Federica Marchionni has already made a big splash as the new head—and face—of Lands’ End, appearing on Fox Business with Maria Bartiromo and on CBS This Morning with Gayle King. Now the former Dolce & Gabbana executive is unveiling a key part in her strategy to change the perception of a preppy fashion brand that languished as a solid but dowdy part of Sears Roebuck for 12 years until its new CEO was named.
The Wisconsin-based brand with the Italian CEO has just unveiled a splashy new fall fashion ad campaign that is highlighting a new premium collection of clothing for men and women. The goal: to attract “new prospective customers to extend the Lands’ End family,” namely millennials and fashion-forward influencers who are more likely to check Instagram for the latest trends as they are to refer to a fashion magazine.
That doesn’t mean Lands’ End is skipping the September issues of magazines, however, with its new campaign touting its higher quality fabric, construction and designed clothes now popping up in titles owned by Conde Nast (check the Taylor Swift/style issue of Vanity Fair) and Time Inc. as well as the New York Times and Wall Street Journal. The more fashionable collection is curated by Cara Crowley, market stylist for Vogue magazine, who presents her picks to give it a seal of approval with fashionistas.
The dichotomy is evident on the homepage of its website, where the right-hand section above the fold presents “Cara’s Picks” and Crowley’s Fall Edit, much like J.Crew creative director Jenna Lyons shares her picks on jcrew.com, while the left-hand image connects to Lands’ End Classic designs for women and men.
Keeping its core customers happy is vital, especially its long-time fans—the 34-to-54-year-old parents who grew up with the brand, and whose own parents helped make Lands’ End one of America’s most successful catalog retailers. This is the time of year when Lands’ End-loving moms in North America and beyond turn to the brand for back-to-school shopping, including its excellent range of backpacks and school uniforms as well as well-made kids’ apparel and shoes.
Marchionni, who threw a fundraiser for New Yorkers for Children last week (above), also doesn’t want to mess with its cash cow business of school uniforms. While it doesn’t shout haute couture, supplying thousands of schools with their official uniforms, including monogrammed logos, is a huge market for the company and keeps it top of mind with well-heeled moms. In fact, Marchionni (above) discovered Lands’ End when shopping for school uniforms for her son.
So what exactly does she hope to accomplish for a brand whose sales slid steadily for years—plagued by problems of eroding brand equity, sipping product quality and uncertain leadership—until Sears mercifully spun it off in early 2014? “I don’t want to change what is working,” Marchionni recently told Bloomberg Businessweek, “just tweak whatever is needed to be tweaked.”
“The biggest challenge is to create what I call a multidimensional strategy, to go to different targets, markets and channels,” Marchionni recently told Fortune’s Most Powerful Women summit. “We can do that by first of all strengthening the brand and [making it] a meaningful global lifestyle brand.”
Like L.L. Bean, which introduced a Signature collection in 2010 and hired guest designers to elevate its classic preppy looks, Marchionni’s goal is create that “multidimensional” brand without splitting it or losing her core audience.
So far, her strategy is paying off on Instagram, where its fall fashion photos such as the image above (featuring its “Made Better Denim” line including a quilted sweatshirt for men) elicited the comment, “wow! This is the new LE? Seems like your new CEO is elevating the brand.” The high praise isn’t just coming from customers. A sales associate posted a comment on another Instagram image: “I work for Lands’ End and I can say that this year I’m super excited for everything coming in and everything I’ve seen online. Fab job this year.”
For her next move, Marchionni aims to continue the momentum, and have it translate to sales with younger shoppers, while also slimming down its “classic” collection to focus on what’s working and what customers want. She also aims to expand internationally in terms of stores and e-commerce, while also elevating its US retail presence at Sears—which could use her magic touch beyond its in-store Lands’ End boutiques, but that’s another brand and another challenge.