Thursday, September 28, 2006

identitiy theft

Somebody fucked me up.

There is a small but deadly trick you can do in Blogger to enter comments without having an account. You can click on Other and fill in the information manually. How is it deadly? Because there's no way to verify if the person who makes the comment is in fact the actual person.

Apparently somebody hated me or this site enough to wreak havok over at Tressel's World by posting asinine comments as me, alienating just about everybody on that website. Whoever the monster is, he's apparently been at this for a while.

I posted the following over at Tressel's World and I'll repeat it here:

Somebody has played a nasty, nasty trick on both me and you guys.

Listen, I’m the real Steven Swain (the best way to tell is that my picture shows up in the comments section and if you click on the link, a Blogger profile shows up instead of just the website), and I never heard of this site or Coach Tressel until I started getting some messed up emails on my site.

I don’t know you guys, and I don’t follow Buckeye football. Someone apparently put my name and web address on the comment form and pissed everybody off with a bunch of really stupid comments.

I know why they did it. Because I seemed like an easy mark. I'm not mnacho and I frequently post stories about clothes and design. So automatically I gotta be some kind of closet homo and douchebag. I'm no homo, and I'm only a douchebag occasionally ;-)

Rest assured, the real Swain wouldn’t do shit like what happend here. What would be the point? I do my own thing, why would I fault y'all for doing yours? I’m sure nobody believes me, but it’s the truth.

I got too much at stake to fuck with you guys like that. My name and research is all over the internet and I’m pretty much known as “the mall guy” because I like malls and retail. Even if I was stupid enough to do something like what’s been done here, I would be smart enough to at least use a fake name, like somebody did to me apparently.

I’m not going to take up any more space than I have to here, but I do apologize for whoever the hell did this to me and to you. It’s made me pretty angry, and you guys are probably angrier than I am.

Best Vest, please delete the previous comments. I’m not sure who did them, but I will tell you, it’s not the real Swain. I am.
I could go on and on about why and how this hurt me, but there really is no point in doing it. People are going to think what they think. All I can do is apologize for myself (and for him or her that fucked me over) and hope somebody believes me.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

First Lady of Shoe Design Dies in New York

Beth Levine, who created shoes for presidents’ wives, was 91

Beth Levine, the shoe designer who created Herbert Levine shoes for first ladies and funny girls, as well as the go-go boots made for walking, died last week in New York. She was 91.

Levine designed shoes for 30 years under the label for her husband. She became known as America’s “first lady of shoe design” because her designs were worn by the American first ladies of the 1960s and 70s, Jacqueline Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson and Patricia Nixon.

She made shoes for Barbra Streisand in the Broadway play “Funny Girl” and the white stiletto boots worn by Nancy Sinatra to sing “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’.” Levine is credited with igniting the 1960s trend with her stretchy stocking styles and vinyl go-go boots. When Sinatra released her anthem of women’s empowerment in 1966, she was shown in film made for early video jukeboxes wearing the style from Herbert Levine. The song increased the demand for fashion boots so much that Saks Fifth Avenue opened a corner in its shoe department called Beth’s Bootery.

“She was among the most influential shoe designers of the century,” said Elizabeth Semmelhack, the chief curator of the Bata Shoe Museum in Toronto, who included Levine in an exhibition this year called “Icons of Elegance.”

According to an obituary in The New York Times, Levine’s designs were known for their poetic whimsy: She lined a sandal with an insole of Astroturf and affixed a plastic flower to its toe straps, and she designed heels made of rolled leather or silver thread that looked like a spool. Driving shoes made to look like race cars, elaborately carved wooden blocks that looked like birds in flight and evening shoes that looked like Aladdin’s lamp were included in an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1976, when she and her husband retired.

Levine was born in 1914, in Patchogue, N.Y. In the 1930s, she moved to Manhattan and found work as a shoe model, then worked her way up from a stylist to head designer for I. Miller.

After working for the Red Cross in World War II, she applied for a job in 1944 designing shoes for a shoe manufacturer and met Herbert Levine, who was running the company. They married three months later. He died in 1991.

In 1948, the couple started a business under the name Herbert Levine. She wrote, in a letter to the Bata Shoe Museum this year, “We wanted to create a shoemaking niche. We were making very pretty shoes that nobody needed, but everybody wanted.”

She was given the Coty Award in 1967, for design innovations that overcame traditional boundaries of footwear. In the 1950s, European designers had created a demand for mules, but they were difficult for women to walk in without crunching their toes to keep them on. Levine’s solution was a strip of elastic that caused the heel of the mule to flip upward as a woman walked, maintaining the tension between the ball of the foot and the heel. She called her invention the Spring-O-Later.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

"Hey SackFace: Do you ever have anything interesting to write about?"

I got this comment on my last personal post and it actually got me to thinking. What the hell is there to talk about?

Life is hard. And tiring. And me not being the most verbal of people does kind of make for some rather staid blog commentary. There’s no need to apologize, I know, but it’s pretty much true.

A lot of times I have things on my mind, but I have this incessant need to make the stories cohesive…literate…perfect. So before it gets to the cyber-page, it goes though various mental committees that may or may not agree on content or context.

All this while you are waiting to hear me tell you how fun it was to clean my bathroom.

When I got this comment, I decided to look around blogland and see what other people are posting. What I discovered is that what I’m doing is pretty much the same as what they’re doing. Nobody really has anything to talk about. I’m sure it’s a national epidemic.

I mean, think about it: When you call your friends up on the phone, or IM them or whatever, doesn’t it usually go something like:

“What’s up?”
“Not much. You?”
“Nothing much going on here.”
“Yeah. Me neither.”
Riveting, huh? If we outlawed those types of conversations, the cell phone industry would crumble.

See, on the phone, you can say shit like “Let’s go to a bar or something” or the mall or the sheep farm or wherever people go these days, and pretty much forget how empty our lives are. All I got here is “Hey check out this article I found.” Or “This is my boring ass life. Care to comment?” The dynamic isn’t the same as a conversation.

In a conversation, you can go onto all sorts of great tangents, whereas here, if you guys don’t comment, and I don’t push it along, then it just kind of dies, no matter how good the idea started out.

I’m a single guy who lives in a little room in my parents’ house in the middle of nowhere. I don’t have a steady girlfriend, or drinking buddies, or any dramatic problems. I like clothes, malls, history, food, and politics (though I’m smart enough not to post anything about that on here) among other things. I work in a windowless municipal office in the basement of a big building in a small city where not a lot goes on. The stories don’t exactly roll, my friends, no matter how I try.

So obviously, I know I’m pretty boring.

What doesn’t help is comments like the title, however droll or, conversely, based out of real frustration at content they may be. Anonymous could be anybody, so I can’t talk it out with him or her to see what anybody actually thinks and how I can improve. I got nothing but hurt feelings from that because it’s a rock thrown through my picture window in the dark, which is pretty punk-ass if you ask me.

This didn’t start as a rant about how trolls can ruin your day. But a troll did ruin my day, and you should have seen the comment I deleted that really pissed me off. I’m not even going to talk about that one.

I had to get that off my chest.

This post is going to be closed to comments because I really don’t give a fuck what people are thinking right now. You wanna talk? I got an email address. Do me a favor and at least hurl your rocks with a note.

I’ll be better tomorrow.

Sensible Chic

Lafayette 148's Edward Wilkerson, Flying Below the Stratosphere and Above the Norm

By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer

NEW YORK - Designer Edward Wilkerson has suppressed his ego in exchange for success.

In a fashion industry that produces $200 T-shirts without embarrassment and describes Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen as the ideal customers, Wilkerson is contentedly democratic, blatantly unpretentious and proudly price-sensitive -- although his clothes are by no means cheap.

Wilkerson, a veteran of Anne Klein, Calvin Klein and Donna Karan, designs for Lafayette 148. In the fashion hierarchy, Lafayette 148 is a bridge collection, which means that it's situated -- by price and aesthetic -- below all the flashy designer labels that peddle an esoteric sensibility at restrictively high prices. The company doesn't mount splashy runway shows or rely on elaborate advertising campaigns. Wilkerson does not make jackets with padded humps, advocate that a woman wear 10 layers of clothing at once, or encourage a businesswoman's daydreams of being a rock star.

Yet Lafayette 148 is more expensive than the mass-market sportswear produced by merchants who strive to appease the lowest common denominator and little else. Wilkerson does not design bland boxy jackets, matchy-matchy separates and cookie-cutter dresses that camouflage a figure rather than enhance it.

Lafayette 148 is solidly in fashion's middle ground -- a place that has a reputation for businesslike, but boring, frocks. Wilkerson argues that clothes for working women don't have to be dull.

"Bridge has been underrated. It's not supposed to be considered fashionable," Wilkerson says. "But we have a fashion business."

The high-end fashion market typically hurtles forward in pursuit of the next trend and will often recklessly declare a fad stale long before customers have grown tired of it. Lafayette 148 pays attention to trends, but it sets itself apart from fancy houses by its willingness to pause so it does not outpace its customers in a zeal to produce something new and fresh. The company will give customers what they want, even if what they desire is several seasons old.

"What a lot of people in fashion don't understand is people outside New York are about five years behind," Wilkerson says. "Fashion doesn't turn as fast as we pretend."

If, for instance, a woman is obsessed with a pair of trousers that are no longer in the collection but that the company still has the capacity to produce, it will do so for a fee of approximately $30. And if enough customers start asking for those trousers, the company will simply return them to the line. In most companies, particularly high-end ones, old designs are not revisited, no matter how much a customer pleads. Designer Isaac Mizrahi, for instance, once noted that customers adored a particular pair of pants in his line. But he discontinued them because he was bored.

