Fashion label Escada back on the catwalk after business facelift | Business| Economy and finance news from a German perspective | DW | 22.01.2010
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Fashion label Escada back on the catwalk after business facelift

After struggling with declining sales for years, Escada - one of the world’s best-known global fashion labels - is back. The Munich-based company recently presented its first collection under its new owner, Megha Mittal.

Escada flagship store in Munich

Escada is back from the brink

Escada's hopeful comeback from economic catastrophe featured 24 models, 500 guests and an Indian couple worth billions.

It was the 2010-2011 Winter collection for Escada Sport, a line that has gone through several reincarnations, the least successful of which featured garish golf and ski wear. Now the Sport collection has been repositioned to appeal to young, well-heeled customers as the fashion brand tries to rid itself of its dusty image and start ringing up sales again.

Mini skirts, Mongolian lamb, and lot of layered charcoal wool worn over bright red, yellow and turquoise tights looked great on the gaggle of leggy models strutting down the black polished runway. The question everyone is asking is whether it all will be enough to bring the troubled company back from the brink. According to Escada's new owner, Megha Mittal, it will.

Shoppers pass by an Escada window

The label is hoping to attract new customers with its fresh approach

"I think Escada has a new fashion direction which is being successfully received already, and that is a journey that will go on," Mittal said. "I would like Escada to become an iconic, global fashion brand. It has a great heritage and will become a market leader."

Mittal is the daughter-in-law of billionaire Indian steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal. When she bought the company, many assumed it would be little more than a plaything. But the 33-year-old mother of two is eager to prove the doubters wrong.

She arrived wearing an amethyst velvet dress from the new collection and sat center stage between her husband, Aditya, and Escada CEO Bruno Saelzer, whose job it is to turn the company around.

In August of last year, Escada declared insolvency after losing more than 90 million euros in 2008. That disastrous result was just the latest in a string of bad years that saw falling sales and the failure to get bondholder support for a broad restructuring plan.

Megha Mittal reportedly paid 60 million euros for all of Escada's assets, operating business and shares in its subsidiaries. Now, Mittal has said she wants to invest more then 30 million euros in the company and keep more than 90 percent of the global workforce of around 2,200. She has retained both the design team and Saelzer as the firm's CEO.

"In the past, Escada had the heritage of being glamorous, colorful, a perfect fit and luxury brand, but maybe it was not up-to-date anymore," Saelzer said. "We have changed this, and I think this will bring us success."

Saelzer has said he would like to keep Escada firmly in the luxury camp, but to make it more affordable, offering more day-wear rather than the glamorous evening gowns the brand was once known for.

The company, founded by Margarethe and Wolfgang Ley in 1976, operates 182 of its own shops and 225 franchise stores in more than 60 countries worldwide.

Moving in the right direction

"We want to create a fashion statement for women who like our brand, who love our direction, who love femininity and luxury, cool glamour and a perfect fit approach. I think tonight we can see Escada moving in the right direction," Saelzer said.

A statement seconded by some of the fashion experts who crowded into the show along with buyers, suppliers and Escada employees. Laura Brown from the fashion department of Harrod's in London said the brand has evidently decided to become more commercial.

Megha Mittal

New owner Megha Mittal is keen to put her stamp on the label

"They have obviously been listening to their customers," Brown said.

Escada's design team responsible for the new collection can breathe a sigh of relief. Chief designer for Escada Sport, Jeffery Kong, said he was inspired by texture, but also by the new reality in the post-financial crisis world.

"I think a lot of it is about texture and how texture is combined, the way patterns are combined, but it's not just about the clothing; it is about the energy that goes into the clothing," he said. "About 12 or 18 months ago, fashion really changed because the world changed. It is no longer about consumerism alone. It is about the individual."

Consumers will decide

Nevertheless, it is the consumer that Megha Mittal will have to reach if Escada is to climb out of its financial misery. That's why this week's show was so important.

What followed was sophisticated, wearable and ultimately urban. Melissa Drier of Women's Wear Daily, the fashion bible of the clothing industry, reported being pleasantly surprised.

"I said to a colleague before I came in that I didn't have to like it - I had to believe it. And for the first time in 25 years, I actually did both. They have some great pieces and are moving in the right direction," Drier said.

The organizers made every effort to show that the luxury label is back - champagne flowed, masses of black calla lilies filled huge urns, and the mood was upbeat.

But in the end, despite all the trapping, it is the customers who will decide Escada's fate. If they can be tempted to buy into the label's new toned-down elegance, Escada may just be granted a new lease on life.

Author: Mariana Schroeder (dc)

Editor: Kyle James

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