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Abboud home charts new course

NEW YORK -As a home label, Joseph Abboud has been around just more than two years. But following the brand's acquisition last summer by an Italian conglomerate, home is being given a new strategic mandate that will include positioning alongside other designer lines in better department stores, toning down the masculinity of the designs and reviewing all current Abboud licensees.

Prior to the brand's June 2000 purchase by Holding di Participazioni Industriali (HdP), the 12 licensees creating Abboud product operated with minimum input from Abboud licensor JA Worldwide, which received no funding to funnel into the development and marketing of home goods. Licensees include Davidson Cotton for bedding, bath, blankets and beach towels; Avon Home Textiles for table linens and kitchen textiles; Hedaya Home Fashions for quilts and accessories; United Feather & Down for down comforters and pillows; Creative Bath for shower curtains and bath accessories; Bess Manufacturing for dec pillows; Couristan for area rugs; Kravet for decorative fabrics; Simmons for mattresses and box springs; Imperial Home Décor for wall coverings; PTS America for china; and Excel for flatware.

The new corporate arrangement gives HdP-which also acquired the JA Apparel Corp.-more control over the brand, its design and distribution under the Joseph Abboud Environments label.

"We plan to look at every lifestyle category and determine whether we should be in it-whether it's a belt or a pillow," said Traci Young, vp, marketing and creative services. "The strategy for everything is to raise the bar."

In addition to reviewing both home and apparel licensees, Abboud plans to launch a women's bridge apparel line and open 10 to 15 Abboud lifestyle stores over the next three to five years, Young said. The company intends to open the inaugural flagship store in Manhattan as soon as it finds an appropriate site, although it has not yet settled on whether the home program will be shown within the store or developed as a free-standing concept.

Abboud also is re-examining its existing retail placement, again with an eye to "raising the bar," Young said.

"We know there are places we don't want to see the product," she said. "We're very serious about achieving a specific distribution matrix."

Ideally, she said, the company would like to see Joseph Abboud Environments showcased in retailers such as Bloomingdale's, Marshall Fields and Fortunoff, which already carry the menswear line. But the company also hopes to encourage placement in select upstairs retailers that have shied from the home category, such as Saks and Nordstrom.

And the company is well aware that the home label is launching into a rarified sphere where Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger and the new Donna Karan home lines are battling for prominence.

"It's a competitive market-but it's a competitive market in men's, too. We're already out there elbowing for space in the men's department with Calvin and Donna and the rest," Young said.

In its aggressive campaign to transform Abboud into a lifestyle brand, the company must establish a non-menswear identity with female consumers. To that end, an intensified marketing thrust, new packaging and an updated logo will come on line during the coming months. The target customer, said vp of licensing Maria Vicari, is a woman looking for quality and understated luxury. "She's not necessarily looking for labels," Vicari said. And price "is not an issue."

Retail price points will range from $250 to $400 for queen duvets and comforters; from $60 to $120 for sheets; from $375 to $625 for down bedding; from $249 for floor runners to $1,199 for 9' x 12' area rugs; from $30 to $60 for shower curtains; and from $15 to $60 for bath accessories.

Vicari was pulled from the apparel side of the business two months ago to orchestrate the coordination of the Abboud brand across product categories. The new direction in home will officially debut at spring market with four bedding ensembles. Most coordinate with existing signature sheet programs as well as table linens, table ware, flatware, decorative accessories and rugs that have recently debuted in their own winter trade shows.

For the first time, all bedding programs will include coordinating window treatments, an effort that had been sporadic in the past, Vicari said.

In towels, the number of colorways will expand from five to nine to ensure that all bedding programs have bath coordinates. Coordinating shower curtains and accessories will be included in that program as well, she said.

Finally, spring market will mark the debut of a 380-count jacquard sheet program, again coordinating back to the bedding lines.

"We see the next market as being all about opulence and elegance-just as we see in the apparel area," said Vicari.

For the coming market at least, Abboud product will continue to be shown as it always has-individually in each licensee's own showroom. At the moment, the company is bending its energy toward coordinating a few well-defined design stories across a range of product categories, reining in some of its licensed product and re-assessing its retail distribution.

"Now we're in the position to have very specific control and move in a very specific direction," said Young. "Essentially, I see this as a launch."

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