Wilkerson strives to dress as many shapes and sizes of women as possible. So in addition to producing a line of clothing that ranges from size 0 to 16 -- a spread worth noting because so many prestige design houses stop cutting at size 12 -- the company also manufacturers petite and plus sizes. Even most bridge lines, which are aimed at a mainstream customer, typically don't offer such a broad range of sizes. (Lafayette 148 is the best-selling label in Salon Z, the plus-size department at Saks Fifth Avenue.)

For some designers, this wide sweep of sizes would pose an image problem. Many designers like to envision their customers as some version of a professionally slender model, preternaturally stunning actress or moneyed socialite. Wilkerson is not so narrow -- or delusional -- in his focus. Working for a bridge label, he can't be.

"Edward says that he wants to dress all women," says Deirdre Quinn, company president. "The large-size customer really appreciates what Edward can do for them."

In a conversation with Quinn, she will spend a great deal of time quoting Wilkerson, referring to his creativity and, in general, serving up heaping helpings of praise for him. The most successful brands -- or at least the ones with any sort of longevity -- are the ones that are able to find a balance between art and commerce. That happens when a designer finds a business partner who can both nurture his creativity and diplomatically rein it in. "I let Edward be pure design, and the result is successful," Quinn says. "We're good at one thing. He's good at one thing. Both sides trust the other."

But Quinn displays more than respect for Wilkerson -- and vice versa. They gush. It's a love-in. He accompanied her on her honeymoon, transforming a romantic getaway into three-pals-on-an-adventure.

Wilkerson is tall with a medium-brown complexion and long dreadlocks that he wears tucked into a bun. He has large, wide eyes that give him a look of boyish wonder, and he is almost always dressed in black. He refuses to discuss his age, but public records show he will turn 45 in November.

Before finding his niche with Quinn, Wilkerson worked in the center of New York's Garment District. As a student at New York's High School of Art and Design, he found a summer job with Donna Karan, who was working at Anne Klein. After Wilkerson graduated from Parsons the New School for Design, he worked for Calvin Klein for a couple years. But soon he was back working with Karan, who'd struck out on her own. He spent his time crafting her signature collection, helping her to realize a vision of sensual power dressing. He worked with Karan for 15 years before coming to Lafayette 148 in 1998 as design director.

In describing Wilkerson, Karan settles on the word "passionate," emphasizing the enthusiasm and dedication he brings to his work, his hobbies, his relationships. "He will remain my friend for life," Karan says.

Lafayette 148 was founded in 1996 as the quintessential bridge business. It was focused on tailored separates for working women. Bridge collections, which include sober brands such as Ellen Tracy and Dana Buchman, have a reputation within fashion circles for being functional rather than fun. In 1998, Lafayette 148 set out to alter its reputation and improve the business. It wanted to be a bridge collection with a designer point of view. But mostly, it wanted more pizazz.

The label, named after its address, is based in downtown Manhattan in the vicinity of Chinatown. Today, its grit is occasionally interrupted by the latest luxury condo conversion or sleek cafe. But when Wilkerson first visited the company to meet with Quinn and her business partner Shun Siu, it was all grit.

Before Lafayette 148, Wilkerson was accustomed to laboring with a large team of designers and under the constraints of someone else's vision. He was also used to working in the same neighborhood as Oscar de la Renta, Carolina Herrera and a host of other fancy names.

"Edward was very open-minded," Quinn recalls. "You're coming down to Chinatown after Donna and Calvin. I don't think everyone would have been as open-minded. He wanted to be the [creative] lead. And we made it clear that we're not frustrated designers."

Quinn had known Wilkerson from working on the production side of the business at DKNY -- the Donna Karan secondary line. She had also worked in production for Liz Claiborne.

"We looked at his sketchbook. We asked how he would transform us from a suit company into a designer line," Quinn says. "When he left, I turned to Mr. Siu and said, 'What do you think?' He had two words: 'Hire him.' "

The simplicity of the process startled Wilkerson. "At a big company, they interview you several times and ask you to do a project ," Wilkerson says. "At Calvin Klein they asked for a project -- What are you feeling for next season? I knew they were going to ask, so I already had one."

When he interviewed at Ralph Lauren, about the same time he was talking to Quinn, executives again asked for a project.

"And I thought, for what? Button-down shirts and khakis?" Wilkerson says. He laughs as he recalls his exasperation. How much creativity and innovation could be squeezed from such a narrowly defined aesthetic sensibility? He'd worked for established brands all his life. He realized he wanted to try something different.

"I'd been in the corporate world already," he says. "And here were all these blondes looking like Stepford Wives. And no one looked happy."

Wilkerson saw Lafayette 148 as an opportunity. "When you work at the big companies, you don't really know what input in the business you've had creatively. I wanted to see what my strength was. I was working with a design team and you never know, 'What did I bring to the company?' I wanted to see how strong I was," he says. Lafayette 148 "was small and I wanted to watch it grow."

In 10 years, the company has transformed into a $50 million wholesale, privately held business. (By comparison, Ann Taylor -- including its factory stores and its Ann Taylor Loft stores -- had sales last year of more than $2 billion.) Quinn expects the brand to see a 20 percent growth in sales this year. It is a vertical company, controlling virtually all of its own production facilities, which were moved from Lafayette Street to China, where Siu is based, about five years ago. Everything from suit jackets to cocktail dresses are produced in-house. Wilkerson churns out some 800 different styles every year.

Early on, Wilkerson's work resembled classic Anne Klein and Donna Karan designs. It was filled with jackets and trousers with the same kind of gentle drape on which Karan built her reputation. It has since found its own vocabulary: strong, sharp lines, rich colors or restrained neutrals, and a more global sensibility. It reflects Wilkerson's quirks and passions. His resort collection, for instance, was inspired by a recent trip to Portofino and Diana Ross.

The collection can still be heavy-handed at times, lacking the jaunty finesse found in lines with a more youthful customer base. Lafayette 148's customer is in the 35-to-45-year-old age range. A brand such as Theory -- known for a more minimalist aesthetic with slim trousers and jackets that fit close to the body -- speaks to women about a decade younger.

Lafayette 148 isn't cool or hip. But it can be lovely and stylish. And it sells.

"I think the patterns are a little old," says Susan Rolontz, executive vice president of the Tobe Report, a retail and fashion consulting firm. "But that's not to say they're not successful, because they are. They fill a niche out there. Not everyone wants to be in the fashion-of-the-moment. It's fashionable enough."

"If you're making a lot of money, you don't need to be cool," Rolontz says. "They're doing it and doing it right."

The company built its reputation on fit, quality and just enough razzle-dazzle. It has used the same fit model for 10 years -- a rare occurrence in the industry. The result is that there is a consistency to the clothes because they have been built around the same figure since the company was established. Several of their patternmakers have been with the company since its inception, as well.

"The value is fabulous. The fabric is extraordinary. The construction is great. They have no middleman to deal with," Rolontz says. "The product is incredible for the money."

The company struggles constantly to maintain a balance between the esoteric delights that please Wilkerson and fuel his creative drive and the commercial basics that protect the bottom line. This, after all, is a company that relies on selling clothes -- not accessories or fragrances or any licensed products -- to pay the bills.

It experiments with the occasional lavish item, such as a $2,200 crochet rabbit fur jacket -- of which they sold about 228 pieces -- shearling coats, a blazer in a fabric woven with metal fibers and hand-embroidered skirts. But it also has plenty of basics: $200 shirts, $500 blazers, $300 pants. The prices are about 23 percent higher than the bridge market average, Quinn says, but about half that of designer labels.

"There's elements in here that are commercial," Quinn says, "but Edward seems to be able to put a twist on that. He knows how to make a white shirt feminine."

Wilkerson doesn't worry about production or any of the details of running a business. Does he ever worry that a dress he envisions -- perhaps one with a flourish of crystals at the neckline -- might be too expensive? "No, because I know they'll make it cheaper," he says and laughs. "I don't concern myself with how much things will cost because in design you always have to balance things out. Our production department makes sure the quality and integrity are maintained."

The latest production challenge concerns a lace appliqued beaded skirt. The lace is ivory and looks as though it might be antique -- although it is not. The taupe beads provide just the right amount of subtle glitz.

Based on the company's usual formula of materials plus labor plus overhead plus profit-margin equals price, the skirt should sell for $600. Quinn has to figure out how to sell it for $400, a price more palatable to her customers.

"I'm into analyzing," says Quinn, who with her passion for production, sourcing and quality control, could be described as a fashion industry geek. "It's fashion, but it's also a business. It's hard to make money in this business. If you retail something at the wrong price, it doesn't sell. You have to find the right ratio for your business."

Because much of Lafayette 148's success is due to its emphasis on trunk shows, Wilkerson travels to places such as Seattle, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh to meet customers. "I learn about fit. I find out what looks good on a blonde or a redhead," he says. "You get to know all these personalities."

But that does not mean he finds it particularly easy to charm and make small talk. He gets stage fright. "I'm an absolute nervous wreck because I can't speak off the cuff."

He recalls a nerve-racking visit to Houston during which the host gave him an elaborate introduction. The audience "turned to me and it got so quiet and that just made it worse," he says. "I'm not a good public speaker. I'm not good at interviews. Sometimes I wish I could just create."

Wilkerson is content in the role of the sensitive, behind-the-scenes artist. He is a passionate traveler and has spent a great deal of time in Africa and Asia, where he has photographed the people and the geography. He has sold some of those photographs through personal connections for as much as $6,000 and has assembled others into a book that he would like to have published.

His office is an eclectic gallery filled with pieces he collected on his travels. He has imported no small number of teak tables, benches, chairs and carvings, thanks to the goodwill and large shipping budget of his employers. He has a home in East Hampton, N.Y., that has been photographed for Hamptons Cottages and Gardens, a design magazine. He recently sold it and purchased another, larger home, also along the expensive south fork of Long Island. All of which is to say that simply because his name is not on the label and he is not a partner does not mean that Wilkerson isn't well compensated. All of that attention would be nice, but it isn't necessary.

