Saks, Bloomingdale's roll out lower-priced private labels

Today's Wall Street Journal announces that Saks Fifth Avenue is introducing 'The Men's Collection,' an in-house line of menswear that will be in all the chain's stores by August.

And Bloomingdale's is also turning up the volume on its own branded men's goods, revamping and relaunching their signature collection as 'The Men's Store,' which will pop up in Bloomie's outposts nationwide by fall.

The advantage of rolling out these private labels now? You guessed it -- both stores are hoping to attract customers with pricing that's drastically discounted compared to that of the stores' designer wares. Saks' 'Men's' will cost up to 50% less than its couture counterparts; Bloomingdale's 'Men's,' 30% to 40%.

Certainly, this is happy news for the average Saks shopper, who's likely been affected by the recession. But the timing of the story has deeper implications, too.

The Journal story comes two days after fashion heavyweights like Vogue editor-in-chief Anna Wintour and designer (and CFDA chair) Diane von Furstenberg huddled at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York to discuss the grave problems facing the fashion industry.

A quick rundown: the huge gap between Fashion Week showings and store product arrivals diminishes interest in the clothes; overproduction sets up disappointing sales; retailers compete by marking down designer goods sharply.

I have to imagine that something like the more budget-friendly Saks collection, which will span just about everything a man ever wears, rankles everyone from the people behind American Essentials, which hawks $105 sweatpants in the store, to Armani, which makes some of the store's finest suits. Surely, many Saks partners will feel they're being suckerpunched by the store at an already desperate time.

Saks' perspective, of course, is that vendor loyalty is important -- just not as important as client loyalty. Fashion may be hurting, but consumers are hurting worse, and keeping shoppers happy is as crucial at a high-end department store as it is at any local shop.

Saks' may love their designers, but with this news, they're unequivocally stating that the customer is king -- and he's about to get some new clothes.
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