CHANGES IN ATTIRE, ATTITUDE New manager wants store to be 'friendly'


Nan Duskin is upscale. Just how upscale?

The Philadelphia-based retailer, which has one of its three stores in Cross Keys, sells $1,100 silk Chanel blouses and $2,400 Hermes pocketbooks so small that you'd be hard-pressed to fit a brush and comb inside.

But don't feel intimidated, says Nan Duskin's new vice president and manager for Baltimore, Jane Ann Simpson.

"I want to change the perception that we are intimidating. We shouldn't be," says Ms. Simpson. "I don't want people to feel as if they have to dress to the nines to come in here. I want us to be warm and friendly."

To help with the new image, her store has begun stocking Michael Kors silk blouse shells for $125, Pomodoro shirts for $240 and other lower-priced merchandise. Those still aren't bargain-basement items, but they are a far cry from the boutique's more exclusive lines.

"We're shifting to career women from the formidable, the so-special-that-it's-untouchable," says Ms. Simpson, who started in her new post Feb. 13.

Retailers across-the-board are enticing consumers with new lines that offer the cachet of a designer name at lower prices, even though the fabric and style are different from the designers' more coveted lines.

Nan Duskin will still keep its higher-end merchandise. And Ms. Simpson concedes that even with the changes, "We're not for everybody."

Ms. Simpson, 46, comes to Nan Duskin from Garfinckel's. The venerable Washington luxury department store closed because of financial pressures last summer, after 85 years of business.

She spent 20 years at Garfinckel's, traveling the world several times to buy designer sportswear, dresses, accessories and jewelry. She was managing director of four branch locations and most recently was a Garfinckel divisional merchandise manager for cosmetics.

"When I managed four stores for Garfinckel's, one of them was in Spring Valley [in Northwest Washington] and it was much like Nan Duskin -- small in size and very consumer-oriented. We got to know our customer," she says.

The store in Cross Keys has roughly 7,000 square feet. Employees pride themselves on calling well-known customers to tell them something in "their style" has just come in.

Nan Duskin was founded in Philadelphia in 1926 and is privately held. Although the retailer will not release sales figures, Ms. Simpson says the store is feeling the slowdown of consumer buying, especially on more extravagant items.

"Clearly there are factors, like the war, affecting our business right now," she says. "Everyone's hoping the third and fourth quarter will bring us back up to snuff."

Meanwhile, she will try to recast the Baltimore store's image.

The flagship Nan Duskin store hasn't had to battle the perception of being austere and unapproachable, Ms. Simpson says. "In Philadelphia, people don't think of the store that way because it's home-grown. People feel like it's theirs no matter how upscale it is.

"We've only been in Baltimore four years."

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