Ok, I confess, I am in love with Ralph Lauren. Not the man, whom I’ve seen up close only once, but the brand, which I think is by far the greatest and most iconic American brand in the both the retail and apparel space and beyond. Ralph Lauren has created a world in which his brand lives. The brand is referred to as “The World of Ralph Lauren.” This is how the company refers to it, and, this is how we, as consumers, have been educated, by Ralph to think about and experience the brand. The World of Ralph Lauren is a place of elegance and luxury, of classic and rugged American style. The World of Ralph Lauren has its roots in a rich and glamorous American past. In an old world “WASP” lifestyle with touches of the American West; of polo players and yachts; of country houses, of Palm Beach, Nantucket, Southampton and the Maine coast; of old-school Boston and the New York establishment; of the Virginia hunt country and the ski slopes of Colorado, Utah and Idaho. The World of Ralph Lauren presents very specific images of effortless and timeless style and taste. It is not pure fantasy. The images are rooted in an other-worldly reality that some people have actually lived. Picture the extended Kennedy family tossing a football in Hyannis on a fall afternoon, and then dressing for dinner at Downton Abbey. [Read more...]
Shoes are not that easy to buy. Or wear. If you find the style you like they are often out of stock in your size, don’t fit, are uncomfortable or too expensive. Shoes are the one item of clothing I almost never purchase on sale. Well, I do try to find shoes on sale especially at the twice-yearly Bergdorf markdowns when the high-end shoe department on the second floor of that usually staid and elegant emporium is turned into a partially self-serviced frenzy for a few weeks. But, for me, the calculus of a shoe sale doesn’t work. It is just too difficult because there are so many variables. Like most consumers, I am looking for style, fit and comfort. Especially now, as heels have risen to ever greater heights; five-inch stilettos are de rigueur among stylish women (myself excluded from that category). Finding a shoe that is comfortable, fashionable and fits at the price you want to pay is a tricky business.
Today, we ladies need shoes for every occasion, function and style. A range of sport-specific athletic shoes; mud covered outdoor shoes for gardening and general mucking out; business and evening shoes in a variety of heel heights, colors, finishes and textures for different outfits and occasions; sandals, also in a variety of heel heights; rubber flip-flops, the go-to, all purpose beach and summer shoe; boots for all varieties of weather and fashion in various lengths and heel heights, leathers, patents or suedes; slippers and slip-ons for at-home wear. It seems that only yoga, practiced barefoot, requires no footwear at all.
JC Penney, now JCP, and Macy’s are at war over Martha Stewart. The Appeals Court ruled recently that Penney could sell Martha Stewart product temporarily, but, not under the Martha Stewart brand name. The question of why the now-departed JCP CEO and former Apple and Target superstar, Ron Johnson, and the lifestyle guru and home goddess, Martha Stewart, agreed on a relationship under the umbrella of the existing Macy’s contract – kind of like having two husbands or wives at the same time – is best left to other experts. But the question of why all the fuss about Martha, why two major and competing retailers are willing to fight for her, goes well beyond the legal challenges. It goes simply to the strength of the Martha Stewart brand which is arguably the leading non-apparel brand in the country, perhaps rivaling only Ralph Lauren in the strength of its conviction, equity, vision and imprimatur of its founder, the inspiration providing, Non-Executive Chairman, and, convicted felon, Martha Stewart. [Read more...]
The correct answer I believe is: “All of the above.” I’m not a handbag person, per se, although I own several. I don’t think of status so much when I buy a purse, yet I realize that, in addition to function, which for me means not too heavy and enough room for my stuff, I am conveying something about myself when I tote around my handbag. As Nora Ephron said in her very funny essay, I Hate My Purse, “…your purse is, in some absolutely horrible way, you…”
Whether real, fake, or my new favorite, ‘luxury pre-owned,’ handbags are an expression of who we are and where we belong in social, economic and fashion terms. As our most visible fashion accessory, our handbag is both functional and symbolic, conveying to others the tribe to which we belong. A form of self-expression and signal of personal style, handbags are also an entrée to luxury and glamour. One may not be able to afford that penthouse apartment on Fifth Avenue; or, the private tented safari in Africa; but, one could, perhaps, feel a part of that world with say, a Louis Vuitton bag. [Read more...]