"I wouldn't turn it down, but as a company, Deirdre and Mr. Siu have been so good to me, it's honestly not something I think about. I'm so happy doing what I'm doing and being part of a team," he says.

"It would almost be silly to turn it into a show about me."

Some fashion houses bolster lower priced lines

By Christina Passariello, The Wall Street Journal

At their Milan atelier last week, designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana were wrangling over the theme for their D&G fashion show Monday in Milan. Which backdrop, music and props would render the spring-summer 2007 collection more "sexy, glamorous and, I hope, fashionable?" fretted Mr. Gabbana.

Messrs. Dolce and Gabbana have a lot riding on the show.

The design duo have built their top-line Dolce & Gabbana label into one of the world's hottest and most profitable fashion brands over the past 20 years. Now they're spending nearly $100 million to try a repeat performance at the other label they own, the midprice D&G line.

Next year's spring-summer collection will be a key indicator of their chances. Messrs. Dolce and Gabbana created D&G -- a street-chic brand of dresses, jeans and the designers' signature tailored jackets -- in 1993 and immediately licensed off production in order to focus on the main Dolce & Gabbana line.

Last year, they took back the license from Italian fashion conglomerate IT Holding SpA in an effort to regain total control of the brand. Among their plans are trendier styles, lower prices and more D&G boutiques around the world. From the D&G cruise collection hitting stores in November: a $1,095 sea-green satin coat with brass buttons, a $435 flowered dress with little puff sleeves and a pair of $475 silver open-toed pumps.

The D&G revamp is part of a wider trend in which the world's luxury fashion houses are looking to their lower-priced secondary labels for growth. Many big fashion names -- including Giorgio Armani, Donna Karan, Versace and Prada -- own cheaper, younger labels -- Emporio Armani, DKNY, Versus and Miu Miu -- that ride on the visibility of their high-end brands to ring up big sales.

These so-called diffusion lines, with lower margins than the luxury lines but higher volume, are growing in importance as the top-end lines struggle to find new areas of growth. Fashion brands like Armani and Dior have already been extended into accessories, jewelry, home goods and even hotels. In mature markets like Japan and Europe, growth rates are slowing.

"The strategy of the most-effective fashion brands will be to count more on diffusion lines because they can increase volumes world-wide," says Armando Branchini, managing director of Intercorporate, a fashion consultancy in Milan.

Italian fashion house Versace is refocusing the lower-end Versus line on higher-margin accessories, after having bought back the license from IT Holding two years ago. Marc by Marc Jacobs, owned by France's LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton, is opening stores for that line that are separate from the designer's top-line Marc Jacobs boutiques, in cities such as Los Angeles and New York.

Brands such as D&G, Versus and Emporio Armani can be 50 percent cheaper than top-end designer labels. But they are under increasing pressure from another group of rivals, the cheap, high-street brands like Zara, H&M and Mango.

Those "fast fashion" labels appeal to consumers because they are priced lower than the designers' diffusion brands, and they update shelves with new merchandise at a fast pace -- generally every two weeks, compared with every two months for most diffusion lines.

Profit margins for designers' secondary brands are around 20 percent, compared with margins of up to 45 percent for some high-end brands, but the diffusion lines reap larger sales volumes. "While wildly competitive, there is still enormous potential growth" in the diffusion segment, says Robert Burke, head of the luxury consulting firm Robert Burke Associates.

Since buying back the D&G license, Messrs. Dolce and Gabbana have tried to increase production and improve distribution to get products to stores faster. Some 70 percent of D&G manufacturing will be outsourced to Asia and Mediterranean countries such as Morocco and Turkey. In addition, the company has spent the equivalent of $47.1 million to double the size of two Italian factories that produce the Dolce & Gabbana line to make room for some D&G products.

A newly hired corps of more than 300 production employees will translate Messrs. Dolce and Gabbana's ideas into wearable clothes. "When you can manage all phases of production, you have the freedom to improve in all phases: creative, pricing and distribution," says Cristiana Ruella, Dolce & Gabbana's general manager.

To set themselves apart from fast-fashion brands, D&G and other diffusion brands are emphasizing their creativity -- something they say cheaper, copy-cat brands lack -- by running glitzy ad campaigns and fashion shows. In contrast, the fast-fashion brands run little advertising, and when they do, the ads are functional, often flashing prices. And D&G is increasing the frequency of its ads. Miu Miu, the diffusion line of Prada Group NV's Prada SpA, recently cast the actress Kim Basinger in a sultry bedroom scene in an ad campaign.

And then there are the fashion shows, which generate the buzz that pays off in future sales. In one especially extravagant effort, Emporio Armani held its fashion show in London this year instead of Milan. The show was part of a "One Night Only" bash Mr. Armani hosted, packed with celebrities including Leonardo DiCaprio and Beyonce. Prada, meanwhile, has moved its fashion show from Milan to Paris, whose reputation as a creative hub for fashion designers is on the rise again.

By the time fashion shows are staged, retailers have already spent most of their budgets on more-commercial looks in collections that designers show them earlier in the season. D&G has spent hundeds of thousands of dollars on the blockbuster show it is set to put on Monday, although Ms. Ruella says only 10 percent of D&G's $323.3 million in sales comes from the line's runway collection.

As part of the D&G revamp, the designers in November plan to launch a new collection of handbags and shoes, including patent-leather sling backs and pumps in eight different colors. The designers have spent $48 million on a new D&G office in Milan, complete with a shiny silver reception desk and curvy orange sofas to receive buyers, that is separate from its Dolce & Gabbana headquarters.

D&G remains among the pricier secondary lines, but Mr. Gabbana says one key strategy will be to narrow the price gap with rivals. A D&G leopard-print, satin bustier dress sells for $425 and a burgundy-velvet blazer for $895 -- much less than prices for comparable items in the Dolce & Gabbana line, such as an $1,895 rust-velvet jacket and a $1,250 sleeveless black dress, but still higher than many diffusion competitors. "We want to become cheaper," says Mr. Gabbana. "Fashion is for everybody."

Other diffusion brands are also repositioning their prices. Roberto Cavalli's Just Cavalli and Gianfranco Ferre's GF Ferre have increased their number of $190 jeans, T-shirts and other sportswear items in order to be more competitive with Zara prices, according to Maurizio Negro, chief executive of Ittierre, the IT Holding division that makes Just Cavalli and GF Ferre.

The second stage of the D&G revamp will be to increase the number of D&G boutiques, which now stands at 54 world-wide. For today, however, all attention is focused on the show. Factory workers at the D&G atelier near Milan have been working around the clock for days to perfect the last samples. "They are so strongly committed to presenting the D&G collection," says Mr. Branchini of Intercorporate. "There will be fireworks."

Sunday, September 24, 2006

stuff...and other stuff

Sorry it took me so long to get back to you guys in Steve-land. It seems like I’m always headed somewhere these days. Today, I didn’t head anywhere and it felt weird. I guess it helped me catch up on my rest.

I'm apparently a masochist. I'm going to try to work at the City and Big Green this tax season. I only committed to three days a week at Big Green during the non-peak season, with more when people are actually coming in. That might help me get a bonus this time.

The important thing is getting this god-awful tax class out of the way. The instructor didn't show up the other week, and he tried to cram 5 chapters worth of work into a two chapter space. It didn't work. I learned nothing and I was bored to the point of sleeping between his words. We get a different instructor next week and I'm hoping she'll be better.

The Planning department is a bizarre place. Every day I have some kind of weird situation going on. Some stuff I’d have to see you in person to do justice to because it’s too bizarre for words. One thing that makes things more nuts for me is that we’re at the front line of whoever comes in. And boy do they come in!

One thing I did do that I normally wouldn’t have is that I became a Notary Public. I need it for my job when people come in with affidavits. I’ve done one paper so far, and I’m sure there will be more very soon.

Well, not much else to report, so I’ll close. Talk real soon.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Athletic Shoes Transcend Athletes; Sneakers Now a Wardrobe Staple

Athletic shoes have become as commonplace as blue jeans in America. Among Leisure Trends Group findings: 96 percent of Americans ages 16 and older own at least one pair of athletic shoes, even though just 58 percent of the population participates in sports and recreation in any three-month period.

Boulder, CO -- (PR.COM) -- Athletic shoes have become as commonplace as blue jeans in America. Leisure Trends Group announces recent results from its ongoing national syndicated study on American leisure time. Among the findings: 96 percent of Americans ages 16 and older own at least one pair of athletic shoes, even though just 58 percent of the population participates in sports and recreation in any three-month period.

Leisure Trends senior analysts found that 75 percent of all Americans assert that fashion trumps comfort, performance and durability when determining which athletic shoe to buy. Also intriguing: for all its market penetration, athletic footwear continues to find new markets. “Athleisure” footwear is giving street shoes a run for the money, sneaking into coffee shops, casual Fridays and ever more formal settings.

“One quarter of all Americans own four or more different types of athletic shoes to suit the whims of fashion and the various activities and sports they pursue,” explained Leisure Trends Group Research Director Laurel Hyslop, PhD.

Predictably, income levels determine dollars spent on athletic shoes. Those making less than $40,000 per year spend $122 annually on athletic shoes. Those making more than $80,000 spend nearly twice as much, or $211 annually. This wealthiest segment of America is among the best customers of the hottest new trend in athletic footwear, sport sandals, the most purely fashion forward and least practical footwear in the athletic shoe world.

