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Spiegel starts new chapter

As the Spiegel Group works to restore key pieces of its business to profitability, the company last week relaunched the Spiegel Catalog, repositioning the book from 'a department store in print' to a catalog highlighting separate businesses and boutiques.

The relaunch, which included an overhaul of spiegel.com, is the latest in a series of repositioning moves by the parent company, which has been operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection since March 2003.

The catalog/Internet retailer also has enlisted celebrities in the home, entertaining and apparel worlds to enhance its fashion credibility.

At the same time, the catalog has a new president and CEO, Geralynn Madonna, named to the post last March, and a creative team that was moved from corporate headquarters in Downers Grove, Ill., to New York.

Buyers, Madonna says, "continue to be based in Illinois, and we have design meetings once a month. (They) are responsible for product."

Madonna also heads the company's New York-based apparel-centered Newport News catalog.

On the home furnishings side of the catalog, bedding is the lead product area.

Full page layouts show a themed bedroom with breakout merchandise on the opposite page. Themes are focused to topics such as "a garden inside," "spotting sophistication," or "exotic accents."

An elaborate bed setting with accessories, accent items and sundry knick-knacks is featured on a full page along with evocative lifestyle copy. Product breakouts appear on the page opposite. A following spread offers additional items as part of the theme, including furniture.

Window coverings, once a design leadership position for Spiegel, remains a major home category, with emphasis on how to quickly change a window. The approach, Madonna explained, "is to show how easy it is to change a window's look and the versatility vis-a-vis working with various designs in bedding. We show a lot of different looks."

In the front settings of the book, sheets are not featured as a part of the bedding looks. "We don't sell sheets for each bed," Madonna noted. Instead, the catalog carves out a separate section for solid-color sheets. The assortment ranges from 200-cotton "cotton basics" sets at $39 queen to 500-count cotton sets at $179 queen. Along with it is a section for basic bedding and pillows, and a section for comforter sets.

Bath is sparingly featured in the bedding-theme segments. "We are just tapping into that area," Madonna related.

The new Spiegel approach includes celebrity assistance in the home, a strategy also being taken in the catalog's apparel section. The company has lined up designer Elaine Griffin for home design hints, Lydia Lando whose Chicago boutique Lille features unique accessories, Linda Cobb "who makes cleaning fun," Simone Lillian "the Spiegel body/ mind/spirit consultant," and Donatella Arpaia and David Burke, restaurateurs who provide entertaining and cooking tips, said Madonna.

James Coviello launches his first home collection in the catalog using the same theme as his apparel — "vintage meets modern."

Advice from the experts is also featured on the redesigned Web site.

Despite its financial problems, "Spiegel still retains its brand equity," Madonna said, noting that focus groups were very positive about the brand.

The home mix is sourced about 60 percent offshore, Madonna said, "and we would like that to increase slightly."

Designs are created in collaboration with vendors, buyers and product development staff.

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