Where Target Is Always 'Tar-zhay'

By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Fans of Target stores long ago nicknamed the retailer "Tar-zhay" for its cheap and chic clothes, the French accent lending the discounter a certain je ne sais quoi that made it acceptable among fashionistas .

Perhaps it was inevitable, then, that the company would spin the pet name into a marketing opportunity.

Target Corp. has licensed its bull's-eye logo and name to consulting firm Brand Central LLC for use in a new line of high-end clothing called Target Couture. (The line's logo even adds an accent mark to the "e" in Target to make it look more French.) Select pieces range from a pair of $140 skinny jeans with a glittery bull's-eye on a back pocket to a $3,185 gold-and-diamond bull's-eye necklace.

Target's red-and-white logo "has really become sort of a symbol of cool," said Ross Misher, chief executive of Brand Central.

But don't expect to find any Target Couture at actual Target stores. The line, launched last month, is sold only at the hip Los Angeles shop Intuition. After the summer, it will expand into other boutiques and high-end department stores across the country.

"Who we're targeting is the trendsetting market, the influencer," Misher said.

Not all Target shoppers are enamored with the concept, however. The Slave to Target blog, which features posts with subjects such as "where are you tara jarmon puff sleeve tee?" had this to say about the Target Couture line: "Target is a Sell Out though -- they are sellin' out to the fads and the faddiest store ever ... Intuition."

Michael J. Silverstein, a senior vice president with the Boston Consulting Group Inc., said he was skeptical of whether Target-branded merchandise would sell outside its stores. It may confuse customers, he said.

"People . . . would say, 'Well, why is that here?' They need an explanation," he said. "And in the world of consumer marketing, explanations cost money."

It remains to be seen whether the line will catch on, but it almost doesn't matter. The move is part of the retailer's efforts to hold onto the elusive and often ephemeral designation of "cool," according to Marshal Cohen, a senior analyst with consumer research firm NPD Group Inc. Target Couture allows the chain to elevate its brand beyond the walls of its big-box stores and into the glitzy arena of celebrity high fashion. Selling clothes is secondary.

"I think they'll be tickled pink -- or in their case, tickled red -- if they make money," Cohen said. "But I don't think they care about that. What they're most concerned about is maintaining the integrity of the brand."

Target helped pioneer the trend of bringing class to the masses six years ago when it signed designer Michael Graves to create a private line of sleek and affordable housewares. Shoppers snapped up the funky tea kettles and minimalist toasters, and Target quickly followed up with collections by Philippe Starck, home decor by Cynthia Rowley and Ilene Rosenzweig, and apparel by Isaac Mizrahi. Most recently, it has signed up-and-coming foreign designers Luella Bartley and Tara Jarmon to create limited-edition apparel for its "Go International" campaign.

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