Athletic footwear purchases cut across all age groups, with males age 16 to 24 spending the most, a whopping $220 per year. Meanwhile their grandparents age 64 and older spend the least - less than $100 per year - although these seniors place the highest importance on athletic footwear.

Saks shelves youth look to reclaim core clientele

Two years after dramatic shift in styles, it returns to its well-heeled roots

From Staff and Wire Reports
Richmond Times-Dispatch

RICHMOND, Va. -- Benjamin DeWinter believes his business is beginning to bloom again.

The manager of the Saks Fifth Avenue store in Richmond knows firsthand the struggles the chain has dealt with in the past two years, largely with fashion merchandise that skewed too young.

Chasing after those younger customers often alienated Saks' core shopper, who averages 48 years old.

Now Saks wants to reclaim its status among the well-heeled by selling more classic merchandise, including brands such as Ellen Tracy and Hart, Schaffner & Marks.

"We have a lot of customers who are from New York or Florida and have previously shopped in Saks," DeWinter said. "The history they brought was of the old Saks, but they came into a changed Saks."

The merchandise shift, which began in early 2004 under a former management team, didn't sit well with many shoppers.

"There was a cultural change. People are more comfortable of going back to their roots," DeWinter said.

"We do need to attract a younger customer, but you can't walk away from your classic customer base," he said. "We moved too rapidly."

Those changes took place just months after Saks opened its local store at the Stony Point Fashion Park in September 2003.

"That was a challenge for us . . . as we were going through our infancy," said DeWinter, who has managed the local store since it opened.

The recent shift at Saks is reflected in a new fall ad campaign that embraces a broader approach to fashion, highlighting more than 20 different must-haves, from fur-trimmed coats for women to rugged sport boots for men.

Later this year, the chain will bring back its petite merchandise, which had been eliminated two years ago. And Hart, Schaffner & Marks suits are available at six Saks stores, including the one in Richmond.

"We are beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. You will see a good fall, and it will continue through next year," said Ron Frasch, vice chairman and chief merchant at Saks Fifth Avenue Enterprises.

The chain also is refocusing on stores other than its Fifth Avenue flagship location. The chain operates 54 Saks Fifth Avenue stores and 50 Off 5th stores.

Its stores outside New York City often were overlooked, analysts say. Saks now is renovating some of those stores, including ones in Boston and Beverly Hills, to feature open cosmetic counters and more appealing fashion displays.

The Richmond store is nearly full with fall merchandise, a stark contrast to its spring selling season when some departments received little or no clothing or accessories.

To win back its most loyal customer, the chain is offering the Saks Fifth Avenue Private Collections, a replacement for Real Clothes, its store label brand that was dropped last year.

While trendy labels remain key, Frasch noted the company is beefing up selections in classic names in both men's and women's suits, as well as stocking up on such basics as bras. Saks is also investing more in couture lines such as Chanel and Fendi.

"We had become too clean," Frasch said. "We want to put more products on the floor so customers can see the depth and breadth of our offering."

Another key element is tailoring its stores to the local market by price and by consumer mindset, such as classic or contemporary.

For example, the Richmond store has merchandise that appeals more to a Southern, sophisticated, classic woman, DeWinter said.

The local store also has made other changes, including expanding its offering of women's contemporary apparel.

That department took over the area that had been devoted to men's contemporary clothing, which now has been combined with men's sportswear. Doing so gives the men's area the appearance that it is packed with merchandise.

Saks executives say a cultural change is sweeping the company, with buyers taking bigger risks on fashion instead of playing it safe and fixating on inventory control.

Still Saks faces heavy competition at the upper end from Neiman Marcus Inc., whose name is synonymous with luxury shopping, and at the lower luxury tier from Nordstrom Inc.

"Saks is facing a competitive situation where both Neiman and Nordstrom are doing extremely well. The issue is how successful will [Saks] be in executing from a merchandising and service standpoint," said Michael Appel, managing director of Quest Turnaround Advisors LLC.

Doug Harrison, president and CEO of Harrison Group, a strategic consulting group, noted that Saks Fifth Avenue is behind Neiman Marcus in personalizing customer service. He cited the success of Neiman Marcus' program called InCircle, which rewards customers with giveaways and special discounts based on how much they spend.

Saks could catch up, but it won't be easy, said Andrew Sacks, president of AgencySacks, an advertising agency focusing on upscale companies. Neiman Marcus is more attuned to fashion, he noted.

Steve Sadove, chief executive officer at parent company Saks Inc., told investors recently that consumers have not gone away.

"They may not be buying as much," he said. "And as we've started to have the right products, they are coming back."

Thursday, September 21, 2006

thoughts from a trunk show

Note from Steve: I apologize in advance for geeking out on this post. You can see all the shoes mentioned at Allen-Edmonds.

I had a chance to meet a representative from the Allen-Edmonds shoe company today at Davidsons in Roanoke. He was there for a trunk show featuring AE’s fall line. I went during my lunch hour, so I didn’t have long to peruse, but I have to say, I was impressed with the selections.

I was there to see the Wilbert, which the sales rep, Drew, did not include in his selection. I still ended up ordering it, with a generous discount, but it would have been nice to have seen it in person first. Of course, after I ordered it, I get a flyer from the Burlington, NC AE outlet offering a $25 discount on factory seconds October 5-15, but that’s neither here nor there. If I’m buying first quality and supporting a local store (so that they can get more trunk shows), it’s no big deal.

I also wanted to see the Walden, but I learned that it’s being more or less phased put in favor of the new Hanover. The main difference between the two pinch penny loafers is a slightly higher vamp and amore oblique toe on the Hanover. The Hanover is also available in chili calf, which looked very slick in person. I’m undecided about the new toes, though. It looks good on the foot, but it’s a little funky when you just look at it.

Some highlights from the new collection:
-- The Delray is now available in Brogue (dark-brown) suede, which looks very nice in person
-- The Taunton is a new double-gore boot that seems to be in an R.M. Williams vein, but distinctly AE in shape. This is available in Snuff (medium-brown) suede, which seems to work pretty well for the design.

The most disappointing things I saw were the new Casual Comfort Collection styles. I know there is a market for the fashion-forward and ‘comfort’ styles in this line, but they are positively awful in person. Drew had on a pair of the Daytripper with an otherwise well chosen sportcoat and trouser combo, and they pretty much killed everything else he was wearing. I couldn’t look down.

The only thing that saves them is the quality of the leather, which is excellent, but I wouldn’t be caught dead in any of them. The look is either too Steve Madden or SAS, depending on the model. Considering you can buy either of those brands at a deep discount (and since AE doesn’t offer recrafting as an option on the Casual Comfort Collection), they would be the better deal. Either that or wait for the warehouse sale.

What I Like About Dracula


IT’S easy — too easy — for a working man to look good today, thanks to a sea of slim-cut suits, snappy dress shirts and an Equinox in every upscale Zip code. How’s a guy to keep his edge?

Well, if having smarter ideas, logging longer hours or being a bigger mensch than the next guy does not do the trick, there is the Wall Street mohawk. This latest bit of stockbroker savagery is a modified take on the already modified original: a crew cut around the sides and back with a mop of hair at the crown.

“I noticed it a few years ago in London,” said the New York hairstylist John Barrett. “The stockbroker types down in the City were getting their hair cut this way. It took a while to cross the Atlantic, but there are definitely guys now with conservative jobs who want an edgier look, and they come in every three or four weeks to get it.”

The do may not yet have a zingy name — the CEO-hawk? — and may seem a rather tepid version of the shellacked spikes of yore or even the “faux-hawk” that has been a hipster fave of late. But its low-key style is part of a mystique that some corporate raiders love.

“That’s the thing, “ Mr. Barrett said. “It can look very Brooks Brothers by day. They say, ‘I don’t quite want a mohawk, but I want to be able to make it look like that at night.’ ”

The same can be said for a subtly aggressive trend in men’s clothes, one that lets a man express his latent Goth-rocker self while still playing by at least some of the company rules. The NoLIta men’s wear company Barker Black made its name with corp-Goth accessories like wingtips with uppers faintly perforated with a skull pattern; this season, with skulls everywhere, it introduced rep ties with a more understated design: diagonal stripes of crossbones.

Around the corner, the men’s shop Duncan Quinn sells suits and shirts with red linings and cuffs — for just a hint of blood — as well as silk ties bearing dragons, crowns and Maltese crosses. The look is meant to suggest both the gentility and ferocity of the business world.

“Whether it’s a tie with a dragon or a cross, it relates to the old idea of putting on 50 pounds of armor and hacking away at each other,” Mr. Quinn said. “In the business world, everything is a competition, so I like having an underlying connection. It’s not just a piece of eye candy.”

Jewelry designers, too, are offering dryly barbed pieces for men — silver talon rings, bleeding-heart cuff links, carnelian signet rings — with just a hint of menace.

No one owns the look this season as does Alexander McQueen. His vampire-fantasy runway show might not have screamed suit and tie, but it concealed an array of beautifully tailored suits and shirts that are now in stores. Finally, those Damons, Damiens, Gideons and Gabriels born in the late 1970’s (“The Omen” came out in 1976) have something to wear to day jobs on the Street. Why style yourself as a Master of the Universe when the Dark Prince has the better wardrobe?

Mr. McQueen said he wanted to tap into a decadent 1920’s British-peer lifestyle, one with accouterments like velvet evening jackets, a valet (one named, say, Renfield) and a little packet of Sen-Sen to get the whiff of blood off your breath. “It’s more about the richness and aristocracy of Dracula,” he said. “And about a sense of history, like finding an old jacket in the attic and being able to carry it off.”

And in a way, it is about restoring dignity to the word “Goth,” which he all but sneered at. “Goth to me means Camden Market and teenagers in L.A. buying stuff on the Internet,” he said. “I prefer the word ‘dark.’ There’s a richness, a romanticism there.”

