Homey Fashion Statements

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By Noelle Knox, USA TODAY
Forget skinny jeans, ankle boots and huge handbags. The newest, priciest fashion trend: designer-brand homes, condos and town houses.
It started in spring with a collection of Martha Stewart-designed homes in North Carolina. Then came a chic condo project off Wall Street with interiors and furniture by Giorgio Armani. This summer, condos went on sale in The Jade, a 57-unit building in the Chelsea section of


By Noelle Knox, USA TODAY

Forget skinny jeans, ankle boots and huge handbags. The newest, priciest fashion trend: designer-brand homes, condos and town houses.

It started in spring with a collection of Martha Stewart-designed homes in North Carolina. Then came a chic condo project off Wall Street with interiors and furniture by Giorgio Armani. This summer, condos went on sale in The Jade, a 57-unit building in the Chelsea section of Manhattan with interiors, furniture and a roof-top deck designed, in part, by rock royalty Jade Jagger.

PHOTOS: Designer homes

"Another big fashion house (condo project) will be announced next year in New York," says Michael Shvo, founder of Shvo Marketing, a real estate marketing firm. Shvo, who connected Armani and Jagger with developers in New York, is also working with another designer on a project in Texas.

While Shvo wouldn't drop names, it's not hard to imagine the curb appeal of, say, a Ralph Lauren ranch house, a Nautica beach bungalow or an L.L. Bean cabin.

For real estate developers, pairing with a fashion designer can inject buzz into a project, especially now that home sales around the country are sagging. For fashion designers — many of whom already have their names on sheets, dishes and paints — it's a chance to break into the $594 billion market for new homes. And for home buyers, it's an opportunity to surround themselves in a designer's style.

"I could really picture my lifestyle there," says Edward Sander, 38, a marketing executive for a software company who bought a one-bedroom apartment in the Armani/Casa building. "I was attracted to the experience they portrayed I would have living there."

By New York standards at least, the dark-wood and sleek-lined units are competitively priced, at $680,000 for a studio to more than $2 million for a penthouse suite. But, to Sanders, who owns a few Armani suits, what made the difference was the name. "The Armani brand was more personal to me because I could associate with something else that I buy," Sanders says.

Of course, taking your business from the runway to the driveway can be perilous, as several designers have already learned. While designer apparel sales total $11 billion in the USA alone, competition is scissor-sharp. One fashion faux pas can wreck a season's sales. To boost profits and reduce financial risk, designers are always looking for new market segments, such as children's apparel or sleepwear and lingerie, to crack.

Since Ralph Lauren put his trademark polo player on a line of sheets in 1982, most major clothing designers have tried to license their names on everything from picture frames to throw rugs to sofas. Still, there's a big difference between selling a look and selling a lifestyle.

"There have been a number of success stories (in home fashion), like Ralph Lauren and Martha Stewart," says Don Hogsett, business editor of Home Textiles Today. "Others were far less successful. Liz Claiborne (LIZ) was a bomb. And Tommy Hilfiger (THB) hasn't done that well."

So what made Jagger, best known for her jewelry designs, want to start designing furniture and picking kitchen colors? "Interior design can allow me to express myself in many ways, collaborate with a lot of people I admire, and it all comes together to create a product that should express the way I like to live," Jagger said in an e-mail.

She said she expects to announce another real estate project before Christmas, one she described as an "amalgam of Viennese tradition and modern intervention." Her functional and modern "pod" design in The Jade apartments in New York appealed to Roger del Vaille, 37, who bought a studio in the building.

"Her brand says cosmopolitan," says del Vaille, a photo-shoot stylist. "Her image — the world traveler — everything she got out of all of her experience of traveling, she's putting into this building."

That connection with buyers attracts real estate developers, especially now that the inventory of new homes is piling up like last year's leg warmers. Sales of new homes are down 14% this year, while cancellations have surged. To lure reluctant home shoppers, builders are holding blowout sales, offering free granite countertops, TVs, swimming pools and vacations.

Designer homes are "quite simply a creative way to distinguish your products from competitors'," says Bruce Karatz, CEO of KB Home (KBH), which teamed up with Martha Stewart. In addition to Stewart communities in North Carolina and Atlanta, KB Home will build Stewart-styled homes near Houston and Los Angeles. Next month, it will announce one new such community in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Karatz says the Martha Stewart homes are selling faster than anything KB Home is building in the Southeast. Though still a small portion of the company's total sales, they could increase to 10% to 20% of KB Home's production, he says.

The homes, which are inspired by Stewart's personal residences in Maine, Connecticut and New York, cost from the low $200,000s to mid-$500,000, depending on the neighborhood. They attract a "huge amount" of home shoppers, Karatz says.

Copyright 2006 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

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