Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Martin & Osa--RIP

This week, American Eagle Outfitters officially pulled the plug on their ambitious Martin & Osa concept. This will mean the closing of 28 locations and the end to yet another experiment by a specialty retailer to target an older demographic. Abercrombie & Fitch had already pulled the plug on their upscale and older Ruehl experiment.

With our recent blog on the closing of Fashionology, we seem to be spending more time writing obits than we do celebrating the opening of new ideas. This is surely a sign of the times: the optimism inherent in these brand extensions simply doesn’t exist today. Both Reuhl and Martin & Osa suffered from a combination of bad timing as well as a struggle in truly finding their identity.

Straight out, we were big fans of Martin & Osa (even typing this blog has me in M&O fashion). We loved the lifestyle approach, particularly evident in the early stores where music, books and eclectic merchandise also accompanied the fashion. There was the wonderful back stories of the intrepid adventurers (yes, they were real folks) that anchored the men’s and women’s collections. The store design was visually stunning and cool and had some awesome dressing rooms!

Ah, but what about the product? It seemed maddeningly hit or miss. But, of course, this was highly dependent on which customer it was being designed for. The price points and styles jumped all over the map, which led to some great (for the shopper) markdowns but undoubtedly hurt the bottom line. In fact, they announced over $40 million in losses on the 28 stores which led to the inevitable plug pulling. We loved some of their fashion but it was never entirely clear as to what precisely Martin & Osa’s role would be (it seemed to want to play somewhere in the Banana Republic/J. Crew genre but never had those concept’s clarity). The clothing was casual but didn’t really transition to the workplace. It was conservatively styled but lacked some flair to make it the right choice for a night out. And, while we knew of several men who owned pieces, the women’s side (which, of course, is always more important) never seemed to connect on quite the same level.

But, we found ourselves rooting hard for the concept to find its legs. It has great imagination—it failed to back that up with product that matched the ambition. We look forward to a day when we can glowingly write about new ideas that are trying to break through the clutter. In the meantime, we suspect there are a few more of these unfortunate obits still on the way.


  1. I completely agree. I was rooting for M&O but was also confused about price point and the 'wearability' of their women's clothing options. As a younger corporate climber, I value a mix of casual work-to-play and vice-versa transitions and this was difficult to pull off in M&O clothing. Similar to Forth & Towne...which swung a little too old in terms of style and sizing...I am hoping for another mature-yet-stylish options for those who work hard and play hard.

  2. I was never particularly sure about M&O's prospects. Like many others, it seemed they may have died from an overly studied self-consciousness.

  3. Neil, I think the bigger point of the Ruehl and M&O closures is that it is further evidence of the decline of lifestyle retailing generally. Lifestyle was always on a slippery slope. Fundamentally, all it means is selling the same product at a higher price on the back of a marketing gimicry. People want value, not a story. That's why they go to Zara and H&M. And it's why Gap, A&F and co are headed downhill. This is not just cyclical. What is Gap doing on the product development front? Denim 69. That's as fresh as thinking gets in the lifestyle arena. And it won't work.

  4. Wrong. Lifestyle brands will come back as soon as the economy makes a turn around. People want to feel special and they like fantasies, and when they do have the money they will buy whatever makes them feel good.

  5. Lifestyle seems to be a "loaded" word. It's not a bad thing in and of itself if it's driven around creating distinct looks that provide solutions for the consumer. Having collections, distinct looks and a point of view feel like pre-requisites for any fashion retailer.

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