By  on December 3, 2008

CHICAGO — In hopes of luring more buyers, Chicago market organizers are aligning January’s StyleMax, the Midwest’s largest women’s apparel market, with the Chicago Gift Market: Living and Giving, both scheduled to take place at the city’s Merchandise Mart.

“We feel there’s a tremendous opportunity for crossover [shopping],” said Susan McCullough, senior vice president of apparel for Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. “More traditional stores are getting into accessories,” she said, “and a lot of gift stores are carrying accessories like purses, jewelry, wallets or even a Christmas sweater.”

In turn, buyers will be able to shop StyleMax, set for Jan. 17 to 20 on the Mart’s 7th floor, and the gift market, with most facets running Jan. 17 to 20 in permanent showrooms on floors 13 to 15, temporary booths on floor 12 and Beckman’s Handcrafted Show on floor 8.

January’s edition of StyleMax, a summer and fall preview, will boast an accessories assortment 10 to 15 percent larger than last February’s show, with jewelry, handbags, scarves, belts and other goods encompassing roughly 30 percent of the 100,000-square-foot 7th floor, McCullough said. New lines are expected to include Bodhi, a collection of contemporary handbags, the jewelry line Andrew Hamilton Crawford and Italca knit scarves.

Despite the troubled economy, McCullough predicts a fair showing of retailers attending the market.

“Clearly, nobody can deny the economy is in trouble,” she said, “but I think we’re positioned well.”

StyleMax, which attracts some 4,000 resources, presents a cost-effective alternative to New York shopping, McCullough said, noting that Chicago hotel rates can run as little as $105 to $149 per night in January. “We’re really trying to position ourselves to stores who are watching their budget,” she said.

January’s StyleMax also will feature a new area showcasing eco-friendly loungewear, sportswear, lingerie, accessories and body care products. “We’d like to bring in 20 to 30 new lines,” McCullough said. “The average consumer and the younger generation are so much more aware. There’s more and more demand for [environmentally conscious options].”

Most sales reps sell some eco-friendly products, which now will be better highlighted with signs or grouped together in the eco-focused area yet to be named, McCullough said.

StyleMax also includes various events for buyers such as StyleWatch, an informal modeling session at the StyleMax Café held during the market’s complimentary lunches at 12:15 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. from Jan. 17 through Jan. 19. Additionally, a “Mix & Mingle” event with complimentary cocktails is set for 5 to 6 p.m. Jan. 17 on the show floor.

In March, StyleMax will be held in conjunction with another trade show, the National Bridal Market Chicago, set for March 29 to 31 on the Mart’s eighth floor. StyleMax, meanwhile, will feature fall fashions and run March 28 to 31 on the Mart’s 7th floor.

Market organizers successfully aligned the two shows last year. “It’s been a good matchup,” McCullough said. “In a tough economy, it makes sense. Then one store can make one trip instead of two and get the most bang for their buck.”

McCullough said she expects some retailers who carry special occasion wear to shop the bridal market and expects some bridal buyers to check out StyleMax.

“There’s a tremendous overlap with lingerie, jewelry, accessories,” she noted, adding, “Not every bride is going to wear pearl earrings. [Shopping StyleMax] really opens up [bridal buyers’] horizons to what’s out there.”

Overall, the bridal business has not been as hard-hit as regular retailers. “The good news in bridal is that it’s somewhat recession-proof,” McCullough said. “People are going to get married and she’s going to get a dress. She’s going to scrimp elsewhere, but not on her dream dress.”

The bridal market will spotlight between 200 and 225 exhibitors, and StyleMax will continue to include some 4,000 resources with the March show, focusing on an expanded contemporary collection.

StyleMax will host its own events for buyers with The Collections fashion show, featuring bridge and designer brands, set for March 28 following a 6 p.m. cocktail party at the 8th-floor Special Events Atrium.

The next morning, the Quebec Delegation Chicago will sponsor the Montreal Collections fashion show, with breakfast at 8 a.m. and the show beginning at 8:30 a.m., also at the 8th-floor Special Events Atrium.

At the same time, buyers can visit the bridal market, which spans 100,000 square feet and features bridal gowns, prom dresses, special occasion wear, bridesmaid dresses, mother-of-the-bride dresses, flower-girl dresses, shoes, veils, tiaras and quinceañera resources.

Prior to the trade show, buyers can register for a 9 a.m. all-day retail seminar on March 28. Called “The Retail Academy…Bridal — Profit Now,” the session, led by Bob Barry, president of John Barry & Associates, will detail how to maximize profits in today’s marketplace. Tickets cost $60 for the event held on the 2nd floor pedway of the Merchandise Mart Conference Center. To reserve a space, contact Stephanie Ambuehl at 312-527-7758 by March 13.

Additionally, retailers are invited to attend a free 15-minute seminar at 9:15 a.m. March 29, highlighting key trends and details on how to best navigate the trade show floor. Later that night, buyers can attend “The Magic of Bridal” market party and fashion show, with the party slated for 6 p.m. and the fashion show scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at the 8th-floor Special Events Atrium.

Retailers and manufacturers also will find out nominees for the 2009 DEBI awards, which honor excellence in the bridal industry. Winners are then named at the National Bridal Market Chicago in October.

Chicago will host its showroom-based event, the Women’s & Children’s Apparel Market, from June 7 to 9 at the city’s Apparel Center.

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