Altuzarra isn’t quite a household name — at least not yet.
But that’s part of the appeal for Target, which is rolling out a special collection from Joseph Altuzarra, a 31-year-old darling of the fashion world, in stores and online Sunday morning.
The company’s partnerships with designers don’t have the same novelty today that they did when it started them more than a decade ago. Since then, Target has done more than a hundred of them. So how does the Minneapolis-based retailer keep them fresh?
“Part of it is our ability to tap designers when they are reaching one of the pinnacles — one of the first pinnacles in some cases — of their career,” said Jeff Jones, Target’s chief marketing officer.
The timing in this case has been fortuitous. Altuzarra, who launched his own label six years ago, recently received the Council of Fashion Designers of America’s Womenswear Designer of the Year Award.
Meanwhile, many of Target’s competitors tend to partner with more well-known, established designers. H&M, for example, has teamed up with names such as Versace and Karl Lagerfeld in the past and is working with Alexander Wang for an upcoming collection. And Kohl’s has joined forced with the likes of Vera Wang and Catherine Malandrino.
Some of Target’s other recent collaborations have also been with names that were not widely known, such as Prabal Gurung, Phillip Lim and most recently, Peter Pilotto.
The collaborations are not just about driving sales for Target.
“It is to demonstrate the style credibility of the brand,” said Jones. “When people line up, of course we’re thrilled. But that’s not why we do them.”
That’s also one of the reasons Target once again teamed up with Net-A-Porter.com, a luxury fashion website, to sell certain pieces of the collection. Not only will Net-A-Porter make the merchandise available to a global audience, it will also put Target in the “bull’s-eye of the fashion world,” Jones said.
The Altuzarra for Target collection, which includes moody red velvet and python prints, has drawn second looks for its sophisticated, sexy line of dresses, skirts, and trenchcoats.
Under the leadership of Target’s new CEO, designer partnerships such as this one are poised to get even more attention as the retailer tries to restore a reputation damaged by last year’s data breach and other difficulties.
Brian Cornell, who took over last month, told employees at an annual meeting last week that he wants Target to “be cool again” by honing in on categories such as apparel and home to be more of a style authority.
Cornell was on hand for the glitzy launch party for the Altuzarra for Target line in New York earlier this month. The event featured floating flower cocktails and a dramatically lit space with a canopy of sparkling lights overhead. Celebrities such as Naomi Watts, Keri Russell and Ivanka Trump stopped in.
Cornell said last week that he was struck by how often he saw people shopping the rack of clothes at the event and exclaiming surprise at the prices. “This is only $48? Wow!” he said.
The items in the collection sell for between $17.99 and $89.99. By comparison, Altuzarra’s regular designer line starts around $900.
While it’s always tricky to anticipate how well these designer collections will do, there’s not a lot of risk if these collaborations don’t end up being hits, said Carol Spieckerman, a retail consultant with Newmarketbuilders. After all, they take up a small portion of the overall apparel sales floor in a Target store.
“They’re not necessarily make it or break it events,” she said. “They are more about marketing plays perhaps more so than sales generators.”
But a designer collaboration that does not go very well can hurt in another way. Target’s Missoni collection in 2011 quickly sold out and its website crashed. The following year, Target’s much-hyped holiday collaboration with Neiman Marcus fell flat, leading to a drastic markdown in prices.
Jones said shoppers’ frustrations with its limited Missoni supplies led it to overcorrect the next year, leading to the stumble with the Neiman Marcus collaboration. Since then, the retailer has worked on getting inventory levels right.
Another crucial variable is timing. In the case of Altuzarra for Target, Jones thinks the timing is just right with the collection hitting stores at the beginning of the fall, when many women refresh their wardrobes.
Spieckerman noted that the line is more a more dramatic look than many of Target’s more everyday offerings.
“Target has this shiny, happy persona and [Altuzarra] is a little more urbane and dark compared to some of the other collections that have been a little more whimsical,” she said.
But she said that could be a good thing in reaching out to a different audience and not just honing in on millennials as many retailers are doing these days.
“This gives a little more eye candy to their more mature customers,” she said.