Skirt Chaser

Marc Jacobs sent them down the runway in tweeds. Proenza Schouler had them in orange and purple. Prada did them in patterned velvet. The item the designers are hawking for fall 2004? The pencil skirt, that snug-fitting sexy-librarian staple from the fifties. These runway versions, however, won’t make it to stores until August, so Bloomingdale’s has enlisted Zac Posen, Patrick Robinson of Perry Ellis, and the trendy design team Theory to rush some of their own pencil skirts into production several months early. The store will begin to sell the skirts this month.

It’s a savvy response to an antiquated production cycle. Thanks to and Full Frontal Fashion, consumers now view collections hours after they’re presented, and they can purchase imitations at Zara and H&M within weeks. Bloomie’s is not about to be beaten to the punch by low-end knockoff purveyors.

“We’re eagerly awaiting fall, but to stay competitive we have to decide on the few things customers really want and get them out as fast as we can,” says Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice-president for fashion direction. “As we went through looking at the collections, the thing that was pivotal was the pencil skirt.”

If it seems like Bloomingdale’s risks alienating top designers by selecting a few labels to showcase months before the bulk of the fall collections show up, the other fashion houses don’t seem to mind. “Bloomingdale’s has been buying Marc Jacobs for close to twenty years,” says Jacobs president Robert Duffy. “There has never been a negative effect on the business.” Ruttenstein plans to keep it that way, pointing out that the early pencil-skirt arrivals will number roughly 1,000 units (from $98 for Perry Ellis to $700 for Posen), far fewer than the store will have in the fall, but enough for those who can’t wait.

“We had a choice of waiting until fall or letting Zara and H&M scoop us,” Ruttenstein adds. “So we decided to work with designers to do skirts that could be worn now and through the fall.”

Skirt Chaser