Saturday, May 20, 2006

Converse is convert to designer clothing

By Donna Goodison
Boston Herald

BOSTON - Converse Inc., which built its world-renown brand with high-top basketball shoes, is getting into the designer clothing business.

The North Andover, Mass. sneaker maker and designer John Varvatos will launch sportswear collections this fall in upscale stores including Saks, Bloomingdales and Barneys.

Targeted to 25- to 35-year-olds, the Converse by John Varvatos lines blend street, athletic and rock ’n’ roll influences with punk and military stylings.

Men’s pieces include striped and plaid blazers, merino wool hoodies, and military coats with “C. Taylor” bullion patches. Chuck Taylor is the former hoops player and Converse promoter for whom its iconic best-selling sneaker is named. The women’s line includes distressed leather biker vests, skinny-leg jeans and cotton T-shirts with slogans such as “Chuck Buddy” and “Chuck Is God.”

Prices will range from $55 to $125 for T-shirts and from $295 to $795 for outerwear and jackets.

It’s the first ready-to-wear collection from Converse, which also has plans for Converse by Varvatos stores and an accessories line.

Its move into designer clothing is part of a trend among athletic footwear companies. But Wendy Liebmann, president of New York consulting firm WSL Strategic Retail, says high-end clothing may be more of a stretch for Converse than for parent company, Nike Inc., or Adidas, whose sneakers tend to be more expensive.

“Converse is a highly regarded brand, and one of the things that makes it compelling is it still has affordable prices,” Liebmann said. “When you start doing $55 T-shirts and $395 sweaters, does that take their core Converse customers out of the market?”

Converse likely is targeting the same customers who buy its Varvatos-designed sneakers. For the last three years, Varvatos’ has created reinterpreted versions of Converse’s Chuck Taylor All Star and Jack Purcell sneakers. They retail for $95 to $110, more than double the cost of the classic canvas Chuck Taylors.

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