Whether they indulge in the haircut or the clothes, men are quick to downplay the idea that they flaunt any kind of edge at work.

“Eyeliner’s not my thing,” said Chris Sharp, who works on the trading floor for a Wall Street firm and was seduced away from Dunhill suits to McQueen, he said, because of the tailoring, not the skull-print ties. “I have one of the ties — my wife gave it to me. It’s fun for an evening out, but not for a client meeting.”

“For me, edgy is a single-breasted suit with a peak lapel,” he added. “I’m getting fitted for one on Saturday.”

Be warned, mortals. That’s how it all started with Count Dracula. With a peak lapel.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Federated Throws New Weight Around

New York Post

NEW YORK -- Pressure is mounting on companies that manufacture goods sold in Federated Department Stores to change the way they do business to better accommodate the giant retailer.

Manufacturers are being asked to shorten lead times, increase the frequency of shipments and make their products more fashionable, sources said.

Federated's acquisition of the May Department Stores Company created the country's largest department store chain and the only one with a national footprint under the Macy's name.

Much the way Wal-Mart used its size to wring concessions from suppliers, Federated is exercising its newfound clout to encourage manufacturers to change how they source, make and ship goods to its more than 850 stores.

"Federated is now in a position to dictate to a greater extent, and I don't expect them to hold back," said one source, who requested anonymity.

In a series of meetings with suppliers over the past two days, Federated executives, including Chief Executive Terry Lundgren and Vice Chairman Janet Grove, laid out a plan that included more exclusive offerings and faster shipments of fashion items from once a month to twice a month.

"The typical consumer shops our stores once a week, and we need to show them something new and different," Grove said, according to someone who attended the meeting.

Grove was not immediately available for comment.

The strategy carries increased risk for both Federated, which could become too dependent on the vagaries of fashion, and its suppliers, who are being asked to restructure their businesses at a time of growing uncertainty for apparel manufacturers.

"It's a noble goal," said one executive. "But how easily can we adapt?"

With the bulk of apparel, shoes and handbags manufactured in Asia, lead times from conception to delivery can run as long as nine months, a timeframe Federated would like to whittle down to three.

One way to speed production is by stationing key executives in Asia, where they can approve samples as soon as they are made, instead of flying samples to New York and back. The shorter lead times and more frequent shipments help to increase inventory turns - the amount of time it takes a retailer to sell through inventory - which, in turn, boost sales.

Federated is using a program called 20/20 to help it quickly identify the best- and worst-selling merchandise.

The system allows Federated to quickly reorder the 20 percent of items that are selling the best and clear out the 20 percent that are selling worst by marking them down.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

steve loves Neiman Marcus

I went to the new Neiman Marcus in Charlotte over the weekend with my mom. You can see the pictures at LiveMalls.

Neiman Marcus is one of my favorite stores and SouthPark is one of my favorite malls. I’ve been waiting for years for this store, and it did not disappoint.

As reported earlier, The Dallas-based department store chain, known to fans as the creme de la creme of retail, opened at SouthPark on September 15. The store is Neiman Marcus' 39th property and the mall's sixth anchor.

At 80,000 square feet on two levels, this Neiman Marcus is the chain's second smallest, but if demand is high enough, company officials anitipating adding a third shopping level in as soon as next year.

Neiman's decor oozes opulence. The walls are covered with 151 original works of art commissioned from 19 regional artists. The Charlotte store even has audio-video presentations describing what you’re seeing on the walls, along with video interviews with the founders’ son, Stanley Marcus, who is one of my retail idols.

Handbags, shoes and gloves are displayed in museum-style cases. Home decor items are set against a backdrop of Venetian plaster, mosaic marble accents and beaded textured glass. And for optimum application of cosmetics, the entire store is bathed in a glow that replicates natural light.

My favorite part, to be sure, is the escalator well. Over 7,000 paper butterflies and mirrors on strings cascade from the ceiling in an opulent diplay. Even in daylight, it's a beautiful scene.

Among the amenities at NM SouthPark are a personal shopping areas with oversized fitting rooms and private customer lounge, two cosmetic treatment rooms for private personal beauty services, and a private bridal consultation area to register for bridal gifts.

The best part about NM SouthPark is that it isn't a watered-down verison. It feels every bit as nice as Neiman Marcus stores in other cities, and the merchandise is exclusive and well-chosen.

I'm not a high-end shopper (though I try), but I'm a retail fanatic. If you love good store design and above-average merchandising, you can't help but love NM.

introducing....The Normies

My friend Kris and his friend Nick have started a new band called The Normies, and in tandem, a new blog by the same name.

Money raised by their performances is given to the ELCA World Hunger Appeal. They also encourage their listeners to join The ONE Campaign.

I haven't had the chance to hear them in person, but I know they're great. Check out their blog and see what the buzz is about.

the many facets of derek

Congratulations go out to my friend Derek Mott, who has finished all of his ARE exams and is a licensed architect in the state of Virginia.

Derek is a talented artist as well, and now has his own blog showing off some of his artwork. It's called
The Kneaded Eraser. It's starting out very promising, and I suggest you check it out

Monday, September 18, 2006

American Brandstand


In 1911, the L.L. Bean duck boot was designed to withstand weeklong hunting trips in the Maine woods. Over the century it’s held up just as well against New Haven tailgate parties and snowy slogs to the Westport station. But the tabletops of Bungalow 8?

“I love those boots,” says the designer and nightclub habitué Lazaro Hernandez, who had his Bean Boots refurbished after two years of everyday use. Hernandez, half of the fashion wonder team Proenza Schouler, insists, “All my friends have been copying me.”

Dig out your tote bags: fashion’s true believers, arguably the least authentic humans on the planet, are clamoring for the “real” America. Trend-deaf homegrown brands, whether fancy or just plain homely, have never been hipper. Will downtown Manhattan start looking like Martha’s Vineyard? “I look at old images of Bill Blass with his duck shoes and a cable-knit V-neck sweater and, like, a pipe in his library — it’s amazing,” Hernandez says. “It’s like wearing your grandfather’s clothes. It feels cool.”

Cool to be a part of the Kennebunkport clan? Well, yes. Fashion folks have always dressed way left of the Republican Party — they were the ones wearing Dr. Martens in high school, sneering at the preppies with their starched collars and sweater vests — but now the uniform of future bankers and country-club members has a certain cachet. Even to the former club kid. “Woody Allen is better-looking than any young guy I’ve ever seen,” says Andy Spade, the designer of Jack Spade. Though Allen’s family tree is more shtetl than Mayflower, his rumpled, tweedy look has inspired the mackintoshes and doctor’s bags at the Jack Spade shop in SoHo. The store, which also offers accessories like first editions of “The Catcher in the Rye” and “A Separate Peace,” is an homage to utilitarian 1950’s American classics. It’s hard to believe that Spade didn’t start manufacturing 60 years ago and simply mothball his stock until the fashion cycle spun its way back. “Everything,” Spade says, “comes down to the real McCoy.”

Which is why forward-thinking European designers have been brushing up on their Americana. Not that the modernist, high-tech designs of Prada or Giorgio Armani are out of fashion, but neither can they compete with the rugged charm of C.C. Filson (formerly C.C. Filson’s Pioneer Alaska Clothing and Blanket Manufacturers). Back in 1897, when Filson began, the company catered to the needs of Yukon gold seekers, hunters and explorers. Filson’s current customers are still apt to brag about surviving bear attacks. But these days its handsome canvas luggage — both rugged and professorial in the Indiana Jones vein — is used more often for toting home wild-boar sausage from the Greenmarket.

“We are not a fashion company,” insists the chief executive, Doug Williams. Filson may be as concentrated on function as its wool vests suggest, but Williams reveals that the top ZIP code for catalog deliveries isn’t grizzly country — it’s Manhattan. (In other wool-vest news, Woolrich, the 176-year-old Pennsylvania company that once bundled up frontiersmen and today supplies fabric for Civil War re-enactors’ uniforms, did a brisk business at Bergdorf Goodman last fall.)

American designers are also looking homeward for inspiration. It was the quest for the ideal pair of chinos that lured Michael Bastian from his position as the men’s fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman to start his own namesake men’s-wear label. “Look at Frank O’Hara,” Bastian says, referring to the New York School poet and Cedar tavern regular. “You see these pictures of him, and he was so beautifully put together, very traditional, wearing old Brooks Brothers, an old rumpled-up raincoat, a perfect white oxford button-down.” In his search for paragons, Bastian recently worked with an Italian mill to produce Nantucket red pants that look as if they’ve spent 10 years fading in the sun.

There is a clear sense of nostalgia in dressing up in khakis and duck boots. It harks back to the Kennedy era and beyond, a simpler time when this country represented the American dream rather than the evil empire, a time before global warming, globalization and military quagmires. Perhaps the act of wearing “American” is, in fact, a subversive statement: dressing like the establishment helps you infiltrate the closed circles of your enemies more effectively than a nose ring.

Could preppy become the new punk? At least one stodgy label is betting on it. “The young customers we have now are, like, really hip kids,” says Mark McNairy, the new design director at J. Press, which has been dressing blue bloods since Theodore Roosevelt was in office. The company deliberately keeps its stuffy shops limited to New Haven; Cambridge, Mass.; New York; and Washington — the better to hook Ivy Leaguers on its blazers and “shaggy dog” wool sweaters before they head off to run the world. However, McNairy has decided not to ignore his more fashion-literate patrons. A recent addition to the J. Press line of icon-emblazoned neckties is one with skulls and crossbones, not a nod to Yale’s secret society but a wink to the new customer who has a closet full of ironic T-shirts.

