By  on November 11, 2008

DALLAS — Price stepped to the forefront at FashionCenterDallas’ spring market.

Many retailers attending the four-day market that ended Oct. 26 slashed spring budgets 15 to 20 percent because business had fallen off or they felt jittery about the economy. An unusually large number bought immediate goods and took spring orders home to analyze, sales representatives said.

“My customers are still buying, but they are buying less and they are more price-conscious,” said Allyson Cooke, owner of Launch contemporary showroom.

Best-selling styles included fitted dresses with a Fifties influence, novelty skirts, tunics with beaded necklines, bold graphic and geometric prints, silk chiffon cocktail dresses, easy jersey cardigans, and brights including lemon, orange and pink. Gold chain and pendant jewelry and woven or textured patent leather handbags were also strong.

“They have to love it to buy it,” said Denise Berman, who represents labels such as Magaschoni and De Sentino at Berman & Associates. “The last few weeks have raised flags. I think I’ll meet my numbers [from last October], but in this business, you want to grow.”

Connie Sigel, owner of Elements, a Dallas boutique specializing in contemporary and designer fashion, said, “I’m being very conservative and definitely looking for value.”

Sigel praised the “exquisite” workmanship of Beauty Mark by Byron Lars’ blouses and fitted peplum dress, and ordered a watercolor print tunic and dresses by Goldhawk that wholesaled at $139 and $149.

Aileen Dauterive, manager of Chatterbox in Baton Rouge, La., said her business hadn’t slipped this fall and her spring budget would equal 2008, but she was shopping more carefully.

“My customers want to spend less, but they still want a new dress for every occasion,” Dauterive said. “We are picking up four new lines to accommodate occasion dressing for less money — Aidan Mattox, Nicole Bakti, Maria Bianca Nero and Yoanna Baraschi. Baraschi has sexy, chic classic dresses wholesaling from $125 to $160 — it’s like guaranteed income. Marc Bouwer is expensive, but timeless. It’s never left in the store.”

Sylvia Johnson, owner of Sylvia’s high-end boutique in the border city of McAllen, Tex., said her business was “OK, so far,” but she was being conservative for spring.

“We’re buying what grabs us,” she said. “People still have money, but they will buy basics from department stores and come to us for special items. We’re going with brighter colors.”

Johnson thought beaded linen tunics by Michael Michael Kors would appeal to her clientele, as well as novelty cotton sateen jackets by Muse and silk chiffon dresses by Bouwer.

“You have to watch out for price point and newness,” said Debbie Mohn, owner of four Furnishings for Her stores in Kansas City, Kan. “I had a great year going into September, but since then I am very cautious. October has continued to slide. We are just buying minimally and we will see what happens.”

As Mohn reviewed Brighton accessories, her biggest vendor, she kept an eye out for bags retailing for around $200, including a woven straw handbag decorated with a mustard leather butterfly and a “practical” pebble leather hobo bag with bronze trim.

Laura Young, Brighton’s national sales manager, hosted about 65 retailers daily during market for a formal lunch and merchandise seminar.

“The people who double [store] events between now and Christmas are the ones who are going to do well,” she said.

Brighton’s best-selling category is its nickel jewelry collection, led by whimsical enamel charms retailing from $4.50 to $18.

Retailers from Mexico, Central and South America came in response to incentives from the Dallas Market Center.

Cindy Morris, chief operating officer of the market center, which operates FCD, said the market “exceeded our expectations given the financial markets and economic issues.”

Edgar Serrano and his mother, Nida, owners of the D’Mori buying office in Miami and a store in Guayaquil, Ecuador, shopped with five Latin American stores.

“Most of what [our stores] are buying is eveningwear, like Sue Wong, Teri Jon, Tadashi, Maggy London,” Nida Serrano said.

Caesar Soriano, president of Volare Group, shopped Dallas for the first time, seeking handbags and day dresses for Volare’s 40 boutiques in the Dominican Republic. He looked at Muse, Donna Morgan, Phoebe Couture and Sonya Roberts.

“Now is a difficult situation and expectations are not good,” he said. “We sell to tourists from Europe and I think sales will decrease over the next six months.”

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