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Coehlo forges design identity at Mervyns, QVC


With her newest bedding line at Mervyns and a new deal with QVC, Susie Coehlo is emerging as one of the top designers working with retailers today. Coehlo told Retailing Today she had hit her designing stride with her latest Mervyns collection and hopes to keep the pace going as she works with QVC.

Coehlo said personal experience and a wide-ranging background—including stints as a model, restaurateur, home decorator and host of HGTV’s “Surprise Gardener” and “Outer Spaces”—have become her basis for helping consumers meet their decorating challenges.

Coehlo’s partnership with QVC initially will focus on outdoor living. It will be exclusive of the bed and bath products she has been developing for Mervyns.

The initial program centers on domestics but for outdoors including placemats, throw pillows, umbrellas and rugs. Coehlo likes to provide a range of styles in her collections to provide consumers with diverse choices on which to base a more personalized approach to home decoration.

QVC launched Susie Coelho at Home on April 28 in a one-hour show during which she provided education and tips about outdoor living including ideas about how viewers could use her new products to solve challenges in the back yard. More shows, perhaps including one this month, will follow. The Susie Coelho at Home initiative emerged after a test on QVC, Coelho noted, in which she promoted another of her signature product lines: an improved range of gardening gloves. “We had a mini program a month ago [in March] with one of my garden gloves that did really well, but, for this launch, I’ve been developing product exclusively for and with QVC. It’s for an outdoor living program. Mervyns doesn’t have an outdoor area so I’m doing a lot of product in that area.”

Coehlo said she has an opportunity with the outdoor living line to build on lessons she learned in redesigning outdoor living spaces on her TV program. “I’m doing a lot of this for selfish reasons. There are just certain products I wanted and, on all the TV shows we’ve done, we were frustrated about products we would have wanted but couldn’t find,” she said.

Product will debut on QVC and online at Tara Hunter, a QVC spokeswoman, said the Susie Coehlo at Home introduction is designed for sell-through, so a permanent brand presence won’t immediately be established online. An informational element already is up and running, though. “It’s under the home category, under home decor. When Susie’s product are available, shoppers can click on a tab there or find them through a product number if they see them on television.” A strong success, however, may lead to a permanent Web presence, and Coehlo said she hopes that consumer reaction will result in Susie Coehlo at Home having a long-term residence on the QVC site.

QVC has big expectations for the brand, too. Amy Corey, QVC’s director of home merchandising, said, “We’ve been speaking with Susie Coelho for a few years. She has a compelling on-air presence on HGTV and we were confident that our customers would appreciate her lively, fresh and modern takes on home decorating. Based on the timing of this launch and her history with garden and outdoor living, we decided to debut her line with an outdoor-themed show. However, there are plans to bring her back for other home decor programs—so shoppers can expect to see Susie on QVC year round.”

Coehlo said her design sensibility remains the same whether for QVC or Mervyns and can be recognized in the Mervyns beds she produced for spring including Alexandria, Tahitian Pearl and Ruby Splendor. She is using contemporary design as an influence rather than a rule. “I’ve moved away from anything too modern,” she noted. The resulting look is comparable to transitional styles in furniture, with an up-to-date feel that avoids the starkness of some contemporary design.

That the approach mixes with a variety of styles is important. As mass marketers have offered inexpensive but better quality home furnishings, they have obtained more market prominence and prompted consumers to move away from coordinated furniture collections as the centerpiece of indoor and outdoor decoration. Less firmly tied to dominating style elements, consumers have been able to mix and match items, to change up rooms, even to redecorate seasonally. Further encouraged by home media, including HGTV and designers working with retailers, consumers have become more active and confident in styling their own environments.

Coehlo said her inspirations come not only from evolving fashion in home furnishings but also her own experience. Of East Indian heritage, Coehlo was raised in France, England and the United States, spending much of her adolescence in the vicinity of Washington, D.C.

She said her own home combines traditional European pieces with elements like large metal bowls that introduce an Asian feel into the mix.

In her latest collection, Alexandria offers a more contemporary black and white color scheme, although with a moderating floral pattern, and the Ruby Splendor incorporates a rich red color that has a spicy Asian feel without being so bright as to command the style of the entire room.

“It’s a vibrant but subdued tone of red but with an elegance,” Coehlo noted. And elegant but a little relaxed is a place she likes to be.

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