By  on October 17, 2007

LOS ANGELES — Concerns about a slowing economy loomed over the Majors Market here last week, as clothing manufacturers unveiled an array of offerings, including contemporary-inspired lines for the junior shopper, higher-priced details such as laser cutting and updated dress silhouettes.

The three-day Majors Market at the California Market Center traditionally caters to major national retailers such as Macy's, Dillard's, Belk, Wet Seal, Goody's, Mervyns, Anchor Blue, Maurice's and Tilly's, and focuses on the junior sector. But some brands in the contemporary and misses' sectors also took advantage of the influx of marquee retailers to show off spring looks.

Robert Maslin, president of Taylor, a better dress label produced by New York's Danny & Nicole, arrived in Los Angeles with Taylor's inaugural collection wholesaling from $69 to $89 to reach out to department stores searching for dress specialists.

No matter what the category, the economy played a role in how buyers ordered. Javier Siordia, a sales representative for a new retro-inspired contemporary label called Whitley, said buyers mainly picked up few key pieces rather than the entire line, which is owned by Los Angeles' Cover Design Inc. "With the economy right now, the first thing they are going to cut back is higher-priced goods," he said, noting that Whitley's wholesale prices run from $65 to $120.

Teri Pierce, who handles sales of Vernon, Calif.-based C.C. Couture, agreed that buying habits have changed compared with the go-go attitude of previous seasons. "On a specialty store level, I think people are being careful about what they are bringing in at what price point," Pierce said, citing C.C. Couture's silk blouses that retail for less than $100.

Richard Clareman, chief executive officer of Self Esteem, fretted that lower-than-expected sales in September deflated an otherwise stellar year for his junior label based in Montebello, Calif. "Retailers react to good selling but there hasn't been much of it," he said. "The problems with the economy are finally trickling down to the consumer."

Vendors tried to stay upbeat by enticing buyers with parties and celebrity endorsements. YMI Jeanswear commandeered Hollywood's Boulevard3 nightclub to present pedal pushers with tapered legs and rhinestone-encrusted back pockets, white miniskirts and raspberry-tinted Bermuda shorts in a fashion show hosted by "Hairspray" star Brittany Snow.Not to be outdone, denim competitor Bongo flaunted Vanessa Minnillo, a former host on MTV's "Total Request Live" and "Entertainment Tonight," to greet guests at its showroom. Serving as the face of the brand owned by New York's Iconix Brand Group, Minnillo wore high-waisted jeans with a skinny red belt. "I am really big on the high waist because you can do so many fun things with it, whether it is a cute top or a vest," she said.

Tyte Jeans showed that the best defense in a tough retail environment is to be on the offense by launching a new line of junior tops made of cotton slub, Modal-Lycra blends and other fabrics that are considered basic in the contemporary category but sophisticated for the junior sector. Wholesaling from $7 to $11, the debut collection touched on many spring trends, such as screen prints of geometric shapes in neon hues. "There's a huge void in juniors," said Rik Guido, a partner in the knits line.

Los Angeles-based Passport also cribbed features from the contemporary market for its spring collection. Enzyme washes toned down the brightness of patchwork shorts wholesaling from $14 to $16, and laser cutting etched out shapes of diamonds and teardrops on camisoles and other romantic tops priced from $10.50 to $14. Though expensive — the enzyme washes added $1 to the price, for instance — the features struck a chord with retailers. "It's a brand new and fresh look to beat what's out there," said Chet Barbour, a merchandiser at Passport.

Fang chose the trade event as the venue to introduce an active line, Feverish, for teenage girls. Wholesaling between $4 and $12, the activewear incorporates better fabrics such as organic French terry. In addition to breaking into a new category that complements its business in children's clothing and women's sportswear, Feverish is also "a way for us to stabilize our real estate" in stores, said Jullie Galindo, merchandiser for Gardena, Calif.-based Fang.

Some Feverish looks that appealed to buyers included a hoodie piled on with details such as cropped sleeves, piped trimming on pockets and polkadot linings, as well as eco-friendly messages to "love our planet" and eye-popping tints in aqua, melon and yellow.Indeed, bright colors topped the list of trends for buyers working in Macy's Northwest's children's department, which encompasses tween clothing up to size 16. The other trends included dresses, leggings and tunics.

And the frock is still in demand. As Ashley Wheeler, a buyer of woven tops, sweaters and dresses for Anchor Blue, explained, "It's still new to the junior girl." The most important were tubes and halters, Wheeler said, adding that other trends she scouted were eyelet and vests.

Directives West, the Los Angeles-based retail consultancy that announced its merger with another West Coast fashion service called Trends West, said vendors were not puffing up volume. "Bodies are coming in a little bit," said Shelda Hartwell-Hale, a vice president at Directives West.

Even with the denim market bruised by dresses, Phoenix Textile, based in Gardena, Calif., believed another jeans entrant could gain a following if it supplied affordable but fashionable items. "The junior girl is very aware of the premium market,'' said Michelle Yu, creative director of the company's new division called Divine Rights of Denim. "Our target is that girl who is aware of what is out there and doesn't want to compromise."

For Divine Rights of Denim's first spring season line, which wholesales from $14 to $25, the most popular style has been a five-pocket boot cut, although edgier shops were gravitating toward a skinny jean with a sandal cut that covers shoes a tad or high-waisted, wide-legged denim.

Skinny or wide was also the prevailing style for jeans and skirts at denim purveyors, including Tyte Jeans and Tylerskye. For spring, Tyte introduced a cropped trouser with a flare leg that was ordered by Totowa, N.J.-based Mandee. Available in clean blue denim or twill, the new style underscored the jeansmaker's strategy that "the percentage of nondenim [fabrics] for 2008 will be increased," said Peter Caminiti, president of 4 Whatitsworth, the Commerce, Calif., parent company of Tyte.

At Los Angeles' Tylerskye, which was recast as a junior label from a premium brand for the back-to-school season, retailers went to extremes with its corduroy palazzo pant that numbered 12 inches for the rise and twice as much for the leg opening, or a skinny jean accentuated with a row of 10 buttons down the tapered calf, both wholesaling for less than $30. The jeans are intended to help Tylerskye weather a saturated market."It's a tough retail environment right now," said Laura Hong, the label's co-owner and creative director. "Everybody's predicting not great holiday sales."

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