Team U.S.A.: Ten Grand Old Brands

Alden: A New England shoemaker since 1884, Alden makes hand-sewn shell cordovan loafers that are required footwear on Martha’s Vineyard. There’s an Alden shop on Madison Avenue, but the firm stays true to its Massachusetts roots.

Allen-Edmonds: Established in Wisconsin in 1922, Allen-Edmonds shod the soldiers in World War II; today its dress shoes are renowned for their elegant welted construction, and the company’s generous repair policy allows you to send in your favorite wrecked wingtips to be completely restored.

Arrow: Founded to sell detachable shirt collars in the mid-1800’s, Arrow has responded to all the subsequent turns in men’s fashion with restrained Yankee design.

Brooks Brothers: Abraham Lincoln was shot in a Brooks Brothers coat, Franklin Roosevelt wore a Brooks cape, even Jack Kerouac preferred its oxford shirts. Credited with introducing ready-to-wear suits to the States and with inventing the button-down collar in 1896, Brooks Brothers is as American as the mint juleps at the Harvard Club.

C.C. Filson: Established to outfit miners, Filson still sells many of the same rugged pieces — in particular, its patented Mackinaw Cruiser coat, designed in 1914 — to weekend sportsmen in need of canvas luggage and waxed cotton jackets.

Hart Schaffner Marx: When G.I.’s were returning home from World War II, signs on the docks in France encouraged them to buy an H.S.M. suit before seeing their honey. This Chicago suit maker’s current lineup includes a fit that honors suits from the 50’s: a shorter blazer with a cuffless, plain-front pant.

J. Press: Dressing the Ivy League for more than 100 years, J. Press keeps its dusty American stores limited to key university towns to hook tomorrow’s leaders on its tailored blazers and oxford shirts.

L.L. Bean: This Maine institution made its name with duck boots and tote bags, but has expanded to sell similarly sturdy goods, from luggage to mountain bikes.

Wigwam: This century-old knitwear king has a track record of inventions, like the colored toe seam so that 50’s housewives wouldn’t waste time sorting.

Woolrich: Though Woolrich once wove blankets for the Union Army during the Civil War, its legendary wool Buffalo Check shirts, circa 1850, are now significantly softer.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Where's the Logo?

What, no designer initials? No identifiable monogram? No instantly recognizable insignia? Robin Pogrebin deciphers the world of fashion's secret codes.

By Robin Pogrebin
Departures Magazine

Simone Shubuck is an artist who loves fashion but avoids the latest It handbag. "They can be embarrassing," she says, "like wearing a price tag on your arm, some big $3,000 statement to the world." She would much rather own things that more quietly convey quality and taste: an Hermès scarf, a Goyard bag of linen and hemp, a slim-fitting Steven Alan button-down shirt. For Shubuck and others, distinctive flourishes by high-end designers have become, in their own discreet and inimitable way, increasingly important—a sort of secret code for fashion's cognoscenti."

We send signals to each other," says David Wolfe, creative director of the Doneger Group, which tracks global market trends in the fashion industry, "and certainly the right signal marks you as an insider in the social tribe you wish to belong to."

Simon Doonan, the debonair creative director of Barneys New York, believes most of us rather like the idea of having something few others have—and that fewer still even realize we have it. "Ultimately those embellishments become markers of prestige," he explains. "It's subtler than putting a logo on, but in the end it's the same. People respond to them because there is a certain knowingness in wearing them. It implies, 'I'm a connoisseur about my purchases because I've recognized this detail.'"

There is, to be frank, a certain pride taken in being one of those who can identify the leather tassel unique to a Balenciaga tote. Or smugly whispering "Narciso" as a dress with a zipper slit passes by. The educated fashionista can spot a Chloé Paddington satchel from a block away by its signature padlock. "If you know what it is, you're on the inside track," says Robert Burke, the former fashion director of Bergdorf Goodman, who now heads up his own luxury consulting business. "That is always important when it comes to fashion."

Fashion is, of course, cyclical, but at this point the emphasis is decidedly on understatement—the red sole of a Christian Louboutin shoe, the intricate weave of a Bottega Veneta bag, the ornate buckle of a Fendi belt, the cheetah-print lining of a Dolce & Gabbana jacket. "We're reaching the saturation point of overt ostentation," Wolfe says. "Overdesigned and overdetailed is on the wane. It's becoming a much more subtle game, with people at the top of the fashion food chain having to reinvent it for themselves."

These "logoless" brands are winning through various means, including embedding clues in colors, fabrics, and materials: Asprey's deep purple, Rolex's weighty platinum, Bottega's buttery leather. "Our signature elements are the make, the quality, and the craftsmanship," explains Tomas Maier, creative director of Bottega Veneta. "This is how our customer identifies us."

Other signs can be found in the detailed styling, such as pom-pom trim at Yves Saint Laurent and the reversed ribbon-lined zipper at Lanvin. The black, brown, and ivory palette of Jean Paul Gaultier's fall 2006 collection for Hermès showcases the brand's multitude of megaluxe handbags.

"It's part of our DNA to be very understated," says Robert Chavez, president and chief executive officer of Hermès USA.

Certain tailoring touches are, in fact, only apparent to a very select few. Take, for example, the shrunken fit of a Thom Browne suit or the soft round shoulders of a Giorgio Armani jacket. Armani says it was in response to stiff, formal clothes that he stripped out the pads and stuffing nearly 30 years ago, making his clothes more fluid and modern.

"If I have a defining item in my career, it is my jacket," he says. "I have always built collections around jackets, as they provide the backbone of any wardrobe. The message is timelessness—a philosophy that will never go out of fashion, as it's more about eternal style than seasonal changes."

Indeed, such subtleties don't usually stay low-key for long. Some signature design elements become ubiquitous cultural icons—the Burberry plaid, the Chanel tweed. Quicker than ever, they are making their way into the mainstream. "The Burberry check goes from the Queen of England right through to the chav, English working-class kids," Doonan explains.

Dani Shapiro, a notably fashion-savvy writer and novelist, likened the appeal of secret signals to having reservations at that coveted restaurant or bar of the moment with no name—you just get it. "It has something to do with the sense of being in the know," she says.

While Shapiro once bought a Jil Sander suit in the hopes that she would feel more confident wearing a designer label during an appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show, her motivation now is in the confidence she gets from not sending any message. In fact, she prefers to discover clothes and accessories with no easily identifiable pedigree. She talks instead of the exceptionally light cashmere sweaters by Dublin knitter Lainey Keogh and the slouchy Sissi Rossi bag she received on her birthday.

"More and more my closet ends up having much less obvious designer items," Shapiro says, "and more just interesting or idiosyncratic pieces."

Some designer fashion codes seem to overlap. As Doonan points out, the "H" in Tommy Hilfiger is quite similar to the "H" in Hermès, and Moschino uses the Italian flag as does Dolce & Gabbana. One could never confuse, however, the cherry-red soles so utterly unique to Christian Louboutin. "When women sit down and cross their legs, you immediately see this flash of red under their shoe," Doonan says. "Now that's where a designer becomes an inventor."

But alas, as luxury goods have grown ever more widespread, it has also become increasingly difficult to find the truly rare. "Those who buy high-end luxury items want them to be even more exclusive and discreet," Robert Burke says.

Given the proliferation of copycat pieces, these codes could also serve to foil the ubiquitous counterfeiters who have so devoured and repackaged designer labels and logos that recognizing better leather, for example, is only one of several new ways to detect the fakes.

"The complicated handiwork and craftsmanship make it hard for styles to be re-created," says Bottega's Maier. "We have many limited editions and models that involve extremely complex techniques. This creates collectibles that our clients will use for a season, then put away and bring out a year or two later. The design is timeless and the product is meant to last."

But even these versions are likely to be seen soon on a street corner near you. "To send out that infra-chic signal to other collectors, the item has to be something that virtually cannot be copied," Wolfe says.In developing their trademark elements, though, designers are not necessarily trying to avoid rip-offs or consciously broadcast a signature. Instead, they are expressing their particular design sensibility.

"I think it's very important for a designer to have a recognizable identity and fashion direction rather than switching around season after season, chasing the latest fad or trying to be the 'new' and 'never seen before' without considering their founding elements," Armani says. "My main goal and spirit is really about bringing forth the idea of simplicity and elegance. Certain items will never go out of style."

And there will always be discerning fashion sophisticates to appreciate them.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Neiman Marcus reaches for top-shelf buyers

Upscale chain that caters to richest 1% set to debut at SouthPark on Friday


CHARLOTTE - When Neiman Marcus opens at SouthPark mall Friday, self-described "fashion addict" Vahni Hughes plans to be there, ready to splurge.

But her pocketbook better be ready.

With its $3,000 handbags, $5,000 evening gowns and $10,000 diamond-studded false eyelashes, Neiman Marcus' over-the-top, unapologetic glam caters to the richest of the rich.

"At Neiman, it's about the total experience," Hughes said.

Neiman Marcus will bring an unrivaled level of luxury shopping to the Charlotte region, retail experts said. The department store's strategy is simple: indulge the rich by selling clothing, jewelry and trinkets only they can afford.

Their target clientele: households with an annual income in the top 1 percent. In the Charlotte area, that's about $245,000 a year.

"Neiman has great product, and they don't water their price down for the market or anyone," said Glen Taylor, co-owner of Taylor Richards & Conger in Phillips Place. "If you're a shopper, you step up, or you step back."

The Charlotte store will be the only Neiman Marcus between Atlanta and Washington, D.C. And while the retailer has traditionally focused on larger cities, the company's arrival in Charlotte is part of a broader strategy to expand to new markets.

Neiman spokeswoman Gabrielle de Papp said the company had its eye on Charlotte for "some time," and plans to draw from a 50-mile radius. The store has been designed to accommodate a third floor, which could be added after a year.

