By and and  on June 11, 2008

LOS ANGELES — Novel items, edgy designs and eco-friendly looks topped the shopping lists of retailers at the Los Angeles contemporary fashion market who are trying to manage through the economic slowdown with tight inventory and value-priced products.

During the event highlighting holiday collections that ended here Tuesday, buyers sought to differentiate their stores as they examined merchandise exhibited at Designers & Agents, Brighte Companies and the showrooms in the California Market Center, Cooper Design Space, New Mart and Gerry Building.

Store owners Brisann Smerz and Lisa Patrick were no exceptions. They opened i-boutique in Scottsdale, Ariz., less than a year ago. "With as slow as things are right now, it's the one-of–a-kind accessories and stand-out items that people will buy," Smerz said.

Haley Welsome, who sells denim and trendy tops at her shop, Blush in Anchorage, emphasized value while buying less to control her inventory.

"I'm certainly keeping a lot more price points now...because of the economy," Welsome said.

For retailers seeking novelty, the fall and holiday collections abounded with luxurious fabrics and glitzy accents. Dream Culture offered $80 silk velvet hoodies, Work Custom Shop lined up rows of platinum buttons on $87 denim sailor pants and Twin-Set tiered duchesse satin into voluminous skirts on $396 cocktail dresses.

The eco category also upgraded its materials and styling. For example, Loyale fashioned Ahimsa silk dyed a bright mustard color into $388 shift dresses, and EcoSkin added lace cuffs on $88 minidresses made of a blend of bamboo, Tencel and spandex.

"In the eco world, you have tons of T-shirts and casualwear," said Sandy Skinner, who started Los Angeles-based EcoSkin a year ago. "What is missing is the great sexy dress."

The appeal of eco-friendly apparel was particularly evident among store owners based on the West Coast. Joslin Van Arsdale opened a boutique called Eco Citizen in San Francisco last year, carrying a range of merchandise retailing from $45 for Toms shoes to $1,200 for dresses by Linda Loudermilk. "Even in the recession, people are still shopping," she said. "They are seeking out green fashion."And as the environmental movement picks up momentum overseas, designers like Melissa Kirgan can drum up business with retailers such as Japan's United Arrow, which she said is creating a floor filled with eco-friendly designs. Although the $495 wholesale price tag on Kirgan's cream organic cotton and hemp coat trimmed with gray organic angora might scare some U.S. retailers, it is manageable for foreign merchants who can take advantage of favorable exchange rates. "They're hungry for [eco fashion]," Kirgan said.

Retailers also flocked to items that stood out with bright colors and unusual details. Dorothy Lee combined romance, better fabrications and a vibrant palette in a $143 silk chiffon dress that pops in electric blue with ruffles and a big bow tied in the front. Meanwhile, Aviator Nation evoked the Seventies with its $85 cotton-polyester hoodies emboldened by rainbow-striped appliqués hand-stitched on the sleeves.

Meanwhile, jeans makers noticed a preference from retailers for distressed denim. Pratt's Motor Spirit, the denim line that former Antik Denim designer Philippe Naouri is launching for fall, scored with its jeans modeled after motorcycle pants and spliced with tears, side zips, crisscrossing seams above the knee and metal studs dotting the back yoke. Wholesale prices run from $75 to $105.

At the Brighte Companies trade show in the California Market Center, two seemingly opposite accessory trends came to the forefront. Vendors either touted bold fashion pieces for the chicest of consumers or those accessible to all.

Prominent necklaces in chunky and long varieties were a costume jewelry constant. Los Angeles jewelry firm Sogoli Design displayed lengthy chains piled with tonal semiprecious stones meant for layering, and Gerard Yosca New York found that faux pearl strands à la "Sex and the City" were gaining traction.

"It is really about making it the centerpiece of the outfit," said Stephanie Bonk, who handles press and sales for Gerard Yosca New York. Gerard Yosca's necklaces wholesale from $85 to $226, and Sogoli Design's cost $74 to $94.

Jewelry brands were flush with gold jewelry that continues to dominate buyers' orders. At Encinitas, Calif.-based Sophia & Chloé, creative director Nathalie Sherman noted gold was outselling silver 9-to-1.Sophia & Chloé and Adina Reyter stuck mostly to the daintier and classic styles they are known for, and featured a wide selection from impulse items to pricier pieces. "People will go into trend, but not fully into trend because they are nervous," Sherman said.

In handbags, roomy shapes overshadowed their smaller counterparts. A fold-over style with zipper accents wholesaling for $312 was a favorite at Los Angeles-based Lockheart, and a bucket tote with gold hardware was a standout at Beverly Hills-based SHIH by Stephanie Lin, where prices go from $158 to $288 wholesale.

The handbag color wheel didn't experience a wave of freshness. Patent sheen and hues along the purple spectrum — amethyst, eggplant or plum — were prevalent. "I have seen purple for a while, and I don't think it's done yet," said Jalda Hoff, founder of Beverly Hills-based Jalda.

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