By  on August 10, 2009

While buyers and vendors at lastweek’s Accessorie Circuit and AccessoriesTheShow trade fairs in New York showed some continued trepidation about the economy, there were signs things are getting better.

Reaction to the shows, which ended their three-day runs Aug. 4 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, was widespread, ranging from sluggish to positive. Many vendors that received orders said they did so by keeping prices down and offering innovative styles.

“It’s going well, we’re remaining busy and all of our customers are coming back,” said Jeremy Bassan, founder of Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Big Buddha handbags. “People are trying out a new line and if it does well, they’re reordering. We try to keep everything under $100 retail, so I think that helps.”

Bassan said adding value to the bags, such as personalized hangtags, I.D. cards and key chains gave customers more for their money.

Lodis Accessories president Paul Diamond added clients were acting conservatively, ordering fewer items than they did a year ago.

“We are definitely conscious of our customer’s needs and have adjusted our prices,” Diamond said.

Lodis has brought in Cindy Solloa as product development director. Solloa, who recently worked in a similar capacity at Hobo International after 15 years at Nordstrom, will oversee design and product development, as well as focus on growing resources and suppliers.

Adrienne Vittadini was giving its new bag collection a push at the show. The lifestyle firm recently signed with new licensee Pacific International Alliance. According to account executive Cara Faris, the line has seen a “huge response” from stores after the firm lowered prices. The new collection is down to an average retail price of $248, compared with $450 previously.

Also showing a new licensed collection was Nicole Miller, which displayed its new jewelry line under a recently inked agreement with Wildflower Brands LLC. The collection featured cut-glass neckpieces and colorful beaded pieces, wholesaling for $18 to $180.

Despite the accent on newness, there was still an undercurrent of concern at the shows.

Though jeweler Alexis Bittar’s booth was bustling, the designer cited a feeling of confusion and fear among his specialty store accounts.

“Those who are here weathered spring better than others and they did so by realigning their formulas,” said Bittar. “For specialty stores, this is still a learning curve for them. They need to start buying in line with the ready-to-wear season and marking down when department stores mark down.”

Lee Angel creative director Roxanne Assoulin also noted apprehension among her customers.

“The show is quiet, everyone is fearful,” she said. “My big stores want items with more shelf life. They want resort in their stores from November through March. The boutiques will get stronger, but they need to go more into ‘the crazy.’ Department stores are playing it safe.”

Toby Glickman, who owns Elements in Chicago, was shopping Bittar’s new collection. She was looking for statement necklaces, as well as handbags under $800, specifically by Kooba and Treesje.

“We can sell any price point, but for under $1,000 she doesn’t have to think twice,” said Glickman.

Notable absences made some exhibitors question the shows’ relevance during a difficult economic period. According to exhibitors, a single show can cost upward of $30,000, with five shows per year. Cynthia O’Connor, whose showroom houses multiple lines, decided to invite buyers to her space for an evening cocktail reception in lieu of exhibiting at one of the venues.

“There are too many shows and this was a great opportunity to take a break,” O’Connor said. “I have a two-floor showroom and it’s great if vendors can save some money right now.”

O’Connor noted her desire for a November show, citing August as questionable timing for the handbag market.

“Even if we wanted to do the show, at this point we have very little inventory left anyway,” she said.

John Mendes, owner of the Plaza Too retail chain, also cited an August show as “unnecessary.”

“In a recession, it’s excessive,” Mendes said. “As a buyer, it’s our responsibility to go to the show and it means more time out of the store. Fortunately I live in New York, but for other stores it’s expensive.”

Karen Erickson also opted out of this round, inviting buyers and editors to see her Erickson Beamon line at her showroom.

“Erickson Beamon has always shown with rtw, so we show holiday in June,” Erickson said. “By the time August comes around, we have no inventory left to make it reasonable.”

Swarovski took advantage of the available real estate at Accessorie Circuit. The firm built a large booth for its Crystallized Swarovski Elements accessories.

Fragment’s founder Janet Goldman, whose cadre of brands’ usually large showing was cut in half this season, maintained the shows’ importance for designers.

“I always tell designers it’s like advertising — you’re letting people know you’re here and alive and doing it,” Goldman said. “It’s very important, even if traffic is down and it probably is, and fewer designers are exhibiting because of financial times.”

Britton Jones, president and chief executive of Business Journals Inc., which operates AccessoriesTheShow, said the event exceeded his expectations and that attendance was up over last year, especially among international buyers, although specific figures were not available.

“The overwhelming feedback is the August dates are very productive as most retailers continue to buy closer and closer to season,” Jones said.

Elyse Kroll, founder and ceo of ENK International, which produces Accessorie Circuit, said her team is listening to vendors’ issues regarding show timing and is giving the calendar serious thought.

“Everybody responds differently to the economy and some designers pull out,” said Kroll. “But I think very quickly they realize that not being visible causes a problem. They will probably return because at any given day we’ll have more foot traffic than they’ll have in their showroom.”

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