A printed cardigan, pleated skirt and patent leather hobo bag from Victor by Victor Alfaro.

Victor Alfaro Returns in Deal With Bon-Ton
After taking a break from fashion, Victor Alfaro is back and this time, he's going exclusive with The Bon-Ton Stores Inc.

Today, Bon-Ton will unveil a new licensing and design deal with the designer, confirming a WWD report on March 4. The agreement will result in the Victor by Victor Alfaro lifestyle brand, which is set to launch exclusively at Bon-Ton stores this September.

For Bon-Ton, which, like many other department stores has faced a rocky road over the past 12 months, this will be one of the biggest launches in its history and could give it a much-needed lift. For the quarter ended Feb. 2, Bon-Ton stores delivered a 15 percent net income decline to $75.2 million from $88.4 million a year ago, on sales that dropped 8.9 percent to $1.14 billion.

Victor by Victor Alfaro represents the retailer's first private label collection to take a lifestyle approach with a designer known from the high fashion arena. The collection will include women's, petites and misses' apparel, as well as handbags, shoes, scarves and jewelry, with plans to eventually expand into men's wear and the home arena.

Alfaro's deal is an addition to the growing trend of department stores of all tiers going after exclusive designer brands to offer their customers a point of differentiation. Macy's Inc., for instance, exclusively sells T Tahari, and, beginning this fall, Tommy Hilfiger; Kohl's offers Vera Wang's Simply Vera Vera Wang line, Dana Buchman (beginning spring 2009) and Polo Ralph Lauren's Chaps, and J.C. Penney Co. Inc. just introduced American Living, produced by Polo Ralph Lauren's Global Brand Concepts division, and sells Liz & Co. and Nicole by Nicole Miller exclusively. Norma Kamali, meanwhile, is developing an exclusive line for Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

Alfaro admitted he wasn't sure if he'd ever get back into fashion design, but after several years felt the time was right again especially with a partner, which would allow him to focus on design and largely free him from such responsibilities as manufacturing, distribution and marketing.

ACI Licensing LLC structured the deal on behalf of Alfaro.

"I have been looking for an opportunity to do a branded line for a long time," Alfaro said. "My licensing agent then told me about Bon-Ton. For me, it was a good chance to get back into fashion."

Alfaro became a well-known name with his own line in the mid-Nineties, but closed it down in 2002. He also has designed for Tse, and was at one point creative director for Wet Seal. More recently, he has served as a consultant and worked on such lines as Tamsen and a capsule collection of eveningwear-inspired looks exclusive to Ron Herman/Fred Segal.

Alfaro is the latest of his generation's crop of designers to resurface in more mainstream gigs, joining Todd Oldham, who became creative director of Old Navy last September, and Isaac Mizrahi, who joined Liz Claiborne as creative director in January.

Victor by Victor Alfaro will be the designer's sole apparel focus, though he will continue to work on Vistaartanddesign.com, the Web site portal for art galleries, furniture and auction houses he launched last December.

"This is not a secondary line," he said. "This gets the best of me."

The line will be introduced in 153 doors this September, with plans to add it to all the company's 280 stores by spring 2009. It will launch with a complete marketing strategy including fashion shows, personal appearances by the designer, direct mailers and TV commercials.

"Victor will be important in all our businesses," said Steve Villa, Bon-Ton's senior vice president, private brands. "As we look ahead, we look forward to expanding it into home and men's."

Villa said Bon-Ton was looking for a designer who could bring a clean, modern viewpoint to the stores. Over the past two years, Bon-Ton has added private label brands Kenneth Roberts for dress shirts and KN Karen Neuburger in home. Villa noted that Bon-Ton executives anticipate the Victor by Victor Alfaro line will bring in a new customer, while pleasing the store chain's existing shoppers.

"This allows us to continue to build on our unique and differentiated product assortment," he said. "If the customer is looking for newness and fashion, she is also looking for something unique. Victor brings us a wealth of design information, from fit to the construction of pieces."

Retail prices range from $59 to $288 for apparel, $79 to $199 for footwear, $110 to $175 for handbags and $16 to $90 for jewelry.

The first season will feature some 150 pieces, including a metallic anorak, a lantern-sleeve tweed jacket and pencil skirt and a chunky knit long wool cardigan. Villa added there are currently no plans to add any other exclusive designer lines.

The line will be sold at all Bon-Ton stores nameplates, which include Bergner's, Boston Store, Carson Pirie Scott, Elder-Beerman, Herberger's, Younkers and Parisian. There will be freestanding in-store environments for the apparel, which will be located near such lines as Lauren by Ralph Lauren and Jones Signature. The accessories classifications, meanwhile, will be sold in their corresponding departments.

Villa declined to give sales projections, but said that the line "will be a substantial focus for our stores."

As for Alfaro, who recently moved back to Brooklyn from Los Angeles, he is elated to return to fashion. "I feel so comfortable because I am loving it again," he said. "I am having fun."