By  on April 16, 2007

Walking through the aisles of the recent MAGIC trade shows with Abbey Doneger, president of the Doneger Group, is a bit like walking around a small town with its mayor.

Progress down the trade show aisles is slow as Doneger is stopped frequently by acquaintances, business colleagues and clients, or darts off to say a quick hello to someone he sees in the distance.

Rounding a corner into the Joseph Abboud booth, Doneger, distracted by another contact, drops behind. A public relations person says, "Marty's right here," and steps aside to reveal Marty Staff, Abboud's chief executive officer. He's wearing a yellow T-shirt that reads "Got Tequila" and a pair of cargo pants.

When Staff learns Doneger is not far behind, he becomes animated, and says, "Abbey Doneger is here! Where is he?" and bounds out of the booth to run and jump onto the dark-suited Doneger, squeezing him in a bear hug.

"We called each other this morning and coordinated our outfits," Doneger said, adding that he and Staff have known each other for many years. Their fathers were friends.

Staff's reaction, while more ebullient, is not dissimilar from the reactions of many in the apparel industry to the figure of Abbey Doneger in the aisles at MAGIC. Chief executives, chief operating officers, buyers and others all stop him to say hello.

The Doneger Group is a fashion merchandising, trend-forecasting and consulting company. It provides business intelligence on global market trends and merchandising strategy to the retail and fashion industry. The company was founded as a buying group, but through acquisitions and expansions has grown to encompass trend forecasting, consulting on customized projects, trend and merchandising publications, a comprehensive Web site and complimentary trend services, advisory firms and publications such as Here and There, Carol Hoffman Associates and Tobe.

During the MAGIC show earlier this year, a major retailer flags Doneger down to compliment him on one of the firm's trend presentations earlier in the day. "Great presentation!" he says, pumping Doneger's hand.

In between company visits, Doneger strides quickly from booth to booth. He said his role at the show was largely to do just this, maintain his firm's broad relationships. He has a solid team of market analysts and trend forecasters who walk the floor without him whom he trusts to take care of day-to-day tasks that need to be accomplished at the shows."Our clients appreciate the big picture overviews," Doneger said. Both at the trade show and in the work the firm does year-round, staffers balance the big picture with the minute details of every category they are involved in. He encourages most of his clients to attend the show, he said, and it's an important trip for the Doneger Group, as well.

"If we weren't there, we would be missed. It's a very important part of what we do," he said. In particular, he said it had emerged as a very important event for men's and contemporary women's apparel.

Doneger's MAGIC work kicks off with the first of his firm's trend forecasts at 8 a.m. on opening day of the show. The trade show turns over a large meeting room to the Doneger Group to use for four of these seminar presentations over the course of the show, three trend forecasts and one report from the company's TOBE division.

The first one is standing room only as Doneger takes the podium to introduce his team of experts. During the presentation that follows most audience members appear to be taking assiduous notes. It's clear they are here to glean some insight.

Doneger hands the reins over to David Wolfe, the company's creative director, who details the directions for men's and women's apparel based on the shows for the year. Wolfe's presentation is followed by insight from the company's men's wear and West Coast teams, including Tim Bess and Janine Blain, who each present a snippet of the world they buy for and its trends.

As the presentation ends and the attendees move off to start walking the show floor, Abbey is surrounded by well-wishers and clients, many of whom he sees regularly in meetings in New York. He will also be present for the two remaining seminars the Doneger Creative team presents, one on women's wear and one on men's wear over the course of MAGIC.

Doneger said he sends roughly 20 people to MAGIC each season, and entrusts them with the nuts and bolts of working the show. There is so much going on, trusting his people to take care of the business that needs to be done allows Doneger the time and space to see the big picture. His focus at the show is to identify new trends, have time on the floor with clients and to work with them one-on-one. It's an important venue, he said, and remains a touch point even with clients who do the bulk of their business in New York or at other times.Doneger's primary role at MAGIC is to walk the show floor, speak to everyone he can and get a better idea of the landscape of the industry, said Leslie Ghize, senior vice president. He leaves much of the day-to-day merchandise decisions to his team, he said, adding that he thinks in some cases they are better off without him.

Many of the Doneger Group's employees have been with the company for years. Doneger said he values "experience and youthful energy over just youth." And, indeed, even those employees who have been with him for only six or seven years have logged years or, in some cases, decades in the apparel industry. And the company starts early, recruiting interns and young employees from schools like the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Abbey's father, the late Henry Doneger, founded the Doneger Group in 1946 as a buying office primarily of women's wear. Over its 60-year-plus history, the company has moved into all the other apparel categories and has developed into a consulting firm that provides research and resources to the retail and fashion communities. Abbey joined the firm in 1973 and became president in 1980.

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