The XX Factor

Can Talbots Lure Younger Shoppers Back?

In fashion, there are casualties. Stores and labels come up, and then they go down. (Think of the sagas of The Limited and Calvin Klein.) Talbots is down-way down, posting a loss greater than $300 million in the fourth quarter of 2008-and they’re looking to a complete fashion overhaul to attract younger buyers (for Talbots, that means 35). It’s considered a risky strategy, because old customers may leave as the new customers fail to arrive, but maybe Talbots is perfectly poised to lure in irony-loving Gen-Xers amused by the idea of surprising friends with an unexpected brand. The WSJ ‘s pictures of its fall line seem less a departure from the not-quite-Chanel pearls and boxy jackets that Talbots has always offered than a eclectic twist on the same look-it’s still “classic,” but it’s classic with leather opera gloves and spike heels.

The same attempt at pulling in younger buyers seems, tentatively, to be working at Eileen Fisher, which is fighting against a ” graying boho” image (last year, when I spotted one of their new sweaters in a magazine and liked it enough to check the brand, I almost spit out my coffee and ordered my coffin) with skinny pants and shrunken vests . Fisher has said that she considers the relaxed, clean lines of her clothes (and their no-heels-no-lipstick aesthetic) to be feminist; now, she’s expanding her definition of feminism to include a more girly silhouette. Just as no one should keep the same hairstyle for decades, old brands have to evolve, too. I hope it works. I probably won’t stop into our local Talbots until the next time my mom’s in town-but maybe I’ll actually let her buy me something when we do.