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Wearing la Vida Loca

2 minute read
Isabel C. Gonzalez

Latin culture has joined hip-hop as a muse to the major players in fashion. Perry Ellis International announced the launch last month of two Latin-inspired and Latin-targeted women’s sportswear lines: Cubavera, to be sold at major department stores, and Havanera Co., a private label to be manufactured for JCPenney. Each is an extension of a successful men’s line bearing the same name. “Our Hispanic-focused brands brought in $23 million in revenue in fiscal 2003, and we expect to almost double that for fiscal 2004,” says Perry Ellis International’s CEO, George Feldenkreis. “At this point, no American company can afford to ignore the Latino market.”

The new Perry Ellis lines join a crowded field. While Latin designers, from Oscar de la Renta to Narciso Rodriguez, have already made their mark in haute couture, mass-marketed, Latin-targeted lines are a recent development. Mexican singer-actress Thalia’s line, Thalia Sodi, sells at 335 of Kmart’s 1,500 stores in the U.S.; by July, the clothes will be available in every store. In February, Kohl’s department stores debuted a women’s collection by Cuban-American Daisy Fuentes for the general market.

While the clothes in these new lines aren’t necessarily designed differently from nonethnic clothing, some bear striking Latin signatures. The Cubavera and Havanera men’s lines feature tops that are inspired by the loose-fitting, four-pocketed guayabera, a traditional shirt that’s popular with many Latin men. But the market goes beyond the Latin customer base. Jennifer Lopez, who launched her JLo fashion empire in 2001, has a diverse clientele, as do some of the other brands. Says Feldenkreis: “Our brands have crossover appeal.” Republica Trading Co., a small men’s apparel brand founded by Rafael Jimenez, started out targeting a very specific Latin niche–Dominican ex-pats living in New York City’s Washington Heights neighborhood–but has grown to envelop a much wider audience. Republica’s shirts, jackets, pants and sweaters, which often feature Latin iconography and phrases, are carried by Bloomingdale’s and Up Against the Wall. Says the Dominican-American Jimenez: “Republica is progressive streetwear that is designed from a Latino perspective but is for a multi-ethnic audience–like me.”

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