Judith & Charles Express Yourselves!

Believe it or not, this post is not about a redo of the classic Madonna song nor is it an interview about Mrs. Rudy Guliani or Prince Charles of Wales.  Rather, it is the next installment of my dream collaborations: Judith & Charles for Express.  If you are reading this right now and have no idea who the former are, don’t feel bad.  Judy and Charles are actually the designers/owners of the fantastic brand formerly known as Teenflo.  Founded in Paris in the 1970’s, Teenflo got its name from the original founders, Martin and Florence.  After finding le amour in the city of light,  Judith and Charles got hitched, brought Teenflo to Canada and after two decades of explaining the roots of the brand name, decided to modernize the company name to reflect their own monikers. If the list of designer brands below   is any indication, their strategy seems right on track:

Alice + Olivia
Elizabeth and James
Graham & Spencer
Holmes & Yang
Lutz & Patmos
Mac and Jac
Mars and Valentine
Martin + Osa
Max and Cleo
Me & Ro
Nic + Zoe
Rag & Bone
Rock & Republic

So, ladies and gentleman, welcome the next “X +X” brand,  Judith & Charles:

Although a name is important, it is just the plate to the design, which is the meat and potatoes.  So, I hope you are hungry, because the Spring collection is delish!

Above photos courtesy of Judith & Charles

This is not what I was expecting. These designs are chic, stylish, urban, polished, modern and frankly, much hipper than past collections.  In a quick second I can name at least a dozen female friends age 20-40 who would love to incorporate any (or all if budget were no issue) of the collection into their wardrobe.  However, the likelihood of this happening is slim to one for one reason- many of them don’t know the brand exists.  Based in Canada, Judith & Charles has a pretty limited distribution, especially outside of its home country and major U.S. cities.  From a strategic standpoint, if a re-branding campaign is in full swing, would it not be wise to also increase brand awareness and market penetration?  I say yes. So how to do it?  Aha!  A collaboration with a multi-door retailer catering to a customer with a complementary demographic (an identical demographic would create a redundancy) to drive desire that at once would bring in a new, higher end customer to Express and create a loyalty to the Judith & Charles brand that remains long after the collaboration ends.

Enter Express.  Piloted in 1980 as Limited Express, Express is now the sixth largest specialty retailer currently operating 570 retail stores throughout the U.S.  Although well known for its womenswear, the retailer is actually a dual-gender brand.  However, for the purpose of this exercise, lets focus on just us girls, shall we?  With its history in knits, Express continues to dominate the category with additional strengths in denim and is the home to the infamous “editor” pant (widely popular with the young professional for its tailored fit yet accessible price point).   A quick look at the website reveals that pants continue to be the focus for Spring 2011:

Above photo courtesy of Express.com

Okay, so here is the thing.  The reference names for the pants are spot on (except that any female illustrator that I know wears boyfriend or skinny jeans and a t-shirt, but whatever), but the fit just isn’t great. The pulling around the crotch area combined with the sateen sheen of the fabric makes for a somewhat cheap looking pant (the hooker platform heels are not helping either).   While I understand that there is a very defined price point that Express has to hit to satisfy its customers, why not find a way to create a new collection of pants that are a bit more demure, sophisticated, elegant, even with a slightly higher price point to pull in the Banana Republic/J. Crew customer that may be interested in an alternative and a way to scale down a bit from the $139.99 price tag they carry.   Really, isn’t that what Express is trying to do with its suit program? See exhibit A:

and b)

Good grief!  If the suit doesn’t even fit the fit model right, what hope does a normal girl have?  We need the people behind “the best fitting pants a woman can own” (Cue to Judith and Charles) to come fix this stat!  I am confident with the right tweaking in fit, using a proper fabric that drapes graciously instead of pulling, and an elevated price point to reflect the superior quality, Express could position itself to  draw back the customer that used to shop its stores but jumped ship when the product started skewing more trashy than trendy.  A great example of my point is the following:

Express bandage dress. Photo courtesy of Express.com

Too short, too tight and a bit tart given the iridescent fabric.

Now, there is no reason this slightly unfortunate dress couldn’t be transformed into something more simple, yet flattering and trend focused such as this dress from Judith & Charles spring collection:

Above photo courtesy of http://www.teenflo.com

Oh what a little bit of extra length and more subtle curves can do to transform obvious into beguiling.  I could really get excited about this collaboration if it were to happen.

However, let’s hope Express learnt its lesson from the dismal performance of its 2008 capsule collection with the fantastic Celia Birtwell.  Although the small collection included fabulous designs such as the blouse below, a total failure to promote the capsule doomed the collaboration to go pretty much unnoticed.

Celia Birtwell blouse for Express, photo courtesy of Express

So, Mr. Weiss, what say you?  Are you willing to give the collaboration station another go?


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