The Perry Ellis International fashion moniker marketed mainly guerrilla-style to hipsters was built literally on the backs of a celebrity fan base that includes Mr. Gyllenhaal, as well as Brad Pitt and Courteney Cox. Its paid advertising consisted mainly of a minor print play with quirky creative in independent pubs such as Anthem and Vice. But now that sales of the one-time vintage golf-shirt brand have more than doubled, the 3-year-old revival brand is looking for greater visibility as it reaches into new arenas including women's fashions, watches and even wee-ones wear.
Penguin is still small, with roughly $20 million in wholesale sales expected this year and it faces the dilemma typical to many hot under-the-radar fashion brands of how to grow while maintaining its cool status among the forage-loving fashionista set.
"The minute you go mainstream, you just lost the underground market," said NPD Group's chief industry analyst Marshal Cohen. But, he said, it's inevitable no matter what that the underground market will abandon you anyway, so Penguin is being smart to expand on its cult status to leverage its popularity.
But Chris Kolbe, president of what is officially dubbed Original Penguin by Munsingwear (an homage to its classic roots), steers clear of calling Penguin's marketing expansion a move toward the-gasp-mainstream. "`Mainstream' wouldn't be indicative of where we're headed," he said, explaining that the brand has deliberately steered clear of "selling out" and opted instead for what he calls a "controlled growth strategy."
Controlled though it may be, Penguin will explode onto the scene this fall with a portfolio far beyond its traditional offerings, promoting recent licensing forays into kids' and toddler apparel, accessories and what it calls "Super Good Denim." It's also expanding its women's collection and opening three to five stores to add to its one Manhattan locale.
Mr. Kolbe said that with the layering of larger-circulation media (ads are also planned for Hachette Filipacchi Media's Elle and Conde Nast's Teen Vogue), print buys in smaller independent titles and seeding with celebrities and other influencers, the brand will "become a lot more apparent."
Inclusion in the pages of GQ via the kindness of style editors likely didn't hurt the Conde Nast title's landing Penguin as an advertiser as the fashion brand decided to broaden its reach. Michael Wolfe, associate publisher, said GQ's editors have "certainly been very supportive of Penguin and realized the lifestyle connection with our readership."
As for continuing its quirky personality, creative will be key. Poking fun at soap operas-as mass as mass can get-Penguin developed its own Shakespearean bent on daytime drama with a campaign it calls "Thou Art Bold & Beautiful." The men's spread, created in-house, features two Penguin-clad thespians acting out Hamlet alongside copy that reads, "Can Drake save Dorian from his despair? Find out all season long at an Original Penguin by Munsingwear."
Will it fly?
"The minute you go mainstream, you just lost the underground market," says NPD’s Marshal Cohen.