By  on September 7, 2010

ATLANTA — Despite the sputtering economy, specialty retailers shopping the women’s show at the Atlanta Apparel Mart said they expect to benefit from pent-up demand for holiday.

“Our customer has been cautious for over a year and listening to gloom and doom, and now they’re ready to buy again,” said Bob Nemer, who owns and operates The Cotton Mill, in Nashville, with his wife, Martha. “Our customer is looking for a reason to buy, so we’re looking for anything that will excite them.”

Nemer and Barbara Kinee, owners of Mirage Boutique in Fort Myers, Fla., said it helps that brands are finding ways to lower prices.

“Manufacturers are finally getting the message that, if they want buyers, they need to be more cost effective and maintain value,” said Kinee.

Retailers that specialize in prom, which was the focus of the show that ran Aug. 26 to 30, are upbeat about the upcoming prom season. William Shepard, owner of Chique Prom in Raleigh, N.C., said he believes business will be better next year. “The only year I didn’t [do well] is when I cut back.”

It’s the same with Diane & Co., based in Freehold, N.J. Owner Diane Scali said, “The girls wait for years for their prom, and when the event comes, they’ll spend money on the dress.”

But women want outfits that they can wear for various occasions. That’s one reason short prom dresses were a top choice for retailers, who said they also can be worn as cocktail dresses. Shepard said the top prom trend is high-end looks, but added that prints continue to be hot, including camouflage. He booked short dresses, including ones with floor-length trains.

Abraham Maslavi, owner and president of Jovani Fashions, said rising energy and raw material prices have affected prices. He wanted to introduce a line of “eco” dresses, but the raw material costs were too high. Nevertheless, he predicted 2011 will be his strongest year.

“Our line is diverse…and right now the fashion is anything,” Maslavi said, adding that retailers are less nervous about buying. “Those who skipped [shows] last year are coming back, and we’ve opened accounts with new stores.”

Sherri Hill, co-owner of Sherri Hill in Norman, Okla., said her customers increased their buy from 25 to 200 percent at the show. She went with a Hollywood princess theme this season with her prom dresses, which are primarily solid colors with beading as the adornment. About half of her dresses are short.

James Bateman, co-owner of Minerva’s Bridal in Orlando, Fla., said he is increasing his inventory by 25 percent. “We didn’t have enough last year,” Bateman said.

He also said 10 percent of his prom dresses will be short, compared with none this past season.

Judy Safewright, co-owner of Fran’s Clothing Co. in Murrell’s Inlet, S.C., said business has been good since the specialty store opened in May.

“I feel confident that retail is turning around,” Safewright said. “Plus, we’re in an upper-middle-class and high-end area…and our customers are spending.”

Mirage Boutique’s Kinee believes her holiday business will be the same as last year, but is hoping for better.

“There are a lot of fresh, new looks and new twists on old looks that are fresh and fun,” she said. “People are tired of feeling bad. Buying something new makes them feel good. I see here today [at the show] that prices are more attractive and that will translate into more shopping by the consumer.”

Key Trends:

• Vibrant colors and more details in prom dresses, such as beading, feathers and chains.

• Short skirts, from prom to dress-up to casual.

• Leggings and tunic tops. Lots of off-the-shoulder tops.

• Big, chunky jewelry, precious and semiprecious stones and Swarovski Elements set in silver.

• Military inspirations. Camouflage prints, olive green, epaulets.

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