Talbots Gets a Little Work Done

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The Feast
    The retailer's NorthPark Center location sports the new-style exterior. It's now easy to confuse with Ann Taylor around the corner.

    Over the past couple of years, 63-year-old clothing retailer Talbots has been implementing an aggressive strategy of renewal.

    Operating 580 brick and mortar stores nationwide and in Canada, in addition to web and catalog sales, Talbots is known for outfitting women of a certain age in twinsets, slacks, and sensible shoes. This multi-wave restructuring, which has included elimination of children’s and men’s divisions and a retooling of clothing designs, aims to refresh shoppers’ perception of the tried-and-true brand.

    From a financial perspective, the plan is working. Publicly-traded Talbots stock is increasing in price, with earnings expected to rise at a steady rate over the next two years.  In market terms, it’s rated a "strong buy" by most analysts.  But what does all this mean for shoppers?

    Here in North Texas, it first means looking sharp for the actual entrance to the store, as many are no longer marked with those signature bright red doors. Four local Talbots locations have received facelifts inside and out, along with ten others in the Chicago and Washington, D.C. areas.

    Updated storefronts in clean, white-framed glass are labeled with a simple store logo in plain black print. Interiors carry on the streamlined effect, with new steel fixtures, smooth white shelving, and uncluttered displays.

    The result is definitely more modern, but also less distinctive in a typical mall setting, Perhaps this was the intention.

    From Maria Marshall, General Manager of Talbots at Galleria Dallas, we learned that first-time customers have actually wandered in since the redecoration and made it halfway through the store before realizing where, exactly, they were shopping.

    As these newcomers learn they’re at Talbots, she says, “They have been pleasantly surprised.”

    Marshall also notes that Talbots’ recent fall ad campaign featuring a leopard-clad Linda Evangelista has attracted many new customers, some in a college-age demographic. Known as a style chameleon, Evangelista has maintained her supermodel status for decades. Now entering into her “icon” period, she is a fitting choice to represent a mature but evolving brand.

    Beneath these cosmetic and financial shifts, however, it seems the clothing has remained much the same. Promises of more fashion-forward styles and new fits in wardrobe mainstays piqued our curiosity. In person, though, new versions of jackets still skewed older. Many in pastel and neutral-colored wool, they’re cut roomy through the waist and hips. Cardigans, now a hot commodity for women of all ages, also missed the mark. Any style points earned through of-the-moment sequins were cancelled out by dowdy, fabric-covered buttons. A camel-colored coat clearly wanted to evoke a current trend, but its conservative look was a snooze.

    Those young women might be enticed to browse through Talbots, but we doubt they’re taking anything home.

    That said, there were a few notable exceptions. A leather bomber jacket in tobacco defined “cool classic”. Adorned with exposed zippers at the wrists and a rib knit waistband, we could envision wearing it for seasons to come. Several shoe styles also struck a younger chord, with higher heels and details like animal prints and ruched velvet.

    In big-picture terms, we applaud Talbots’ efforts to stay young and fresh. Like a shot of Botox, however, this procedure has smoothed over signs of ageing only at a surface level. Over time, what’s on the inside will need to catch up with the superficial changes.