By  on February 13, 2002

CHICAGO -- Discretion was the better part of the retail strategy for many Midwest buyers shopping the summer-early fall market here coming off a difficult holiday season.

"We're more selective," said Bobbi Kurtz, owner of Runway, a trendy specialty shop in north suburban Deerfield. "We're looking for clothing that generates more excitement."

Susan McCullough, vice president of apparel for the Merchandise Mart Properties Inc., which operates the apparel center, said despite the tentative approach, "It's the best positive attitude we've had since Sept. 11. People were ready to buy, plan their stock and move forward."

Catching retailers' eyes at the Jan. 25-29 market at the Chicago Apparel Center were capris and cropped pants, and novelty tops for summer and rich suedes for fall.

"Everything was very feminine, lots of lace and ruffles," said Lisa Whitten, a co-owner of The Strawberry Patch in Peoria, Ill.

Whitten and her sister, co-owner Laurie Cain, ordered six different styles of a Kay Celine lace blouse in both black and white.

"The clothes are cute, people are going to like them," Whitten said, "but we're buying smarter and safer with plans to reorder depending on what sells."

Sales rep Mark Schneider of Schneider & Company, said, "Red is the number-one seller for fall," noting strong orders for a $175 rich red faux suede and long Berber coat by Fjall. Other novelty suede coats, jackets and vests from Fjall booked well, as did basic tan suede pants and jackets from Telluride.

Those suedes, however, did not upstage Schneider's sales of $150 multicolored alpaca sweaters by Dakota. He said he met with 94 clients during the five-day show.

"People were coming in with good attitudes," he said, "but our orders aren't coming in as fast. A lot of people are chasing goods because they don't want to commit early. A lot of retailers have [merchandise] left over."

Andrea Marks, director of sales for Womyn, also noticed retailers' hesitancy, explaining that her line is receiving a lot of reorders. Among new orders, Marks echoed the hot color trend."Red is selling like crazy," she said, pointing to one of Womyn's top-selling items, a $60 pair of red cropped stretch jeans.

Other top sellers include a $70 cuffed cropped pant and a $60 black-and-white minicheck cropped jean of which Marks has sold 3,500 units. Those pants along with other Womyn fashions carry a "Made in New York" hang tag, a symbol of New York pride following Sept. 11.

Again, red and other colored suede jackets and pants sold well for Richard Cocherl, vice president of sales for Summit Ridge Corp.'s Co & Eddy. Cocherl said he put in orders for 16,000 units of the pig suede jackets and shirts featured in a range of shades.

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