By  on September 27, 2005

NEW YORK — With a new location and an abbreviated schedule, exhibitors attending the American International Designers trade show at the Swissotel here were energized about retailers' response to their spring collections.

John Liguori, a partner at Paul Carroll, said, "Everyone is excited about the new move. We have seen more people at this show than we have at the last few shows, and stores seem to think that people are starting to loosen their purse strings again."

After years at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel, the show relocated to the Swissotel, which is closer to Midtown hotels where other trade shows were being held, including the Designers at the Essex House at Central Park South. In addition, American International Designers ended a three-day run on Sept. 20, a day shorter than previous shows, to try to maximize weekend traffic.

Along with dinner suits, buyers ordered party dresses, including a $780 matte jersey black dress with hand tucking, a $615 hand-dyed apron-top style with soft edging and a $475 number with a zip-front black viscose Lycra spandex top and a blue satin-faced organza skirt, Liguori said.

At Roberto Quaglia, a Zurich-based resource that specializes in tailored suits, 30 stores stopped by daily during the three-day show.

"We've never had this much traffic," a spokeswoman said.

One of the designer's fans, Barbara Bush, has helped raise his profile in the U.S.

Even though some stores had a lull in sales after Hurricane Katrina, most of the buyers who stopped by said they are encouraged about spring, she said.

Reviewing Roberto Quaglia's collection, Harry Van de Ven, owner of Worldly Things, said business in his Madison Avenue store has picked up after the slow summer season. "It's been terribly hot," he said.

Van de Ven said he was the first U.S. store to carry Quaglia's line about five or six years ago. He became more reliant on the label after Akris, another line he helped introduce to American shoppers about 20 years ago, opened a freestanding store next door to Worldly Things.

For spring — just as he does for other seasons — he is following his instincts."I only buy what I like, I'm not even concerned about my customers," Van de Ven said.

Another exhibitor, Munich-based designer Susanne Wiebe, had to use images of the runway show she staged in China this month to sell the collection, since her samples were temporarily lost in U.S. Customs. They arrived on the last day of the show, but some were missing, she said.

Several of the designs are inspired by the work of her husband, who is a well-known artist. Wiebe said she is considering opening a store in New York to sell her collection and some art, as she does in her Munich store.

At Designers at the Essex House, which wrapped up a four-day run on Sept. 20, exhibitors said stores were divided about whether business was picking up.

Linda Cunningham, who showed her signature collection at the Essex House, said, "We're finding that a lot of stores that are located in larger markets like Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas and Houston are doing better."

At least one retailer told Cunningham her store needs an infusion of new customers.

"Sometimes in a city, if there is not an influx of new buildings or a change in population, it's tough to get new customers," she said.

Atlanta is among the cities that continues to see growth, and it attracts shoppers from Florida and Tennessee, Cunningham said.

"In our category, women from smaller towns will travel to larger markets," she said. "Customers are willing to drive 300 or 400 miles for a dress."

Hurricane Katrina initially put a damper on fall shopping, Cunningham said.

"Several stores said the week or 10 days after the hurricane were just quiet," she said. "No one wants to be [doing] conspicuous consumption. They are worried about fuel and helping each other. They did not want to look like they were interested in clothes, when they were thinking, 'I need to go down to the shelter to move water bottles.'"

The Annelli Collection, a Darien, Conn.-based company that specializes in Italian-made cashmere separates, was a newcomer to the Essex House. Most retailers were interested in the line's cotton jacket, and silk and cashmere pieces like a scoop-neck sweater, said Stacey Bewkes, partner."Everyone is hoping the weather will get colder," Bewkes said. "This balmy, humid weather doesn't bode well for cold-weather clothes."

Launched two years ago by Bewkes and her sister, Tyrel Holston, who spends half the year in Italy, Annelli is sold in about 15 stores.

Another first-timer at the show, Gemy Couture à Porter, a Lebanon-based special occasion and eveningwear company, picked up at least one new account, said designer Gemy Malouf. The brand's gowns, wholesaling for $1,500, were among the bestsellers, even though most dresses wholesale for $1,000.

"When people put in good orders and don't complain, business is good," she said.

The U.S. accounts for at least 15 percent of the company's $3 million in annual wholesale volume. Building sales with American retailers is a priority, Malouf said.

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