By  on February 11, 2005

CHICAGO — Despite more than a foot of fresh snow, retailers shopping the five-day market at The Apparel Center here were thinking about summer.

Traffic at the show that ended Jan. 25 was hampered by near-blizzard conditions early on, however, buyers came out in force during the other four days in search of color and all things embellished.

“Clothing is just fun right now,” said Ritu Jain, owner of Textiles Inc. in Iowa City, Iowa. “Things have been boring for so long, so it’s nice to see embellishment again. I’m looking for some funky pieces that can mix with denim and skirts.”

Shrunken jackets and knit shrugs were both high on Jain’s list of must-haves, reflecting a market that is more item-driven. She was also on the lookout for a style that has resurfaced from the Seventies — gaucho pants.

“Gauchos are going to be big this year, and knee shorts,” she said. “I think [summer’s] going to be a great season.”

Lana Elmenhorst, owner of The Attic & Co., came all the way from El Reno, Okla., looking for some fresh items to add to her store, which caters to the town’s college crowd. Embellished items were also a top priority for her.

“Sequin circle skirts, little sequin tunics and camis — anything embellished and fun,” she said. “I came [to Chicago] trying to find something different, something new. My customers are always looking for what’s stylish right now.”

Vibrant, saturated citrus shades of tangerine and lime could be seen lining the walls of many showrooms. Everything from sleek, tailored suits to breezy, flowing skirts got a shot of energy from these summer brights. Metallics, in both clothing and accessories, also proved to be a big draw with retailers.

“I think metallic pink and metallic blue will be popular, and turquoise” said Jill Suter, a buyer for Sweet William in Hindsdale, Ill. “It kind of went out, but it came back,” she added, citing the rich, marine blue-green that dotted many designer runways.

“[Retailers] are buying a lot of novelty this season, a lot more color, and they’re using embellishment for daytime wear,” said Bernice Burg, whose eponymous showroom donated 20 percent of its commission during the market’s run to help survivors of the tsunami disaster.With the average women’s apparel customer coming to stores in search of single items instead of complete ensembles, many retailers are turning their attention to accessories to pick up some of the slack in sales.

“Women aren’t buying suits anymore, they’re more casual,” said Jan Bice, owner of Jan Bice in Madison, Wisc. “They come in looking to buy single pieces. But we’re selling accessories very well.”

Bice, whose store attracts a slightly older customer, added brightly colored and beaded handbags, and bold belts to her selection, as well as embellished denim and T-shirts.

“[Styles] go from cute little things to overly matronly looks,’’ she said. “There’s not a lot in between. It’s been quite a struggle out there, but we’re hoping for a good season.”

The January show marked the end for the showroom-based Women’s & Children’s Markets at The Apparel Center. Beginning in August, and following a minimarket this June, Stylemax will be presented four times a year across the street at The Merchandise Mart.

“[Stylemax] is just a superior venue and a superior product,” said Susan McCullough, vice president of apparel at Merchandise Mart Properties, which manages both venues. “Showrooms will still show across the street, and buyers will have the same resources that they find here. There will just be hundreds of more resources to see.”

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