By and  on February 15, 2012

MRket was injected with a shot of modernity with slimmed-down silhouettes, lively colors and technical fabrics, offering retailers updated alternatives for the fall season.

And with business improving and spirits lifted, stores shopping the show were searching for just the right items to continue the momentum.

“We’re starting to see positive momentum happening, even in the Rust Belt,” said Wally Naymon of Kilgore Trout in Cleveland. “The reason we went into this recession was that there was an emotional upheaval. Now the news is better and people feel better about spending money.” Even so, customers may not be prepared to spend at pre-2008 levels, so specialty stores need to offer them pieces they can’t resist. “It’s all about creating theater,” he said. “It’s how we merchandise the store, the way we use innovative techniques with mannequins, the way we make it fun. That’s the magic we perform.”

At the show, he was searching for “great outerwear,” although in lower quantities than this year, as well as new models of trousers and fabulous knitwear.

“The merchandise needs to be special, different and compelling,” he said.

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Mike Zack of Circa 2000 in Plano, Tex., agrees. “We’re not looking for the same stuff as before,” he said. “Nobody is buying five colors of basic polo shirts. We’re searching for something new and different. That’s why we go to these shows.”

Zack saw “a lot of good product in all categories.” This included knitwear, which he said has been “coming on strong,” as well as cut-and-sewn shirts, and hybrid jackets that can be worn as outerwear or sport coats.

Manufacturers did their best to step out of their comfort zone for fall.

Robert Graham showed its tailored clothing collection at MRket, a line with plenty of refreshments in color, pattern and detail. “We are taking a traditional look and updating it,” said president Neal Kusnetz, pointing to the sport coats in checks, plaids and windowpane patterns in eye-catching colors, with the company’s signature linings and detailing on the interior and under-collars. “It’s old school meets new school,” he said.

Prices were $1,250 to $1,850 retail for suits and $700 to $1,000 for sport coats.

Dress shirts were also new this season, and were offered in both classic or slim fit with updated patterns, embroidery inside the plackets and sleeves, and laser-etched buttons.

“If we’re not exciting and emotional, we’re not doing our job,” Kusnetz said.

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Weatherproof made its first appearance at MRket and showcased its popular 32 Degrees line of technical apparel. In addition to the signature outerwear and base layers, the category has expanded into slippers, hats, gloves, sweaters and other products.

Carlos Bethencourt, president of 32 Degrees, said that the trend for fall is for lighter-weight outerwear, and Weatherproof is introducing AYR, or All-Year Round, jackets to appeal to “stores and consumers who are bogged down by heavy outerwear.” The medium-weight jackets for men and women include a fleece lining and nanotech shells at a retail price of under $100. The company also offered “packables,” or light down jackets that can be rolled up and stored easily.

Randa, Weatherproof’s licensee for its 32 Degrees slipper collection, was showing off both this line as well as its new Geoffrey Beene seasonal footwear at the show. “We’re creating excitement in a boring category,” said Jody Brandman, project manager for the slippers. Both Weatherproof and Geoffrey Beene offered modern updates, such as plaid exteriors and fleece interiors, to appeal to customers seeking both comfort and fashion. For spring, according to David Katz, senior vice president and chief marketing officer, Randa will produce a 32 Degrees Cool collection of flip-flops for the first time. “Seasonal footwear is such a holiday business, but this is more spring-based.”

Don Kerkes, president of Tommy Bahama men’s wear, said that although the brand has historically been known as a wovens business, knitwear was actually stronger for the first time last year. To capitalize on the trend, he said the company is offering two-ply cotton shirts under the square label as well as tops to coordinate with the jeans that are more body conscious. “Our jeans business is fantastic in denim and alternative fabrics.”

New categories are also seen as a growth area, including the Paradise Tech line of tops designed to be worn on weekends. “It started with our logoed polo shirt,” he said, pointing to the marlin insignia. “We did it in a 100 percent cotton, and then a technical blend, and it’s now the number-one seller in our entire line.” The tech product has been extended into a half-zip sweatshirt and other models designed to appeal to a younger customer.

Terry Pillow, chief executive officer of Tommy Bahama, said Paradise Tech was tested in 12 stores and is now rolling out to all units.

He noted that the brand overall is “more diverse than ever, so we need product” that will appeal to shoppers not only in resort communities but urban areas as well. Tommy Bahama, which operates 100 stores in the U.S., will be opening a New York City flagship this fall. Pillow said he’s comfortable with the company’s wholesale to retail mix and is hopeful sales will continue to strengthen this year. “We’re not totally out of the woods yet, but it feels like things are better.”

PVH Corp. has also updated its offering this season. “For us, the drivers will be slim fit, which continues to outperform,” said Dan Saidel, executive vice president of sales and marketing, who also mentioned the smaller collars and updated detailing on plackets, yokes and cuffs.

David Sirkin, president of the neckwear division, said ties are also narrower, with brighter colors for spring, while accessories such as pocket squares and cuff links are seen as add-on businesses. “Retailers are being conservative in their planning but are optimistic about the trends.”

Sweater designer Lenor Romano showed distressed merinos and marble-washed pima cottons models and has begun working with cashmere again. “I like things that are luxurious and huggable,” she said.

For the big-and-tall customer, Willis & Walker showcased an expanded sportswear collection to complement its tailored clothing offering. Lamb-suede shirts with leather linings, leather jackets with ribbed collars and suede jackets with shearing linings were offered along with an updated jeans offering. “They’re all raw fabrics,” said president Kevin Willis, “and they’re all made in L.A.” One unusual fabric alternative was a 60 percent cotton, 40 percent linen option.

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