By Teresa F. Lindeman, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
PITTSBURGH -- Picture a T-shirt with trim around the collar -- what the industry calls a ringer T -- but the trim isn't just done in a contrasting color. It's cashmere.
The luxury twist on a casual classic will be found in the new Martin + Osa store opening tomorrow in a mall just off the beltway around the nation's capital to the curious eyes of an industry waiting to check out teen retailer American Eagle Outfitters's next act.
Because this is the fashion world, Martin + Osa's top marketing officer, Arnie Cohen, uses phrases such as the "ethos of the brand" as he tries to explain what the new brand's designers have been up to these past months.
Essentially, he said in an interview last week, they've created "a fusion of classic, sport and denim," a collection of non-fussy clothes for 25- to 40-year-olds that can be worn with sneakers but also into some offices without looking out of place.
American Eagle, based in Marshall, is projecting its new baby can produce $1 billion in revenue within a decade. The company's confidence may be reflected in the real estate commitments being made.
The Northern Virginia launch tomorrow will be followed in a week with a second store in Dallas, another a week later in Newport Beach, Calif., with a fourth in San Francisco the next week after that. A fifth store is scheduled for Chicago in November.
The company, which last year reached $2.3 billion in sales, has said it could have 25 of the new stores open by the end of next year. It hasn't yet identified any locations in the Pittsburgh market.
Other retailers also are launching new brands meant to reach new customers and open up new venues for sales growth. Martin + Osa's chances of success rest partly on such global issues as the strength of the economy, consumer confidence and competition.
For now, the most important thing is how well the designers have interpreted what the targeted audience wants.
To avoid distracting employees focused on the teen customers of its main brand, American Eagle assembled a separate design team with its own space in New York to develop a new vision.
The overall goal is to reach 25- to 40-year-olds. Mr. Cohen said the bull's-eye is on a 30-year-old. At that age, customers have more money than when they were teenagers but they expect different things of their clothes, too. They want style and pieces that last but they don't want to look like all of their friends.
As the Martin + Osa executive put it, "We know that 30 is no longer 20. Thirty uses a knife and fork even when no one is looking."
The stretch may not be as long as it seems for American Eagle. The original line targets an active group of kids and builds its collections on a denim base. Martin + Osa, named after a married couple from Kansas who became explorers, is still looking for active consumers and still using denim.
If the overall mix of fabrics is a step up from those used in the teen garments -- Mr. Cohen talks about Old World fabrics and mentions the use of mills in Italy -- the prices will be a step up, too.
So will service. The dressing rooms will include call buttons to summon an employee who can find that size 6 if the size 4 was too small or pull a different color off the rack.
The design team is hoping to stop traffic in the mall with an unusual storefront that has a large entrance but no windows. A picture that ran in trade publication Women's Wear Daily this summer showed walls of wood paneling instead of the more typical glass.
"You're going to walk by and you're going to stop in your tracks and say this is different," promised Mr. Cohen.
American Eagle hopes to build awareness of Martin + Osa with direct mailings to consumers near the stores and promotional pieces given to shoppers who wander through.
But the company is not planning a grand party for tomorrow's much-anticipated opening. The staff will be too busy observing how consumers interact with the space and how they react to the clothing.
This is still a work in progress, said Mr. Cohen, adding: "We're not launching a brand believing we have all the answers."