I’ve long been a Michael Kors fan, buying gorgeous double-faced wool dresses on sale at Bergdorf Goodman or in the Michael Kors store on Madison Avenue—only at 70% or more off, after Christmas and in the early summer.
These dresses, and some pants, skirts, jackets and wonderful cashmere sweaters, are lined up like so many soldiers in my closet ready for almost any outing. The styles remain basically the same year-in and year-out. Beautiful fabrics such as the double-faced wool, along with heavier wools and tweeds, matte jersey, raw silk, satin, and cotton twill for summer. All styled classically and elegantly. Feminine. Flattering. Simple sleeveless sheaths and separates with some accessories, handbags and shoes to round out the collection. Wearable, luxurious, classic American style.
But now, since Michael Kors has gone public, the positioning of a lower tiered line, Michael by Michael Kors, into a global lifestyle brand seems a distinctly different brand proposition and one that is, perhaps, at odds with the couture line. Of additional concern is the thought that the couture line has suffered as a result of the greater attention to, and investment in, the lifestyle brand.
The lifestyle brand is designed and merchandised for a different and younger customer who likely has never seen, heard of, or cared about the Michael Kors collection or its understated, classic American positioning and style. These customers know Michael Kors from his successful appearance on Project Runway; from Michael Kors advertising; and from Michael Kors licensed watches, handbags and small leather goods featuring a prominently displayed MK logo in shiny brassy, brass. The new Michael Kors brand is described by management as a “global luxury lifestyle brand with a multi-channel strategy, unique design and strong infrastructure…a compelling assortment of luxury merchandise and exceptional service in a Jet Set store environment.”
The term “Jet Set” appears often in company communications. As a child of the 60’s when ‘Jet Set’actually meant something—picture Princess Margaret flying off to Mustique, Bianca Jagger going anywhere. And before international travel became so much more like getting on a bus at the Port Authority than departing in style at the Eero Saarinen designed TWA terminal at Kennedy— “Jet Set” was defined as: “An international social set made up of wealthy people who travel from one fashionable place to another.” [Read more...]
A few years ago, I noticed a woman in Central Park with what I thought was a tag or store sticker on the outside of her pants. “You still have the tag on your pants,” I told her as I passed her on the track. “That is the label, it belongs there!” she explained. This was the first time I noticed the Lululemon brand icon. The logo is featured on pant legs in a way that looks like it was stuck there. An rounded A shape that appears like an upside down U, it is inconspicuous, but, for those in the know, it is the sign of membership in what is one of today’s most powerful brands.
Lululemon was founded in 1998 in Vancouver, British Columbia by Chip Wilson, a 20-year veteran of the surf, skate and snowboard business, who noted a need for a more technical and performance-based product after he took, and loved, his first yoga class. Wilson, now a Forbes ranked ‘Yoga Billionaire,’ stepped down from his role as CEO and passed the reins to Christine Day, a former Starbucks executive. Wilson remains Chairman. Together Wilson and Day hold approximately 32% of the company’s outstanding shares. “We like that management has skin in the game,” a Morningstar report noted recently.
Lululemon opened its first store in 2000. The company now has 147 stores in North America. Lululemon is one of the fastest growing companies in the retail and apparel space and is outperforming the industry on almost every level. Lululemon management is projecting FY 2012 growth of 25% with same store sales growth at 25% and direct to consumer growth, which accounts for 14% of sales of 179%. Last year the company reached a billion dollars in sales; this year the company is projecting revenue in the range of $1.3 billion. And it holds no debt. [Read more...]
I first heard of Uniqlo several years ago when the company opened a pop-up store in Rockefeller Center. People were raving about the inexpensive cashmere sweaters. Always interested in a bargain, I checked it out. I was underwhelmed. Not enough sizes, a real mish-mash as I recall. It was dark and dreary. A dull basement space that was completely unexciting.
