbow S.p.A., has positioned itself firmly in the fashion arena since the program first aired, with constantly refreshed fashion lines that appeal to European teenagers. Each TV series (it's now in its fourth season) launches a new fashion range inspired by the characters in the show. Collections have covered every mood, from denim to music, elegant to sporty, all evoking a cool girls' world and made glamorous by embellishments such as glitter, stones and ruches.

The apparel is segmented into two categories, Winx Club Fashion brand and Winx Club Fairy brand. Each year, all four seasons' collections are carefully put together using themes relevant to the lifestyle and personalities of the Winx Club characters. The 2009 autumn/winter collection, for example, features a rock band theme inspired by Musa, the music fairy, and a city girl theme, which is a true reflection of Stella, the most fashionable fairy.

The most important market for Winx Club fashion is Italy, where it is recognized as a fashion brand and where the company's internal fashion design expertise has translated most effectively into both fashion doll outfits and the fashion collections. Winx Club fashion is frequently selected as "editor's choice" in magazines like Vogue Bambini, Vanity Fair and Collezioni and it is now one of the best-selling girls' fashion brands in Italy for the 7 to 11 age group. Other key European markets are France, Greece, Benelux and Turkey. Winx Club is now aired in 100 countries worldwide with more than 600 active licensees.

New at MAGIC

Los Angeles-based design studio Mighty Fine is headed to MAGIC with new product assortments from their juniors', men's and toddler labels and exclusive collaborations.

  • Mighty Fine has a new partnership with the Condé Nast Archive for Mademoiselle vintage covers. Avant-garde artwork featuring cover illustrations from the 1910s to the 1930s will hit boutiques and specialty stores in early fall 2009 under Mighty Fine's premier label Trash & Luxury. In another new partnership with Mighty Fine, fashionista rabbit Fifi Lapin will appear on an assortment of knit tops, tees and fleece in fall 2009 marking the first apparel collaboration in the U.S. This season, Trash & Luxury will also have a collaboration with Julie Newmar, star of the original "Catwoman" series for a trio of tees.
  • Hello Kitty is incorporating a modern-day bohemian look with Public Library's new image "Native Kitty" on boyfriend tees. Other highlights include the brand's continuation with non-profit The Samburu Project and the "Samburu Tribal" tee.
  • Mighty Fine is partnering with Disney, Mattel, Sanrio and Sesame Street on an assortment of tees that are retro inspired and moderately priced. Mighty Fine will debut anime character, Pucca in their boutique collection.
  • Following the launch of Marvel product for juniors, the design studio will now bring the same artwork to the Mighty Fine men's label. The line will feature vintage artwork from Marvel's archive, as well as exclusive interpretations by the Mighty Fine creative team. The collection will include mens' tees, knit tops and fleece for specialty retail and mid-tier.

Sanrio has expanded its Hello Kitty-branded apparel deal with Age Group into swimwear. The licensee already holds the rights to junior sleepwear, underwear and lingerie.

The agreement will see Hello Kitty-inspired swimwear and cover-ups in junior and contemporary styles. The line, for girls' sizes 4 to 14, will offer one-piece halters, ruffled bandeau two-pieces, tankinis, bikinis with board shorts and skirted bottoms, as well as cover-ups, including dresses, tanks, shorts and hoodies.

The girls' swimwear collection, retailing from $24 to $78, will be available November/December 2010 at department and specialty stores.

Paramount Licensing plans to showcase several of its movie-based fashion T-shirts in August at MAGIC. The tee collection will feature: Top Gun by Changes for men and juniors; Up in Smoke by Fifth Sun for men; Footloose by Fifth Sun for juniors; Flashdance by Fifth Sun for juniors; Top Gun by Famous Forever for boys.

American Greetings' Properties will feature Strawberry Shortcake, Care Bears, Madballs, Holly Hobbie Classic, Maryoku Yummy and the new urban vinyl, lifestyle property TinPo.

Hitting shelves this fall, Strawberry Shortcake apparel will feature T-shirts, daywear and activewear by master apparel licensee Children's Apparel Network. There is also a classic Strawberry Shortcake program targeted to tweens, teens and young adults for specialty and mid-tier channels, including apparel from Fortune Fashions (T-shirts), ES Originals (classic backpacks/bags), FifthSun (classic T-shirts, specialty and mid-tier) and Age Group (juniors, classic loungewear, sleepwear and daywear). For the first time, AGP will feature a classic Strawberry Shortcake infant/toddler program for the mass market with SaraMax (infant sleepwear).

AGP is gearing up for a major relaunch of Care Bears. Hasbro is the master toy partner and plans to launch a line under their Playskool brand globally in fall 2010. Lionsgate Home Entertainment will release episodic titles throughout 2009 and a new CG movie "Share Bear Shines" in fall 2010. Marketing plans will introduce Care Bears to a new generation of fans.

AGP is looking to grow its kids, infant/toddler and juniors Care Bears apparel. It currently works with partners such as Junk Food and Wish Licensing that focus on vintage-style that appeals to teens and young adults in specialty and mid-tier channels.

AGP continues to build the Madballs brand and is looking to expand its presence into other soft goods product categories including headwear, footwear, streetwear, accessories and more in boys and men's retro. Current apparel partners include Fortune Fashions for T-shirts at mass and mid-tier retailers and Mighty Fine in the specialty channel.

In spring 2009, American Greetings partnered with Tween Brands' Justice stores to launch a Maryoku Yummy consumer products program with a wide array of merchandise, including collectible mini and large plush, character journals, lip gloss, nail polish, buttons and lollipops. AGP is looking to expand the program in key categories, including apparel and bags for tween girls.

Dickies continues to find ways to maintain its workwear heritage and broaden its lifestyle appeal. The brand, known for making durable, quality work gear like its historic 874 work pant, uses a variety of strategic licensing partnerships to broaden its customer reach. Licensees of Williamson-Dickie help to take the brand into a variety of workwear-related product offerings, including bags, footwear, medical wear, belts, socks and on-trend apparel in the junior girls and young men's tops, to name a few. The spring 2010 season of product, available at Dickies' MAGIC booth, represents the most collaboration to date between Dickies and its licensing partners in creating a new season of merchandise. Styles, details and colors fit together to create an integrated brand story.

Jem Sportswear and Awake have signed some major apparel deals tied into hot film properties.

Awake is working with Summit Entertainment to create a fashion program for the Twilight movie franchise. The deal encompasses an exclusive women's apparel line for Nordstrom BP marking the release of New Moon and an exclusive window launch at Kitson on Oct. 15. The New Moon collection will offer a selection of high-end tees, tanks, tunics, leggings, dresses, jackets and hoodies, subtly branded with icons representing themes from the New Moon movie. The collection, to be called "Twilight's New Moon exclusively for BP at Nordstrom by Awake," will be in stores nationwide Oct. 15.

Other projects include a master apparel deal with Twentieth Century Fox's Avatar. Jem is also partnering with Time Inc. to create a apparel based on iconic Time magazine covers.

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