It's Going to Take More than Linda Evangelista to Make Over Talbots

Last Updated Jun 10, 2010 11:43 AM EDT

Linda Evangelista TalbotsWhen we last checked in with Talbots, CEO Trudy Sullivan and team were downright optimistic about their ability to turn the brand from frump to fab with a sizable cash infusion and frugal management. Their efforts have eked out some positives, namely a second quarter loss of only $4.4 million, or 8 cents a share, compared with 2009's loss of $23.6 million, or 44 cents a share. There were also incremental gains in net sales to 4.7 percent and comps increased 2.4 percent.

But the news that's really got Talbots' gals kicking up their sensible heels is that they've just inked a deal with Linda Evangelista, the 45-year old supermodel, mom, and current face of L'Oreal Professional Studio Secrets.

La Evangelista is no stranger to fitting herself into the parameters of a brand. Indeed, the success of her iconic look is rooted in her uncanny ability to transform herself from shoot to shoot (not to mention sporting a range of hair colors that rival the rainbow). As such she's appeared in ads for Ralph Lauren (RL), Prada, Jil Sander, Escada, Fendi, other high-end designers.

And now, Talbots.

The retailer just made an awesome coup, even if Evangelista signed because she's smart enough to know that even Botox injections won't hold up a fine face forever (and she's got her son's eventual college education to fund).

But it's not that far-fetched even for the woman who once famously admitted she didn't get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day. She's simply following in the well-heeled footsteps of peers Cindy Crawford (JCPenney (JCP), Rooms to Go (RTG), Heidi Klum (Victoria's Secret (LTD), Kate Moss (Topshop), and Brooke Shields (who got her start hawking Ivory Soap, now represents Colgate, Latisse, etc.). Each of these stunners has stepped down from the haute perches of sartorial splendor and into the living rooms of Middle America with lucrative deals.

But while this keeps Evangelista and crew in Louboutins, whether Talbots' gambit will pay off is uncertain. True, Colgate-Palmolive's (CL) integrated marketing campaign with Shields bumped market share to a record high 16 percent. But that's on $3 tubes of toothpaste (and a push to give away samples at dentists' offices).

If Talbots wants to reclaim market share among the 35+ set, it can't expect Evangelista to carry the whole load -- even if her arms are buff. Remember, while Michelle Obama's defined biceps have elevated the revenues of a few chosen brands, sporting a Talbots dress only caused a momentary spark in the company's profile. Talbots is going to have to take larger steps to reinvent itself, ones that go beyond copycatting the styles of its more successful competitors J. Crew (JCG) and Anthropologie (URBN).

For instance, everyone knows the retailer has dedicated major real estate to Petites, sometimes with stand-alone shops. So why not play up the other end of the spectrum. Talbots offers a pretty complete assortment of plus-sized apparel, especially in the difficult-to-find petite variety. There is a vast market to tap here -- 60 percent of women shop sizes larger than 12 -- and Linda Evangelista's preternaturally thin frame is not the body to sell it.

Image via Wikimedia Commons jusez CC 2.0

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