First there were designer collections. You know,Yves Saint Laurent, Bill Blass, Calvin Klein and such. Then as prices headed for the stratosphere,designers started knocking themselves off in less expensive secondary, or diffusion, lines.
As those prices started nudging the four-figure bracket,some designers brought out still lower-priced collections, like Emanuel Emanuel Ungaro, introduced last year, with a top price around $500.
Even those prices are too high for the vast majority of women, but when a designer brings out a less expensive line, it is usually weekend wear, like Donna Karan's DKNY and A/X Armani Exchange.
Now along comes MM by Krizia, with career clothes that rarely top the $200 mark. There are, of course, companies like Liz Claiborne and Jones N.Y. that make career clothes at that price level, but a European label at that price is a rarity.
You might guess that MM stands for Mariuccia Mandelli, who designs Krizia, the Italian collection known for understated suits and whimsical animal-motif sweaters,with prices that climb to well over $1,000.
The aim of MM by Krizia is to appeal to women who are impressed by the cachet of a European label but cannot or will not pay the price.
"Our whole society today is based on value, on what do I get for this money," said Gerard Mandry, the director of marketing for International Women's Apparel, a division of Hartmarx licensed to make MM by Krizia. Hartmarx, a $1.3 billion corporation known mainly for men's wear, is also licensed to make Krizia's men's clothing.
Mandry explained that the company decided more than a year ago to explore the possibility of making a Krizia line for women at down-to-earth prices and that Ms. Mandelli and Aldo Pinto, her husband and business partner, were enthusiastic.
"The first thing we did," he said, "was to interview 200 woman shoppers in malls around the country about their attitude to European fashion. Basically, their opinion was that Europe provides fashion leadership but the clothes are too expensive. This was even said by upper-income women.
"There was also a mild concern about extreme styling and fit, but we knew we could control those things."
The price challenge was met by keeping the styling simple and using affordable fabrics.
Ms. Mandelli provides some sketches and approves all the designs, which are in the Krizia spirit: jackets are tailored, prints are whimsical and sweaters for fall (the first season) have tiger designs knitted into them.
Retail prices for jackets will range from about $170 to $200. Pants and skirts will be $90 to $120; sweaters,$40 to $130. The line is aimed at women over 30 with a $50,000 household income.
The sales strategy as outlined by Henry McGuire,president of sales for MM by Krizia, is to sell to one store in each major market.
McGuire expects sales for the fall and holiday seasons to top $6 million and projects that for the first year the figure will be between $20 million and $25 million. The first styles will be in stores in September.
"That's when we'll know if we're right," he said. "We've voted;the stores have voted,and we have to believe the consumer will vote yes."