"We study markets carefully and have been watching the amazing growth the city has experienced over the past 20 years," de Papp wrote in an e-mail. "The demographics show growth in the luxury sector. ... Charlotte has seen a phenomenal increase in the recent past within our target market."

More than 9,100 Mecklenburg County households have a net worth of $1 million or more, but researchers estimate that figure could grow to 15,000 in the next few years.

"It seems to me there's a fairly natural base for Neiman to come in and serve a customer that may not be served at this point," said Patricia Edwards, a retail analyst for Wentworth, Hauser and Violich in Seattle. "Even people who don't have the money will go in and look at what's hot. Anytime you bring up the fashion sensibility of a city, there'll be a trickle-down effect."

When Nordstrom opened at SouthPark in 2004, shoppers were excited at the prospect of an upscale department store. But observers say Nordstrom targets a lower-income demographic than Neiman -- and pales in comparison when it comes to the amount of luxury items.

Even Neiman's decor oozes opulence. The walls are covered with original artwork commissioned from 19 regional artists. Handbags, shoes and gloves are displayed in museum-style cases. Home decor items are set against a backdrop of Venetian plaster, mosaic marble accents and beaded textured glass. And for optimum application of cosmetics, the entire store is bathed in a glow that replicates natural light.

Hughes, a Wachovia Web site content manager, said she plans to take Friday off to attend the opening. While her income falls short of the top 1 percent, Hughes said she sees Neiman as a place where people can splurge on little things such as lipstick. She said she tries to visit Neiman when she's visiting other cities.

"I do hit these stores if for nothing else than for inspiration," she said.

Neiman is thriving at a time when some retailers are struggling to hold on to customers. One reason: high-end shoppers are not as sensitive to factors such as skyrocketing gas prices.

"What Neiman Marcus is doing is what we recommend for all retailers who can afford it -- follow the money," said Gerald Celente, director of Trends Institute, a consulting agency in Rhinebeck, N.Y. "The people at the top are not going to stop spending money, and they are not going to lose it. And that market doesn't move much with the ebbs and flows of the economic tide."

Other Charlotte-area retailers said they believe their stores will benefit from Neiman Marcus' opening. Belk spokesman Steve Pernotto said he expects increased traffic at SouthPark, which will cause an overall boost in sales for the mall's tenants.

Taylor of Taylor Richards & Conger said he plans to compete by offering clothing from trendier, lesser-known designers. The men's store also will rely more on custom-tailored pieces.

He said there's another benefit to Neiman Marcus. Customers will be less likely to complain about his prices.

Although his customers can afford $2,000 Armani suits, they still grouse about the price, he said.

"In a community like this, where we've always been at the top of the elevator as far as pricing, we feel like it will legitimize some of the price points we have," Taylor said. "They'll raise the ceiling on pricing here."

Database editor Ted Mellnik and Staff Writer Stella Hopkins contributed.

Neiman Marcus Perks

The Charlote Observer

Fans of Neiman Marcus say the store isn't just about the high fashion, but also the experience. The Charlotte, N.C. store will be the chain's second smallest, with 80,000 square -feet of luxury including:

• An in-store beauty spa.

• Personal shopper assistants who will serve drinks while clients try on clothes in oversized dressing rooms.

• A men's lounge complete with a sofa, flat-screen television, laptop connections and beverages.

• An art collection of 151 works from regional artists, with video monitors to describe several of the pieces.

Wal-Mart Stores To End Layaway Service

Bentonville, Ark. - In another departure from its traditional roots, Wal-Mart Stores said Thursday it will end layaway service this year due to falling demand and rising costs. The service originated in 1962 to assist the cash-strapped rural customers that Sam Walton was committed to serving. Effective Nov. 19, Wal-Mart will stop accepting items for layaway and the pickup deadline for existing layaway goods will be mid-December. Layaway services are used mainly by consumers at the lowest end of the income scale, who don’t have credit cards and may not qualify for credit.

“Demand for layaway services has declined steadily as consumers turn to current options, including on-line shopping, shopping cards and no-cost credit alternatives that were not available when the company was started,” said Pat Curran, executive VP of Wal-Mart store operations.

Following the news from Wal-Mart, Kmart reaffirmed its commitment to layaway services.

“As a value-added service and as part of the company's mission to build long-lasting relationships with our customers, Kmart continues to offer a comprehensive layaway plan at nearly 1300 locations nationwide," said Don Germano, senior VP, Kmart retail. Kmart has offered layaway services for nearly 40 years.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Wal-Mart 'Rocks the Runway'

By Guy Trebay
The New York Times

NEW YORK -- What may turn out to have been the most significant runway show of New York Fashion Week had no celebrity front row, was created mostly by anonymous designers, generated little industry buzz and took place on a rooftop above Times Square before the official Olympus Fashion Week had even begun.

Defying the convention of showing next year's clothing now, Wal-Mart's Rock the Runway event on Thursday presented 27 outfits appropriate to the current season and with a top retail price of $98.94, for a leather jacket.

New York still makes legitimate claim to the title of fashion's capital, an assertion borne out by the 200 or more shows that will be staged here through Friday in warehouses, theaters, clubs, deconsecrated synagogues, boutiques and, of course, the Bryant Park tents.

But the realities of the marketplace increasingly suggest that the role the city plays in fashion may be quietly shifting from creative incubator to stage set for marketing hype.

Now that Seventh Avenue has effectively relocated to Sri Lanka or Romania and fashion information is communicated virally, the notion of runway shows pitched to what one industry executive calls "the elite 500" may soon come to seem archaic and quaint.

"Not everyone is in New York," said Karen Stuckey, a senior vice president of Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer. "Fashion is not just for a chosen few who have front-row seats in some elite tent somewhere."

Regardless of how rural or remote a consumer's habitat is, "fashion has become a common thread through music and television and Hollywood," Stuckey added. What a Wal-Mart show in Times Square signals, she said, is "the democratization of fashion," a shift away from the concerns of the 15 people for whom Olivier Theyskens is a household name to those of Americans like Joanna, the young pop singer hired by Wal-Mart to sing her current hit on the rooftop at Times Square Studios.

"I come from a blue-collar family," said Joanna, who grew up as Joanna Pacitti in a row house in Philadelphia, where her father owns a barbershop. Pausing for a moment after she had belted out "Let It Slide" against a backdrop of neon billboards advertising Coca-Cola, GMC and Geico, Pacitti said, "Wal-Mart clothes are relatable to me."

Is it surprising that they were also creditably fashionable? It is not.

Taking its cue from H&M, Zara and Topshop, European chains that boast of translating runway trends for a mass audience, with production times that are often shorter than 40 days, the Wal- Mart show offered striped hoodies, denim swing skirts, squashed boots, leggings, fitted skirts and cropped jackets that were highly reminiscent of clothes by editorial darlings like Proenza Schouler or Roland Mouret.

"Fashion no longer takes 9 months, 12 months to be picked up by the fashion embracer," Stuckey said.

It seems safe to predict that it will take far less when the fashion in question is offered at retail prices averaging $30.

The low cost of Wal-Mart's clothes reflects another telling dissonance between the extravagant stuff that tends to excite the press and buyers throughout Fashion Week and the essential truth of the American economy.

A giddy survey appearing in the Daily Mini, a glossy giveaway handed out at the Bryant Park tents, asks readers to check boxes indicating their favorite stores from among a list that runs almost exclusively to high-end retailers like Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus. The base line for suggested home values, in the Daily Mini survey, is $500,000.

"Do you own any of the following luxury cars?" asks the questionnaire, which goes on to list Cadillacs, Jaguars, Hummers and even Ferraris. Needless to say, there is not a Ford Taurus in sight.

This is not to suggest that the Taurus customer has gone unnoticed by fashion, and not merely by the market populists at Wal-Mart.

"What we believe is that we have millions in our stores every day that have been underserved," Stuckey said.

What seems increasingly clear is that the industry overall is looking with a lot more affection at those underserved consumers: a third of all American households will receive a free copy of the one-off "Fashion Rocks" magazine that Condé Nast published to coincide with its big Fashion Week benefit concert, to be shown on CBS-TV and "curated" by Elton John.

Like Wal-Mart's modest presentation, the Miss Sixty show at the Guggenheim Museum on upper Fifth Avenue was pitched at a consumer whose cohort is more Hilary Duff than Hilary Swank.

Unlike the Wal-Mart show, the Miss Sixty presentation featured all the moment's top models and a stylist whose efforts are more typically put to use by houses like Prada.

But beneath the superficial cool of teen-girl braids and belts worn outside belt loops, the Miss Sixty show was much like Wal-Mart's, both in terms of design and intention. Founded in 1989 by Wichy Hassan and Renato Rossi, Sixty now operates 300 single-brand stores and is sold at 7,000 other stores in 90 countries.

"We look at what happens in the high end of the market," said Mario Pace, the marketing director for the Sixty group, which projects sales for its brands - which include Miss Sixty, Energie, Killah and RefrigiWear - of $1 billion dollars in the next two years.

"We all know the luxury story, but we're coming from a much more democratic world," he said. "There is this whole tier out there that's not being covered. We want to be in that tier, because it's huge."

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

oh, nothing special

I figured I should check in. :-)

I’m doing pretty well overall. Work is keeping me busy, as well as tax school (at first I wasn’t going to do it again, but I found a weekend session, and if I ever want to do taxes for Big Green again, I have to get in the full course to be certified).

I’m always doing a little shopping (no surprise there) and I’m planning to go to Charlotte this weekend for the opening of their new Neiman Marcus.

That’s the basic gist of what I’ve been up to.

Operación McFly en español

Al Cabino's sneaker campaign got coverage in Cinco Días, Spain's version of The Wall Street Journal.

