Victoria's Secret and its angel-clad models beware: Target Corp. thinks it has another hit waiting in its own wings.
On Sunday, Target will debut a limited exclusive line of lingerie and lounge wear created by upscale designer Josie Natori, the first time the retailer is wading into territory normally dominated by luxury specialty shops like Victoria's Secret.
It's vintage Target. Like its partnerships with Liberty and Missoni, the retailer hopes to use such limited editions, including clothing and home furnishings, to build buzz and drive people to stores. Target also wants to position itself as a legitimate, lower-cost alternative to upscale retailers.
"We want to constantly surprise and delight our guests, which not many people can do," said Trish Adams, Target's senior vice president of apparel and accessories. "Over the long term, people will view you other than being the place where you can buy white underwear and bras."
For Target, Natori created a 37-piece line, which includes bras, panties, robes and leggings, priced at $9.99 to $34.99.
Launching a Natori line is a good way to inject a little something extra in a category most consumers view as a commodity purchase in mass merchandise stores, said Carol Speickerman, president of newmarketbuilders, a retail strategy firm in Bentonville, Ark.
Normally, Speickerman dislikes Target's broad limited edition lines like Missoni because "there is no second act." In other words, they fail to build any meaningful, continuous relationship with the consumer, she said.
But in Natori's case, "I like the idea of Target branching into other categories" that mass market shoppers tend to view as commodity purchases, Speickerman said.
"It's hard to see the delineations" in bras and underwear at a Wal-Mart or Target, she said. "Josie Natori is very careful about where her brands goes. It will clearly stand out in a sea of indistinguishable sameness."
The apparel business sure could use a jolt. For the first six months of 2011, total clothing sales grew just under 1 percent, according to market research firm the NPD Group Inc. While men's apparel sales grew 4.6 percent, women's clothing sales fell 0.8 percent.
Pricey lingerie, however, continues to be a bright spot. Limited Brands Inc., which owns Victoria Secret, has posted several months of double-digit sales increases at stores open for at least a year, driven largely by the luxury lingerie retailer. In September alone, Victoria's Secret said comparable store sales jumped 13 percent.
Target hopes Natori will give its stores similar credibility. Born in the Philippines, Natori, a former top Wall Street investment banker, enjoys a strong reputation for designing Asian-themed lingerie for upscale department stores like Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. When Target first approached her a year ago, Natori said she thought "it was a great opportunity to expand into a different audience."
"We always have been in the high end," Natori said. "Clearly, the world has changed. Target has been so successful in their other limited-edition collections."
The retailer has timed its Natori launches to coincide with Christmas and the Valentine's Day, key gift-giving periods that account for 50 percent of annual sleepwear sales, Adams of Target said.
Speickerman said Target's plan to launch a second line for Valentine's Day is "a nice, new twist." Normally January and February are dead months for retailers as consumers recover from their holiday shopping bills. An exclusive Natori line could entice female Target shoppers to buy again, especially those looking to use the gift cards they received for Christmas.
Thomas Lee • 612-673-4113