By and and  on August 13, 2008

LOS ANGELES — Molding their offerings to buyers made cautious by the economic slowdown, exhibitors at the market that ended here Tuesday highlighted accessories, moderate-price basics and novel pieces in their resort collections. At Designers & Agents, Brighte, Boutique Lingerie and the showrooms in the California Market Center, New Mart, Cooper Design Space and Gerry Building, vendors acknowledged that most buyers preferred to place orders at MAGIC Marketplace, Project and other trade shows in Las Vegas at the end of the month. They cited the more extensive offerings for spring. “A lot of people buy at Vegas in the summer, but there seem to be an awful lot of vacancies this market, a lot more open space where vendors used to be,” said Ru Scott, co-owner of Punch boutique in Santa Rosa, Calif. “In 11 years I’ve never seen it this empty and slow.” Several companies displayed basics that retail for less than $100 along with higher-priced items punched up with special fabrics and treatments. “We started a price-driven division a year ago, just a little ahead of when times started getting tough, and our retailers have thanked us for helping them increase volume at a lower price,” said Priti Jain, national sales manager for People Like Frank, at Brighte in the California Market Center. “Instead of placing a $10,000 order, they’re placing a $5,000 order with the same number of pieces,” she said, noting that knit tops wholesaling for $55 were more popular than $400 jackets. Vendors continue to wrestle with the challenge of how to make themselves stand out. “You have to differentiate yourself in this economy,” said Francisco Hernandez, representing Seattle-based Jarbo at D&A in the New Mart. Jarbo added bright colors for the first time to its contemporary sportswear dominated by a somber palette of black and gray. A silk charmeuse printed in an ikat pattern bursting in orange and magenta caught buyers’ attention, as it was fashioned into a ruffled halter top wholesaling for $155. Bright colors also were seen in Myne’s $106 aqua silk miniskirt trimmed with gold studs, LAMade’s $32 halter maxidress available in 18 hues including tangelo, Aude’s burnout cotton fleece costing under $70 and Odd Molly’s $122 blue cotton gingham dress cinched at the waist with a paisley-embroidered waistband. At Brighte, where vendors complained about the dearth of buyer traffic, brightly colored maxidresses from lines such as Voom by Joy Han, Tee Party and Tiffany Alana also stood out for resort, though most of the 61 exhibitors were also showing fall for immediate orders. Michelle Zamir, a partner in the Los Angeles-based Tiffany Alana, which was launching at Brighte, said, “I’ve never seen such a slow show. It’s completely tragic for a small designer.” The August market traditionally “is a slower market as it is one of the busier show months of the year,” said CMC spokeswoman Deborah Levine. “Combined with the economic concerns of the industry, we expected this quieter market.” Los Angeles-based vendors such as handbag designer Beth Springer and sweats line Royal Plush, which launched an activewear line, did their best to offer new trends such as tie-dye and dip-dye, to spruce up basic styles. Three Dots of Garden Grove, Calif., reintroduced tie-dye after a two-year absence to supplement its basic Ts that retail well for less than $100. It offered halter dresses, banded tops and cap-sleeve dresses in slub jersey dyed in yellow and green or pink and purple, all wholesaling for $57 to $74. Novelty was evident at Vernon, Calif.-based Mek Denim, which embellished back pockets with metallic mesh in jeans wholesaling for about $100. However, Raven kept its $106 straight-leg trousers clean in raw denim, while Hudson finished natural denim tinted in navy with a resin rinse for $75 wholesale. City of Others, the new moderate-price denim company financed by Hudson, blended value with fashion in white and lightweight black denim wholesaling for $45. Retailers cited a need for affordable basics as well as high-impact pieces that would catch shoppers’ attention. “We anticipated our sales would grow, but instead we’re remained flat,” said Mai Tran, who was buying for her boutique Choya in Tacoma, Wash. “That’s why we’re looking for merchandise that really pops.” Newer business owners said separating themselves from the pack was key to their survival strategy. “I’m in my first year of business, so I’m really looking for things that stand out — unique, one-of-a-kind pieces, especially in the accessories category,” said Monica Treacy, who was browsing Caria Designs jewelry at D&A for her Ella Mon store in Seattle. “I’m really trying to fill that category to help carry me right now.” Other retailers also cited accessories as a driver of business, and said their buying was particularly focused on bags and belts and other leather goods, especially items with trim or fringe detailing for fall. “A lot of girls can’t afford a whole new dress right now, but a belt can totally make a new outfit,” said Hyde designer Ana Cacao at Brighte, where she reported brisk sales for black Gucci-inspired belts with fringe and gold pyramid studs, and Prada-inspired ombré patent leather belts, wholesaling between $16 and $59. “It’s back to elegant basics for us, we’re out for clean, classic looks,” said Deborah Larkin-Morgan, who was buying in the California Market Center for her JinJor boutique in Olympia, Wash. “I’m trying to find a classic, wide white belt, something that will go with high-waisted skirts and pants, but I haven’t had any luck at all.” Some contemporary bag lines at Brighte reported that buyers were still looking for novelty in items such as a leaf-green leather tote for $250 that sold out at Linea Pelle, a $245 taupe clutch at Jalda and a python tote with hand-painted flowers wholesaling for $1,800 at Carlos Falchi. At the Boutique Lingerie show in the Gerry Building, show founder Samantha Chang said buyer traffic “has been weaker since last year because of the Las Vegas shows, but if they are coming, they are buying, even if they are being fairly conservative.” The merchandise ranged from $62 cotton camisoles from Poet to a $250 corset from Cadolle. Among popular apparel categories were long dresses and skirts in prints, as well as flared jeans and other high-waisted trousers. “Long flowing dresses are it, they’re selling really well for me right now,” said Sarah Coble, who was buying for her Sonoma, Calif., store Fleurtique. “Trina Turk made a beautiful bathing suit cover that I just ordered and am planning to sell as a dress. I try to keep my price points reasonable and value is appealing to customers — my sales are actually up this year.”

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