Lands’ End angered an incredible swath of the Internet with Gloria Steinem’s appearance in and subsequent disappearance from its spring catalog. But the blunder was part of a broader attempt to revamp the brand which, it seems, could maybe be going a little better.
The Wall Street Journal has a good, long look at the current state of the company. CEO Federica Marchionni—previously of Dolce & Gabbana—took the reins at the Dodgeville, Wisconsin retailer in February 2015. The Journal says the culture clash was immediate. Marchionni arrived on a mission to introduce more fashion-forward options and attract younger customers; Lands’ End has never been much for the sartorial cutting edge. The trick is to update the brand without hemorrhaging existing customers.
Former creative director Lee Eisenberg told the Journal that, “It doesn’t look like Lands’ End anymore,” adding, “There was never the implication that if you wore Lands’ End you’d be on a beach on Nantucket living the perfect life.” Then there are the little things:
As part of her contract, the Lands’ End board agreed to let Ms. Marchionni work primarily from an office in New York’s garment district—an arrangement that rubbed some in Dodgeville the wrong way, according to former employees. Her employment agreement says she must be in Wisconsin for holiday parties and other social events that the Lands’ End CEO “historically has attended.”
The company needed to do something. The Journal points out it’s a tough time for middle-market brands, anyway, and the catalog business ain’t what it used to be. But the numbers aren’t shaping up yet:
The early going has been rough, however, and the company’s share price has fallen by more than a third since Feb. 17, 2015, the day the new CEO started her job.
Lands’ End swung to a $19.5 million loss in the year ended Jan. 29. That compares with a profit of $73.8 million the previous year. Excluding a $98.3 million charge to reflect a lower value of the Lands’ End brand name, the company would have earned $40.4 million last year. In the same period, revenue fell 8.7% to $1.4 billion.
“I have learned that, even if I am trying to get some results in the midterm, people tend to judge you for the short run,” Marchionni admitted to the Journal. “Normally, you see results after two to three years, but we are working hard in making results start to happen this year.”
One Marchionni’s moves has been to test a lower-cost line sold at Sears. Another was to resurrect Canvas, a trendier, higher-end line aimed at young women which had previously been scrapped. It’s for the girl who shops at J. Crew. The most recent batch of looks includes a denim romper and red stilettos. But there are lots of other places that people would think to look first for buy red stilettos and, for that matter, denim rompers.
Ironically, while all this was happening, Lands’ End missed an opportunity to make a play for younger women in the form of plus-size customers. They had maybe two great spring collections, circa 2012, where you could get the kind of crisp, preppy cotton dress that can be a wardrobe staple for years. They could have gone for the customer with money in her wallet and limited options who thinks Modcloth and Eloquii skew just a little too trendy. But the selection today is a strange blend of too bland and too bright and not quite right and nothing special. (Except for this cotton silk maxi caftan.)
Canvas, meanwhile, is explicitly cut along smaller lines than Lands’ End’s traditional offerings.