Zapatillas de culto que traspasan la gran pantalla

How To Turn a Washed-up Action Star into Mentos Spokesperson

(submitted to steve's blog by Al Cabino)

Ever wondered what happened to Van Damme? Looks like someone (from the Web) turned him into a Mentos spokesperson.

Watch it on YouTube

In New York, 'Black Style' Spins the Color Wheel

By Robin Givhan
Washington Post Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Designer Tracy Reese opened her spring 2007 fashion show on Sunday by sending two dancers down her runway. Bodies pressed together, they twirled to the rhythms of the tango.

Reese selected warm and saturated hues, mixing shades of raspberry with coral and mustard. The prints celebrated the whitewashed houses of a barrio set on a steep hill or the dizzying geometry of a field of palms. Uneven pleats on a butter-yellow jacket called to mind crepe paper streamers or the naive ruffles decorating a pinata.

It was a glorious collection that vibrated with color, music and colliding images -- some based in fact, such as Cuba, Spain and Mexico, and others created fully in the imagination.

A few hours later, designer Diane von Furstenberg presented a collection of streamlined urban silhouettes, including her signature wrap dresses, in bold colors. When showing a simple cap-sleeve swing dress in a fiery shade of fuchsia or a marigold-colored shirtdress that practically glowed, she used black models -- those with deep ebony skin who could wear intense shades without being overwhelmed by them. Her palette seemed custom-made to be especially flattering to people of color.

Reese is black. Von Furstenberg is white.

The fact of their race is not something that would ordinarily be considered. They do not focus on racial themes in their work. They are not known for an ethnocentric aesthetic. They do not send racially charged political messages down the catwalk. But the race card has been played.

Coinciding with the start of the spring runway shows here, the Museum of the City of New York debuted "Black Style Now." The exhibition opened Saturday with a cocktail party that attracted more than 1,000 guests, most of them black. That made for a striking fashion moment, as there were more black people at that one event than one typically encounters during the whole of this city's fashion week.

The exhibit, which runs through Feb. 19, examines modern black fashion and the way race influences aesthetics. This is a subject that is rife with political, social and cultural pitfalls. The most significant hurdle is the virtual impossibility of taming such an enormous topic into something at once manageable, thoughtful and entertaining.

The exhibition was curated by Michael McCollom, a fashion design veteran, and Michael Henry Adams, a historian. Part of their mission is to draw attention to black designers. But the fundamental goal is loftier: "We're very interested in the genesis of what's going on in fashion, where it's trying to go. Will it make it?" McCollom says. "We look at black style not just as fashion but also as a sense of being. It's not just design, it's attitude."

That point of view leaves one pondering what to make of a designer such as Reese and a show like the one mounted by von Furstenberg. Is Reese's race enough to justify including her eclectic sensibility in an exhibition that seeks to define a cohesive black style? Is there something about one's race that leads to the creation of a certain kind of silhouette? Is Reese's spring collection, which draws its inspiration from Latin culture, an example of black style simply because she is black?

Could von Furstenberg's collection, with its strong colors shown to such advantage on black models, be defined as an example of black style even if the designer is white?

The exhibition raises these questions but never answers them. And to some degree, it leaves one with the uncomfortable feeling that the whole debate is an indulgence in stereotypes masquerading as social and cultural theory.

The exhibit expends most of its energy on a simpler topic: hip-hop. But even that is not fully considered.

It moves briskly from the sepia-tinged era of the 1920s to the days of disco, where it lands briefly on the groundbreaking work of designer Stephen Burrows. It acknowledges landmarks, such as the launch of Essence -- one of the exhibition's sponsors -- and the first black models to appear on the covers of Glamour, Vogue and GQ. It moves on to the 1980s and a visitor can see examples of work from designers including Willi Smith and Jeffrey Banks. But it does not tackle the more controversial work of Patrick Kelly, who incorporated pickaninnies and golliwogs into his designs.

All of that history, however, is presented as a mere prelude to the arrival of hip-hop and its celebrity frontmen.

In this exhibit, black style is defined as hip-hop style. It argues that the designers who preceded its arrival prepared the way for its birth. Those who came after it -- or who do not work in that aesthetic -- are rebelling against it. Without hip-hop, there would presumably be no way to define black style. The "authentic" black experience is inextricably linked to hip-hop.

This argument is akin to suggesting that the "youthquake" of the 1960s is emblematic of "white style." Could love beads, miniskirts and go-go boots accurately explain the range of "white" fashion -- from the New Look to grunge?

The exhibition suggests that black style and hip-hop style are essentially the same. It perpetuates the prevailing sense that an insult to hip-hop and its adherents -- as in Jay-Z's dispute with the producers of Cristal champagne -- is an insult to blacks in general.

The exhibition does not give time to non-black designers Tommy Hilfiger or Marc Ecko, both of whom have been influential in creating and popularizing the hip-hop aesthetic. It was Hilfiger, after all, who in 1996 put Coolio, Naughty by Nature's Treach, Method Man and Sean "Diddy" Combs on his runways. That was way back when Combs was still Puffy and before he had become a fashion mogul in his own right.

The curators argue that black style is not simply a garment but the way it is worn. And this is certainly accurate in the case of brands like Kangol and Adidas. The clothes remain essentially unchanged from the original design. Instead, it's the attitude, the swagger, the creative combinations that link it to black men.

Gone missing from the exhibition is emphasis on the critical concerns raised by the wearing of ostentatious diamonds, expensive sneakers and styles inspired by prison inmates. Those areas are only briefly discussed, and while Adams hopes that they will be dealt with more fully in public programs associated with the exhibition, one leaves the museum galleries with the sense that there is no controversy, that there is no debate over whether style and swagger have surpassed education and personal responsibility in importance.

At the entrance to the exhibition, there is a gallery lined with black-and-white portraits of icons including Adam Clayton Powell Jr., Sidney Poitier, Satchel Paige, Marian Anderson and Jackie Robinson. It's impossible not to notice the way they wear their clothes. Back in their day, attire -- the tailored suits, the crisp pocket squares, the church hats -- was equated with dignity. In the hip-hop era, the overriding message of clothing is bravado. The exhibition doesn't look below the surface of all the ghetto-fabulous bling on display to examine the question of how that transition occurred and why.

"Black Style Now" tells a story about the evolution of a black aesthetic. Hip-hop is the central element in that tale. The main characters are celebrities -- Diddy, Beyonce, Kanye West, Jay-Z and a host of other entertainers. They are the ones imbued with the power and the creative influence. Tracy Reese is included in the exhibition because she is a black woman. But she is not a practitioner of hip-hop design. And so in this tale, she is merely -- and unfortunately -- a footnote.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Luxury shoppers' new spot

Samantha Thompson Smith, Staff Writer
The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.

CHARLOTTE - Less than two years ago, it was nearly impossible to find a real Louis Vuitton handbag for sale in North Carolina.

Never mind an Hermes tie, Gucci loafers or anything by Dolce & Gabbana.

That, of course, was before the state's luxury department store invasion -- before Saks Fifth Avenue came to Raleigh and Neiman Marcus' opening next week in Charlotte.

Saks may have been first to tease us two years ago with a taste of real luxury, but Neiman Marcus will take us to the next level.

The store will open Sept. 15 stocked with an impressive list of who's-who designers: Prada, Akris, Stella McCartney, Missoni and Tory Burch. You'll also be able to shop for Shu Uemura cosmetics, Manolo Blahnik pumps, Chanel handbags, Paul Smith men's shoes and Baccarat glassware. Once the store opens at SouthPark mall, only a few major designers will not be readily available for sale in the state.

For Triangle shoppers, the only big hurdle will be the three-hour drive to SouthPark.

But for the real fashionista -- the one who drools over Fendi handbags, who won't go to a business cocktail party without Diane von Furstenberg, who can't leave the house without trailing the scent of Clive Christian, and for whom money is not a problem -- the shopping should far exceed the cost of gas.

"It's a great complement to the existing retail," said Heather Jones, the public relations manager for the Charlotte store. "The clothing is anything they wouldn't be able to get anywhere else between Atlanta and D.C."

Neiman Marcus regulars, however, say it's more than those big names that keep them coming back.

"I just love good service and good quality," said Trish Healy, a Dallas native who moved from California to Raleigh almost two years ago. "And I love the history of the store."

Healy, who grew up shopping at Neiman Marcus in Dallas, said the chain's consistent store merchandising is the main reason she'll be making the trip to Charlotte to shop.

"It's a very, very real culture," she said. "It's not just about the designers. It's about a true understanding of merchandising."

She said Nordstrom may have a larger selection of shoes, but Neiman Marcus' selection makes you want to buy. "At Neiman's, you want every pair," she said.

Big names in store
The new 80,000-square-foot store, which is the same size as Saks at Triangle Town Center, won't be as big as some Neiman Marcus shoppers are used to. It won't have a third-floor restaurant or a children's department, and the store won't sell bridal gowns. But it will have many of the same names and in-store boutiques, such as Chanel, Escada and St. John, that have made Neiman Marcus among the top tier of luxury, Jones said.

While day-to-day shopping might not be enough of a draw for Triangle shoppers, they might feel the tug of designers themselves. Jones said the store will regularly pull in top-name designers for personal appearances and trunk shows.

The store already proved it has some serious clout.

The first designer appearance was last month, when Carolina Herrera -- who is best known for her glamorous evening gowns and classic suits -- gave a fashion show at the Duke Mansion in Charlotte of her newest resort collection. She also met with established and potential customers from around the Charlotte area.

Herrera said she was happy to make the appearance, something she does regularly for the department store chain. "I have a long relationship with Neiman Marcus," she said.

Jones said expect more like the Herrera event, the only difference being the shows won't be exclusive to top customers or credit card customers.

"We don't try to exclude anyone," she said.