By and  on February 25, 2009

The directional brands that have flocked to ENK Vegas, now in its second season here, espoused pragmatic thinking in a challenging economy, but value took on a different form for design-oriented exhibitors.

“It’s not about being inexpensive but about having the right product,” said Todd Bernstein, vice president of sales for Theory. “For us, it’s about product that warrants the price.”

Bernstein, like many of the 84 vendors exhibiting in the Wynn Hotel’s Lafite Ballroom, cited clean, wearable pieces, innovative textiles and price adjustment as important currents in the market. Some prices in Theory’s fall collection, which offered fetching cropped outerwear, optically textured knits and updated men’s wear patterns, were slashed by 15 percent. But he still expected items, like the shawl collar sweater and waist-nipping toggle coat, to drive business.

In denim, Sean Hornbeak showed off clean, vintage-inspired jeans for J Brand Denim Co., which launched last year with the goal of bringing accessible denim to the men’s premium market.

“It’s about iconic and classic looks this year,” Hornbeak said. Not to mention cheaper: J Brand introduced men’s models retailing for $185. “Our retailers have been looking for denim under $200,” he added.

As skinny jeans have become a staple of women’s wardrobes, denim purveyors made sure to include new versions. For instance, Hudson Jeans shortened the inseam of a $154 skinny style to 30 inches so that women could cuff them more easily.

Other jeans makers upped the ante by offering women’s jeans that fit like leggings. Genetic Denim squeezed gams in black stretch jacquard, fake snakeprint and other novel fabrics for a new grouping retailing from $210 to $341. Post’age Denim, which added women’s jeans and tops to its season-old men’s line for fall, offered $150 legging jeans that pop in purple.

Boyfriend jeans and boot cuts received equal attention. There were Stronghold’s $265 cropped tomboy jeans in sky blue along with Mr. Winter’s $195 boyfriend trousers in washed linen. Lucky Brand Jeans drew attention to the derriere by planting studs and an embroidered peace sign on the back yokes of $179 boot-cut jeans.

Cleanliness was the guiding light at 7 Diamonds, a moderate-price maker of men’s embroidered wovens. This season, the collection erred on the side of modesty, opting for subtle details in pocketing and hardware as opposed to baroque stitching.

Retailers also sought tried-and-true classics from known brands. “We’re not testing new lines,” said Adam Beltzman, proprietor of Haberdash in Chicago, a stockist for Rag & Bone, Trovata and Nicholas K. “We need to be focused.”

If retailers stuck to their guns, they may have overlooked some notable launches, like Kai-aakmann, a line of cheap and chic sportswear from South Korea’s Avista Inc. The range of sophisticated sportswear in a muted palette received early interest from Steven Alan and Oak, the brand’s representatives said. Among the key pieces: hooded trenches, striped cardigans, double-breasted blazers and long parkas — all at recession-friendly prices, ranging from $30 for knits to $160 for women’s tuxedo blazers to $300 for rabbit fur-trimmed parkas.

In women’s sportswear, motor sports provided inspiration for many designers. Several updated the motorcycle jacket in unlikely fabrics, including languid black velvet at Corpus and faded gray-brown leather at Iro. Alpinestars by Denise Focil offered an alternative to pricy leather with a $175 nylon version accentuated with vibrant stripes.

Designers were also fond of plaid. Fred Perry enhanced a $450 black cashmere-wool coat with a quirky blend of red plaid and patent leather.

Plaid appealed to Jackie Brander, co-owner of the boutique Fred Segal Fun in Santa Monica, Calif., who snapped up the $110 oversize plaid button-up shirts from Post’age.

Easy dressing resonated with other retailers as well. Black Halo cropped the legs of a strapless gabardine jumper that was a hit in its holiday collection for a $325 summer update grazing the thigh. At Eight Sixty, casual-chic was epitomized by minidresses comprising a jersey tank attached to a full skirt fashioned from an African-influenced silk print, lime green brocade and other sophisticated fabrics.

With retail prices ranging from $66 to $88, Monika Crossin, owner of the boutique Nika in Park Ridge, Ill., predicted that Eight Sixty’s dresses would be easy to sell. “People are looking for pieces that can pull them from season to season,” she said.

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