I returned to Uniqlo from a neutral point of view. However, this time around, the energy in the store, the sharp pricing the great overall merchandising and promotion, plus the fiber/product exclusivity, was so pro positive, that I have gone to the cheerleading side.
Over the last two years I received a couple of Uniqlo turtleneck ‘HEATTECH’ tops as gifts. These are made of a proprietary fabric that keeps you warm in winter by generating and retaining heat. The items can be worn as an under-layer or just alone. The fabric is kind of stretchy, “highly resilient and durable,” anti-static, odor resistant and designed to maintain its shape after repeated washings. And it does. [Read more...]
I am a sale shopper, taught at an early age by my mother and aunts to look for bargains. We needed to get the most value and style for our relatively limited means, but I soon became drawn by the sport of it. Why pay more for what you want, when you can pay less?
I belong squarely in that segment of shoppers who do not want to pay full price for anything. Fortunately, there are so many sale shopping options today that I can almost always get what I want for at least 50%, if not 75%, off the full retail price. Just googling “sale shopping” yields nearly 2 billion results – and that doesn’t even include eBay. When I came of age there were only a few ways to get a good bargain. One was to wait for the semiannual department store sales.Yes, there were only two: one right after Christmas (and before retail inventory season), and the other after Easter or Mother’s Day. If you had connections, you could also try to “get it wholesale.” That meant if an item cost $75.00 you could get it for $37.50. Occasionally, if your connections to the manufacturer were particularly good, or, if you were a sample size, you might get the item for the wholesaler’s cost which would be about $18.75, or 75% less than full price.
There were also manufacturer’s outlet stores. These were ‘real’ outlet stores, filled with goods that were actually manufacturer overruns or mistakes, not outlet stores filled with merchandise made exclusively for outlet stores. There were also off-pricers like Loehmann’s, the cathedral of deals in the Bronx, with its legendary community dressing rooms where you could buy a Bill Blass or Calvin Klein (when those were actual designer clothes, not licensedbrands) for about one third the retail price. And, there was the original Filene’s Basement located in downtown Boston. I can remember the excitement I felt when I made my first trip there. [Read more...]
On Black Friday morning I wasn’t feeling well, so cancelled my plans for the rest of the day, and went back to bed. When I turned on the TV, nothing happened. Sick as I was, I needed a working television. Somehow, I got myself together and walked over to Best Buy. To buy a new TV. On Black Friday in Manhattan. What was I thinking?
It was midday, and the store was crowded with shoppers clutching their circulars, competing for what was left of the doorbusters. There were lines everywhere. I was not looking for a doorbuster, just a basic television at a reasonable price, which I knew I could get at Best Buy. I’d looked online before leaving home just to get a sense of how much this outing would cost. I got to the store, commandeered a sales person, asked a couple of questions, chose a television that seemed to be the right size and price and told the sales person I needed to get out of the store quickly. The sales person escorted me to a counter, the TV boxed and in hand, and told me I’d be the next customer. My transaction completed, I was in and out of the store in ten minutes. Ten minutes. [Read more...]
I’m a leading edge Baby Boomer, born at a time when life was simple and filled with optimism and possibilities. Now, that time is past and the world around us has changed. And, of course, we are getting older. We do not think of the next life stage as ‘old.’ Aging, yes. Old, no! But we will continue to be an important consumer segment in the coming decades, and will not “go gentle into that good night.”
I belong to the largest and most important economic cohort in U.S. history. I’ve accounted for the greatest share of U.S. consumption and earnings since 1980. My era of economic dominance is projected to last until 2019. I’ve benefited from more education than any previous generation. As a woman, my increased education and participation in the labor force along with the rise in technology and globalization led to a strong positive economic environment throughout much of my life.
I’ve been a big spender, accounting for 78% of GDP from 1995 to 2005. The relative prosperity which characterized most of my life, along with the complete dominance of my cohort in every life stage, served to increase my innate generational optimism and feelings of entitlement. I grew up believing I both earned and deserved “the good life.” [Read more...]