Wednesday, July 6, 2022 Jul 6, 2022
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Esprit de Corp: The Selling Of a Superstore

By TEENA GRITCH MCMILLS |

The Esprit de Corp story is not your usual fashion fairy title, with young, struggling designers working their way up Seventh Avenue, only to reach success after years in the trenches. Since the Esprit de Corp label was launched in 1979, the husband/ wife team of Doug and Susie Tompkins have leapfrogged over the traditional industry ranks to reign over one of the most powerful and fastest-growing sportswear houses in the business. Esprit, an $800 million retail concern with some 4,500 employees worldwide, is based not in a New York high-rise, but out of a lush office park in San Francisco. Esprit clothes are found in retail outlets all over the nation and in twenty-three foreign countries.

And as if that weren’t enough, Esprit de Corp has recently begun building its own superstores (called flagships) in several selected U.S. cities.

It was just a mailer of time before the Esprit armada sailed into Dallas, In November, the newest flagship anchored at 2425 McKinney, down the road from the Hard Rock Cafe.

Following the architectural philosophy of the L.A. superstore. Dallas’s version is 21.000 square feet of sleek hipness, punctuated by more than 1,000 theatrical lights, an avant-garde soundtrack, and black-painted shopping carts. The concept has been described as a cross between a discotheque and a supermarket. Giant blowups of Esprit ads adorn the white walls, accentuating the boh) and vivid clothes stacked on the black shelves and racks.

Much of the label’s success is due to the creative advertising campaign, begun in 1984. that defined the bold and sometimes baggy Esprit look. In the beginning, the company photographed its own employees wearing Esprit clothes and chatting about their lives. Later. the concept spread to the public. The campaign bore home one resounding message: Esprit girls (meaning Esprit’s ideal customers) are hip. Some are married, some are mothers, most are single. But all are incredibly, indelibly hip. And these women advertise more than the clothes they wear; they’re selling a lifestyle that is sports-minded and cotton-loving, Money magazine calls it “the Cosmo Girl gone California.” We call it the middle ground between prep and punk.

Practicing what Ibey preach, Doug and Susie Tompkins insist that Esprit saleswomen be groomed to look like the magazine ads. The company’s full-time stylist gives each employee tips on maintaining the right look, (That includes bright tops, slim skirts, pants, and Oats, Always flats.) The sales force, in turn, helps customers to buy the Esprit look, complete with matching accessories. The total package concept is so important to Esprit that the company wants its retail outlets to sell Espritwear in boutique format. While some stores balked at the merchandising manipulation, major department stores that went along with the concept realized a minimum 300 percent increase in sales, says Esprit regional manager Paul Varisco. Locally, the department stores that carry the Esprit line welcome the new superstore to town. Says Becky Powell, head of public relations at Sanger Harris, “What Esprit does helps reinforce what we’re doing. It helps our customers with name recognition.”

Other designers, most notably Ralph Lauren, have created a lifestyle mystique around their products, but none have donc il so quickly with such affordable results. An Esprit outfit generally can be put together, from head to toe, for around $200, says Paul Varisco.

The fashion press recognizes the impact that the Tompkinses have made in the retail world. W magazine Just named the team in its “Designers Who Matter” series, right up there with the power players of Seventh Avenue. Doug Tompkins is pragmatic about his successful designing, retailing, and wholesaling business: “You’ve got to find your window on the world, reach those customers, and don’t worry about overlapping or competing with other windows.”