Ann Taylor Tries Haute Couture
By Tom Ryan
Ann Taylor has introduced an upscale clothing line in an effort to capture a larger number of affluent female shoppers. Launching this week in stores in New York and Chicago, the Collection carries prices about 40 percent higher than its traditional merchandise.
Typically, pants at Ann Taylor sell for $68 to $128 and suit jackets, $198 to $228. Collection prices range from $175 to $195 for pants, and $295 to $365 for suit jackets. The line is built around work-appropriate suits and dresses that Ann Taylor is known for but features high-end fabrics, such as Loro Piana cashmere, from Italy.
“We know there’s a client there who has an appetite for more upscale, expensive product,” Adrienne Lazarus, president of the Ann Taylor brand, a division of Ann Taylor Stores Corp told The Wall Street Journal.
The move comes as Ann Taylor and other midlevel women’s apparel retailers have struggled lately, and upscale chains have thrived, according to the Journal. It also follows other attempts by specialty retailers to dip into more luxury merchandise.
About a year and a half ago, J. Crew Group introduced a higher-priced, limited-edition line featuring $228 jeweled ballet flats and a $595 navy cashmere jacket. Also called Collection, it was given its own section on J. Crew’s website this spring and a free-standing store will open on Madison Ave. in April 2008. Coach has also successfully expanded its line of handbags costing $400 to upwards of 20 percent of its mix.
Still, selling luxe items without the cachet of designer labels’ shops is a challenge for Ann Taylor.
Recognizing this, Ann Taylor is putting Collection in its own department, with black-lacquer hangers and black signs with pale writing. Sales associates have been trained to point out the more expensive fabrics and buttons, and special linings and stitching inside waistbands. Rather than paper shopping bags, purchasers receive garment bags. The line will only be available at select stores although it will eventually have its own section on Ann Taylor’s website.
Indeed, the retailer told the Journal it has learned of the dangers of letting a brand stray too far from its roots. To mark its 50th anniversary three years ago, Ann Taylor created a high-end line that included a dress with a stiff crinoline lining and a $900 rabbit-fur jacket. It bombed after customers complained that they didn’t know how to mix the trendy pieces with other items in their closets.
That’s why, unlike the 50th-anniversary line – which, Ms. Lazarus said, “really tried to be something else” – Collection will focus on classic styles, especially work-friendly items. The goal is to create deluxe versions of items Ann Taylor shoppers traditionally buy. When customers walk into the store, she said, “They’re not going to say, ‘What brand is this?'”
Discussion Questions: Do you think Ann Taylor’s move to sell the high-end Collection line is good for the brand? Will it confuse customers? Do you think Ann Taylor is properly addressing the challenges of a moderate-to-better chain introducing more upscale items?