vera wang by stariya

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									Wall street journal
  BOSS TALK

                         Is Discount a Good Fit for Vera
                         Wang?
                         The Designer, on Pins and Needles
                         Over Kohl's Line, Discusses Brand
                         By VANESSA O'CONNELL
                         September 5, 2007; Page B1

                         Few designers are as prolific as Vera Wang.

                            Working as an editor and stylist at Vogue for 16 years
                            before moving to Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. as a design
  director, she later built one of the world's best-known bridal businesses. She's now
  branched out to other apparel: Her high-end collection this fall features $1,700
  military-style jackets and $2,800 gowns; her midprice Lavender Label runs from
  $350 skirts and pants to $900 dresses. Her licensing operations range from eyeware
  to china, stationery and even mattresses (with Serta). And five perfumes bear the
  Vera Wang signature. All told, her privately held empire generated at least $225
  million in wholesale sales last year.

  Now, Ms. Wang, 58 years old, has designed a line of dresses starting at $68 and
  handbags starting at $49 for discount chain Kohl's Corp, bearing the name Simply
  Vera Vera Wang.

  As the cheap-chic apparel, accessories and home goods arrive Sunday at more than
  800 Kohl's stores, naysayers are watching for signs that the line will weaken Ms.
  Wang's image. Her high-end collection is only three years old, and many consumers
  still know her best for her bridal gowns.

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  The Chinese-American designer, raised on Manhattan's tony Upper East Side,
  recently took a break from preparing for her runway show at New York's fashion
  week, which starts today, to discuss the new line. Ms. Wang, dressed in black
  leggings and an oversize top at her Park Avenue home, reflected on the challenges
  of building a powerful brand. Excerpts:

  WSJ: What's on your mind as you launch this Kohl's line?

  Ms. Wang: Well, I am nervous. I would be dishonest if I said I wasn't. But I think I
  brought intelligent fashion and style -- and a sense of who I am personally -- to the
  merchandise. I took my best shot at it. And of course it is nerve-racking. I have
  never gone this path, so it is a big job for me. I don't consider it a jump down, I
consider it a jump across to a much bigger world. Being able to dress so many more
women, to me as a designer, is a privilege. Sure, I love the new collection [runway]
show. There is nothing like it. But if I can't see my work on more people, what did
that mean ultimately for me as a designer? Fashion is also about being able to reach
more women. Isn't that the ultimate goal? Are you dressing 20 people in the world?
Or are you dressing the world? I would argue that both are possible.

You work so hard on it and then you put it out there. And you don't know. All you
could do is your best guess. That's about all any creative person can do. A lot of the
rest, of course, is marketing. And a lot of it is how you present yourself -- your own
tastes, your own vision. With the Kohl's project, it is up to the consumer to decide.
So I am waiting to be judged in terms of how women approach it.
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                                         WSJ: What are the most important things a
                                         designer ought to do to build a powerful
                                         brand that can exist high and low?

                                         Ms. Wang: There has to be segmentation
                                         in the product, not only in terms of price.

                                            Specifically, [my runway] collection is
                                            fashion-forward and takes huge chances. It
is for very few. It is there to create brand identity and brand awareness. I like to
think of it as extremely sophisticated.

Lavender Label is about a younger fit. The sizing is tighter, smaller, a bit sexier.
Lavender is about a client that has a more youthful kind of body type and attitude.

The Kohl's line is about being comfortable, edgy, whether you are wearing a
$20,000 dress or a $20 top. It could be for my teenage daughter, a young working
professional woman, or a young mother. Even a middle-age mother. It's not about
age. Kohl's is about ease, and a comfort, and you can throw it on. It can be put
together, you can make it part of your own wardrobe.

But at every price point, you have to ask how to really make it worth the money.
When a top is $1,800, the question is: Does it look different enough, is there
enough technique, are there enough decorative elements that make a woman feel
this is worth $1,800? For the Kohl's client, who might be weighing whether to
spend $138 versus $80 for a top, the question is: Is there enough to justify the price,
in the detailing of the cuff or the texture and the fineness of the wool? Does it feel
worth it? That's the challenge you face at every level.

WSJ: What were the biggest chances you took in your career?
                                                             Ms. Wang: The first
                                                             big chance I took was to
                                                             open a retail store [to
                                                             sell wedding gowns].
                                                             Everybody says retail is
                                                             a big killer, and that
                                                             nobody succeeds in
                                                             retail. You go into retail
                                                             to brand the company,
                                                             to have a presence.

