NEW YORK -- Dress business is hot at Lord & Taylor.

That was the word from Marshall Hilsberg, chairman and chief executive officer, as he launched the store's annual salute to the dress at its 1994 Dress Design Scholarship Awards presentation and reception.

During its dress week, March 17-25, L&T also hosted benefit fashion shows for local charities at its branches in St. Louis, Miami and Atlanta. More than 250 people attended each event.

Lavelle Olexa, L&T's senior vice president for fashion merchandising, said early checkouts on spring dresses have been good, noting strong selling on Cynthia Rowley's ice blue linen short slipdress with lace hem; the long ice blue floral print rayon slipdress from Bonnie Strauss, which is on the cover of the dress catalog; and Nicole Miller, Laundry, Dana Buchman and Chetta B Evening.

"We've had more response to bare looks in the South," said Olexa. "The weather probably has a lot to do with that."

Now in its seventh year, the dress design scholarship program this year is helping 10 fashion students, who share $21,000 toward their senior year.

The winners are: Carolyn H. Park, Chi Kang Hu and Tim Hibdon of the Fashion Institute of Technology, here; Raul Diaz, Chee Chen Au and Elina Zauberman of Parsons School of Design, here; Katrina Johnson of Washington University, St. Louis; Chander L. Babra of Marymount University, Arlington, Va.; Diana Jaye Coluntino of the Massachusetts College of Art, Boston, and Joann Tan of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Hilsberg said L&T's dress business is currently experiencing "strong double-digit increases" and said the category's gains are surpassing store growth.

"If you're not sharing in that growth, you should," he told vendors in attendance.

Sources estimate that dresses represent 30 percent of L&T's volume.

Noting the abundance of dresses at the European fall runway shows, Hilsberg said their strong performance in the fourth quarter is accelerating into spring.

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