Lindsay Tetzlaff, a hairstylist in Milwaukee, had a sartorial nightmare last week.
She dreamed about waiting in line for two hours outside of a Target store, then running frantically inside to find that all of the Lilly Pulitzer for Target products were already snatched up. She woke up and realized that the launch date was still several days away.
“I really want the sandals with the gold starfish on them,” she said. “I have four stores I’m planning on going to.”
Since Target Corp. announced in January that it was working with the designer of bright, colorful Florida beach-inspired sportswear, Preppy Nation has had Sunday’s rollout date circled.
Target’s work with Lilly Pulitzer is turning out to be one of the most highly anticipated of the 150 limited-time design partnerships it’s ever done. It has been shaping up to rival the partnership with Missoni in 2011 that created a Black Friday-like fervor in its stores and crashed its website.
“It’s so happy and vibrant,” Kathee Tesija, Target’s chief merchandising officer, said in describing the Lilly Pulitzer look. “It has magnetic pull because we all want a little happy — a little summer.”
The buildup and buzz around the Lilly Pulitzer for Target line, which includes 250 products, gives new momentum to the Minneapolis-based retailer’s effort to regain its mantle as the purveyor of cool.
Target executives say the measure of the partnership’s success doesn’t have much to do with how many or how quickly products are sold.
Rather, they say the real barometer is the level of excitement it creates. And by that measure, Lilly Pulitzer for Target has already been a home run. It was a trending topic on Twitter when it was announced in January and has been a popular subject on social media ever since.
Carol Spieckerman, a retail consultant with Newmarketbuilders, has noticed more blogs and websites — which, she noted, are not sponsored by Target — publishing tips on how to shop the Lilly Pulitzer collection than she can recall with previous partnerships.
“It seems to be treated as a fait accompli that this will be a blockbuster,” she said.
There are too few products involved for a design partnership to make a big impact on Target’s inventory of items of thousands of products and $73 billion in annual sales. “But its one of the ways we really surprise and delight our guest. It’s that innovation they’re looking for,” Tesija said.
Target’s formula for designer collaborations has been emulated by H&M, Kohl’s and other retailers. While there have been some questions about whether the concept has become a bit tired, Tesija said the overwhelming response to Lilly Pulitzer is proof these partnerships still work. “Look at how the guest has responded: I think they’re still as excited today as they were when we first started,” she said.
When Target staged a one-day, pop-up shop in New York last week, giving shoppers in the fashion capital early access to the products, a line began forming at 3 a.m.
And in Canada, where Target is finishing the closing of its stores, some shoppers have complained on social media about missing out on Lilly Pulitzer products. A few said they would drive to the U.S. for the launch.
In contrast to some of Target’s recent partnerships with up-and-coming designers, Lilly Pulitzer is a well-known brand with a devoted following. Some of its fans complained that the design house was cheapening itself. “Lilly Pulitzer is turning over in her grave right now that her legacy is being sold at Target,” one person tweeted in January.
Jane Schoenborn, Lilly Pulitzer’s vice president of creative communications, said the company expected some of their fans to be a bit miffed at first. “We really watched it,” she said. “But it was less than 1 percent that was raising any eyebrows. And now there’s so much excitement about it.”
She added that many of those naysayers have been won over now that they’ve seen the look book and as other fans have countered back that Pulitzer herself, who died in 2013, would have approved of the collaboration. Pulitzer, a Palm Beach socialite, was known for throwing Gatsby-esque parties with an eclectic guest list.
“We count our lucky stars every day that Target came to us,” Schoenborn said. “We absolutely love the exposure.”
While the Lilly Pulitzer name is already well known on the East Coast, the company hopes the Target partnership will introduce the brand to new potential customers west of the Mississippi.
Besides the publicity, the partnership has provided an avenue for Lilly Pulitzer to expand into new categories. The collection at Target offers a broad assortment of items, such as dishes, glasses, and even a much-hyped hammock.
With 250 pieces that range in price from $2 to $150, it’s one of Target’s more expansive designer partnerships. The collection will likely be appealing to both younger shoppers as well higher-income shoppers who tend to shop more luxury brands, analysts at Cowen and Co. wrote in a recent research note.
All Target stores will get the collection, which hasn’t been the case with all previous partnerships. But stores may get a different assortment.
Tesija said Target has a “wish list” of brands with which it would like to partner.
“We are always talking to this list. It’s always changing,” she said. “It’s really about a win-win partnership. So what’s the right time, what’s the right idea, what is the right product. All of that has to line up before we decide to move forward.”
Kavita Kumar • 612-673-4113