By and and  on January 9, 2008

Looking toward the spring and summer markets, West Coast retail buyers are eyeing color, comfort and eco-friendly apparel.

"It's a very vibrant palette for spring," said Tifani Wilt, women's fashion director for Macy's West. "The economy has been down, so it's kind of a way for fashion to turn your attention away from that. Also, color is synonymous with femininity."

Knits, especially in bright oranges, cobalt blues and yellows, are also emerging. For California, in particular, casual and stylish comfort is paramount, with knit pants and cotton tops, boldly patterned dresses and shorts being a focus for many buyers.

They said that the cuts and styles appear to be more eclectic this year.

"It's easier to buy faster trends like more sweaters, Ts, casual dresses, nothing you have to think about too much,'' said John Eshaya, vice president of women's wear at Ron Herman, which operates stores in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, Malibu, Calif., South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif., and Las Vegas. "Next season there are going to be more of those pieces."

He added that after last season's high-waisted pants and embellished dresses, the pendulum is swinging back to cool, comfortable California day dressing. "Think cotton, casual, beachy. I think people will be wanting more tops to wear with jeans and cotton bottoms. Blouses are hard to find, but maybe people will cut off the bottoms of their dresses."

Gottschalks, the 60-unit department store chain based in Fresno, Calif., is emphasizing earth-friendly items and sportswear, particularly golf-inspired fashions.

"The green movement is a major deal this spring and summer and it's a huge part of our strategy," said senior vice president Scott Manson. "We're marketing with that in mind and are looking to develop that as a big part of our future as we go into the New York market next week."

Many buyers said they are open to fresh approaches in selecting product.

"This is a clean slate for retailers and it's very exciting," said Fred Levine, owner of Van Nuys, Calif.-based M. Fredric stores. "We are getting creative and having the store stand on its own. We don't have the 30 or 40 denim lines that we did back when it was the only way to establish yourself as an 'It' store, so now we have a wider variety that's better for everyone."While it may not be the primary focus, denim remains a presence.

Jennifer Althouse, denim buyer at American Rag Cie and its World Denim Bar, said she will look for dark, clean washes with clean back pockets, mid- to high rises and a variety of leg openings ranging from a skinny to a flare.

Value is also an important component with consumer spending power squeezed as the stock market declines, housing slumps, fuel prices rise and credit tightens. Los Angeles-area boutique owners said they plan to carry more varied items in general in an effort to compete with larger retailers.

"I am still going to carry all the labels I need to carry, but we are competing with Target and H&M and Zara, so I have to wow [customers] when they come in," said Jaye Hersch, owner of Intuition in West Los Angeles. "I want to be able to be the one-stop shop. I will still always look for the best T-shirt and always have a pair of jeans that they [customers] want."

— With contributions from Marcy Medina and Khanh T.L. Tran

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