Esprit plans U.S. comeback, widens focus to grown-ups

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The Esprit brand for young women today likely resides somewhere in the mind next to Duran Duran and teased hair. But the label is banking on recapturing popularity among those who remember it fondly, by making a big U.S. homecoming with more than just junior offerings.

The joint European/Asian Esprit Holdings reacquired the rights to the Esprit trademark in the U.S. last year, and plans to introduce the name here with its own global print campaign and increased ad efforts from a series of licensed partnerships.

The initial ad blitz this fall, which Esprit's Germany-based Group CEO-Deputy Chairman Heinz Krogner pegs at roughly $7 million in the U.S. through December, is "just the beginning," he said. Though Esprit has rolled out its EDC by Esprit junior line as well as older-skewing casual and business-wear lines into roughly 350 department stores already this year, Mr. Krogner plans to spend much more in advertising as the company grows its presence in both department stores and in its own stores.

He expects to open as many as 10 standalone Esprit shops in New York "very shortly," he said.

global effort

The global effort, developed by Esprit's in-house global image group will work to showcase the Esprit brand as a fashionable, prestige lifestyle brand with affordable prices using the theme, "Real design, real style."

The campaign will run in Hachette Filipacchi Magazines U.S.' Elle and Time Inc.'s In Style in the U.S. It will also run in a raft of top fashion titles including Elle and Marie Claire in 13 Asian and European countries where the brand has exploded since its overseas push began back in 1996. Sales outside the U.S. exceeded $1 billion last year. But in the U.S., the picture has not been rosy-and that's the next step.

"Esprit was a junior brand in America, and we want to get all our old juniors back with our new offerings, that is what we're betting on," Mr. Krogner said. Awareness of the brand is still 68% despite its lack of major support in recent years, according to company research.

But according to trend researcher Irma Zandl, principal of the Zandl Group, "most teens and young adults have no impression-positive or negative-of Esprit so the company is starting with a clean slate."

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