By  on August 21, 2009

DALLAS — Prom was a bright spot in an otherwise challenged market Aug. 13 to 16 at FashionCenterDallas.

Mothers and daughters still spend money on a new dress for the annual ritual, said vendors and retailers, and business reflected that optimism as the Dallas Market Center cut the ribbon on its new cluster of prom showrooms.

“I am not planning [prom] down — this spring it was fine,” said Kerry Miller, buyer for Sharpe Dry Goods in Pryor, Okla. “I’m shocked when a junior high girl spends $500 for a dress, but they do. Their mothers don’t even blink.”

Girls in small-town America go for big tulle Cinderella dresses and Scarlett O’Hara styles with dramatic tucked skirts, Miller said, motioning to a sapphire taffeta number and a metallic ice blue crinkle concoction by Scala.

Slinky jeweled styles and short baby dolls were also popular amid a vibrant palette featuring coral, pink, yellow, turquoise, plum and lime, plus bold floral and animal prints.

“I think we’ll probably beat last year’s figures, and we had a good year last year,” said Marty Boikess, whose Sam Sales showroom represents Mori Lee. “Of my major [independent] stores, 5 to 7 percent have increased their buy.”

Cindy Morris, chief operating officer of the Dallas Market Center, said, “The official opening of the fully leased prom and special occasion neighborhood was a market highlight, as well as the continued upswing of attendance by new buyers.”

In general, however, traffic was slow, and vendors reported more stores were financing their businesses with credit cards as banks and factors limited credit. In addition, an increasing number of resources requested deposits from buyers in an effort to prevent refusal of delivery.

“A lot of people are canceling orders, and the vendors are nervous and most at risk,” said sales representative Scott Harner. “Nobody is overcutting anymore. People are nervous to write reorders. If they sell it, they are happy and want to move on.”

Most buyers focused on deliveries through the end of the year, though some placed colorful spring looks for delivery in 2010. Priorities included jewelry, handbags, tops, dresses, leather jackets and denim. The Eighties influence showed up in banded tunics, slouchy jackets, jumpsuits and one-shoulder dresses. Many buyers wore boyfriend jeans as they placed additional orders for the style, as well as snug denim leggings.

Annette Ochoa, buyer for Joe Brand in Laredo, Tex., wrote her first order for dresses by Studio M, a division of Max Studio. The jersey, sweater and cocktail styles were slated to ship by the middle of next month and wholesale for $60 to $75.

“Everyone wants something stylish and lower price,” Ochoa said. “These will fill a void for something at a price with a sophisticated look. We want to get holiday in early — in September and early October — so we have longer selling.”

Yoni Segal, co-owner of Lucca in Oklahoma City, said business was “solid, not exciting,” as he shopped for his five contemporary stores. Along with shredded, skinny and gold studded jeans by Denim of Virtue, key lines included Hazel, C. Luce, Diesel, Seven For All Mankind, Miss Me and Current/Elliott.

“I’m trying to get discounts at the bottom of invoices to pass on to my customers,” Segal said. “I shop with credit cards to be careful and not buy more than I need.”

The Johnny Was showroom, full of Swiss-style embroidery on cotton and linen tops, and vintage-print silk tops and dresses, was busy and had a “good market,” said Melanie Jennings, showroom manager.

Tiffany Foster, owner of Goosefeathers in Corpus Christi, Tex., spent hours there writing a full two-page order for February and March deliveries of the company’s detailed looks. She said her oil- and gas-rich customers were “inching back” to shopping.

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