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September 13, 2009

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Everyone for seconds

IN these meager economic times, retailers and consumers are helping themselves to seconds - designer second lines, that is.

Executives from Galliano, Red Valentino, Philosophy by Alberta Ferretti and others cite encouraging progress and future growth potential as retailers devote more floor space to such brands and as consumers seek more "bang" for fewer designer bucks.

These second lines are also building their own retail networks and expanding their product assortments.

"There is a global attention right now for Red due to the fact that it offers an edgy, ironic and fashion-oriented design at good quality and interesting prices," said Stefano Sassi, chief executive officer of Valentino Fashion Group. "It perfectly integrates with our main line, a successful concept given the difficult times."

Galliano, John Galliano's second line launched in 2007, recently opened its first freestanding store in Tokyo's Omotesando Hills mall. Galliano has also established shop-in-shops in Japan's Isetan, France's Galeries Lafayette and Printemps, and London's Harrods.

Alexander McQueen CEO Jonathan Akeroyd characterized the McQ line as a "massive opportunity," citing demand at a pop-up shop in February in New York for McQ's collaboration with Target as evidence of great "awareness and desire for McQ."

Diffusion craze

Executives are eager to distance today's secondary lines from the diffusion craze of yore, with some Italian brands even balking at the s-word.

While Miu Miu, D&G and the recently reintroduced Versus lines are priced lower than their designers' signature collections, they're not considered second or diffusion lines by their creators.

"There are no inferior lines," said Stefano Gabbana. "These last years have evidenced how style is not necessarily a question of price anymore, because you can buy at fast-fashion stores or at the market and still look stylish."

John Hooks, deputy managing director and group commercial director at Giorgio Armani SpA, stressed Emporio Armani "was conceived to be a collection that would reflect the trends of the moment interpreted through a particular Armani vision for a customer with a youthful attitude."

When Versace SpA resurrected Versus last February with a range of accessories designed by Christopher Kane, the message was clear: "Versus won't be a second line, but a lower-priced, young luxury brand for a modern, stylish, sensual and futuristic woman," then-CEO Giancarlo Di Risio said at the time.

Sensitive terms aside, retailers describe second lines as a rare bullish zone of business these days.

"These brands encompass the designer's vision and offer great trend-led pieces at an accessible price point," said Marigay McKee, fashion and beauty director at Harrods.

The luxury store is devoting more floor space to such "sister" brands as Marc by Marc Jacobs, M Missoni, Moschino Cheap & Chic, D&G, Valentino Red, See by Chloe and DKNY.

"Second lines have come a long way since the 1980s. Until recently, the word diffusion was synonymous with inferior quality, fabrics and styling, but as designers revamp these lines to stand alone, they have earned the design respect and purchases of style-savvy customers," McKee said.


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