                                                               The second-biggest
                                                               chance I took was going
                                                               into ready-to-wear,
                                                               because ready-to-wear
at the collection level is so costly. The help needed -- the accessories, the shoes on
the runway, the fabrics you have to invest in, the know-how to make the same
pattern in sizes 2 to 10 to 12. And let's not even talk about the production of the
show itself. The real figure, minimum if you want to be really great, is $20 million.
Think of what you have to make pretax just to break even. So it is a loss leader. But
what it does do is aid the perception of the brand, at the high end.

WSJ: Do you think middle America is getting more or less sophisticated about
fashion?

Ms. Wang: I have been all over the United States in my fashion career, and one
thing I noticed was how terrific women look today. I see the way girls are put
together and how their moms are put together, and I am really pretty amazed. They
know what the flip-flop is, the T-shirts, they have the shorts. They have a special
jean. They have a great designer handbag.

You should never underestimate women. And don't underestimate how important
fashion is in America today, how important trends are, how much women care.
When I was growing up in New York in the '50s, fashion was very elitist. You
would go to Alexander's or Orbach's to buy the knockoff of French fashion.

WSJ: What sort of woman do you have in mind when you are designing your high-
end collection and your Kohl's collection?

Ms. Wang: It is always the same woman. It is a woman who is quite confident and
independent and also loves a bit of art, some unique detail, an element of surprise,
even if it is a twist of a sleeve. One of the women I have always admired a lot is
[Scottish model] Stella Tenant. She puts vintage together with new. She puts boyish
with dress-up. She makes fashion her own.

I don't care if you bought the most expensive coat or whether you bought the least
expensive T-shirt. It is about an attitude. It is about a woman who is active. She
loves her life. Even if she is wearing something quite precious, she doesn't wear it
in a precious way.

WSJ: Which items in your new Kohl's line are your favorites?

Ms. Wang: There is a T-shirt dress that I like in black jersey. In the front there is
this panel, I could have done it in 20 colors. You put the little belt on it or not,
depending on whether it is a fat day or a skinny day. It has an urban look. The other
piece is my short-sleeve coat. It has enough architecture to make it special. I love
the fact that you can dress it up or down. You can be my daughters (ages 13 and 17)
in it, or me in it. One night, the three of us walked out, all wearing it, going out to
dinner. My youngest wore it over a pair of jeans. My older wore it over a dress. I
wore it over my ubiquitous leggings with a great top. That said it all to me.
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WSJ: Like many other high-end designers,
you have used licensing deals to extend
your name into new realms. What is your
philosophy on licensing?

Ms. Wang: My products are things I relate
to. That is part of building a brand. An area
that we could go into that would make a lot
of sense, and not cost a lot of money, is
chocolate. Chocolate for weddings, for gifts, all of that. It fits right into the
weddings. It is not like if I went into the car business.

WSJ: You've also said you are trying to model your business after Ralph Lauren's.
What did you learn in your time at Ralph Lauren?

Ms. Wang: What I learned was that to really be in the fashion business, you need a
large infrastructure. That's one thing a lot of young designers don't realize. That
leap between starting up and becoming a huge brand is a lot more costly than it
used to be. And there is a lot more competition. So it is a lot harder to distinguish
yourself today than most people think.

Also, Ralph never sacrifices his upper end. You also have to be true to your own
vision of who you are as a designer.

WSJ: In bridal specifically, players such as J. Crew now sell wedding gowns made
of the same satin that you frequently use, but at less than half the price. Have you
tweaked your strategy in response to the new competition?

Ms. Wang: My bridal business is a luxury business and will always stay a luxury
business. It is what bridal means to me. What we stand for. And it is the foundation
of our business.

WSJ: You have two kids, a husband, two dogs and a vast private business that is
growing. And you have plans to open your first nonbridal apparel boutique in New
York this fall. How do you make it all work?

Ms. Wang: I don't really make it all work. I just do the best I can. I also try to
stress to my husband and children that I am a stand-up person and I care about
people. And being the mother of daughters, I have always been very much of a
feminist. I have always felt that if you can give back as a woman to other women,
that's one of the greatest things that you can do.

Write to Vanessa O'Connell at vanessa.o'connell@wsj.com6

								
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