Retailers hope the strategy will reenergize sales of adult apparel, which rose 4.4% in 2006.
But does a big designer really bring in the big bucks? Not necessarily, Susman said, but it does make a big impact, even if it doesn’t translate directly into same-store sales, a key industry metric.
"This is a differentiation point for these retailers,” said Nautica founder David Chu, who has worked with many retailers to build the successful Nautica brand.
And department stores are looking for names to stand out in an ultra-competitive field.
Oscar de la Renta will debut his new O Oscar sportswear collection at Macy's Wednesday, with the tagline "Oscar For Every Woman." Vera Wang, known for her $10,000 wedding gowns, is partnering with Kohl's to offer "Very Vera" this fall.
Likewise, the funky designers behind Heatherette, Richie Rich and Traver Rains, garnered praise last fall when they introduced their branded tween clothing line for Macy's. They're back Tuesday with a star-studded show.
Vollbracht points to Ralph Lauren's success in branding and merchandising as the inspiring business model for designers like himself.
The Wrong Fit For Wal-Mart
But not all forays into high-end fashion succeed. Wal-Mart, for instance, is ducking out of Fashion Week this time around and has not yet decided about future participation. The retail giant has been showing collections from guest designers and its Metro 7 clothing line at the event since September 2005, when it held a fashion show in Times Square and took out an eight-page advertising spread in Vogue. But as the company struggles with lagging sales, the strategy doesn't seem to be helping.
Part of the reason, Susman says, is that Wal-Mart does not want to pay for a brand and instead is focusing on private labels and direct sourcing, a strategy that hasn’t been as successful.
However you look at it, the cheap chic trend is a win-win for the fashion industry and consumers.
“We’re trying to make fashion accessible to everybody,” says Fashion Week organizer Mallis. “When it comes down to it, it’s about selling clothing, not parading around designs no one wants to buy. The whole point is to generate business for designers and retailers.”