By  on April 29, 2008

Spring business started late in Texas as unseasonably cool weather impacted shopping in March. It began to pick up this month, led by dresses, item tops and skirts, and retailers are optimistic that the season will end well. Color has been important, but prints have had a mixed reception.

"March was a little tricky, and April has been fantastic," said Brian Bolke, co-owner of Forty Five Ten, which specializes in avant-garde designer fashions and has eliminated lower price points. "As usual, the vendors who got their shipping together early have really performed the best." They included Pringle of Scotland, which Bolke praised for its "not scary" prices of $895 to $1,495, plus Dries Van Noten and Marni.

"Alaïa is one of the best-selling collections, and prices are nosebleed high — day dresses are $4,100, $5,400," Bolke pointed out. "But it's beautiful work, and that's the whole thing. If it looks like it's worth it, they'll buy it, and plus, they can wear it the rest of their life."

While dresses were important, Bolke noticed women gravitating toward "cool items," including pants, jackets and full skirts. Prints and color sold, especially from Van Noten, but Bolke said some shoppers passed on bold prints. "Prices are so high that if it is really identifiable as part of a season, then people are not so into it," he reasoned.

Business is ahead slightly year to date, Bolke said. Given the escalation in designer prices and the need to control inventory, Forty Five Ten kept its budget flat for spring and selected fewer units. Consumers are doing exactly the same thing, he observed.

That's also true at Stanley Korshak, said Rose Clark, general merchandise manager. "Women haven't shied away from status brands, but maybe last year she would buy six pieces of Valentino, and this year three or four," she said.

Dresses have been exceptional, particularly resort deliveries from Lanvin, Bottega Veneta, Kaufman Franco and Charles Chang Lima, and spring shipments from Lima, Missoni and Roberto Cavalli.

"Color has really been a key factor — bright orange, green, blue, yellow," Clark noted. "It's all about great dresses and great little tops and skirts. Prints have been fairly well received, but abstracts, not hugely."At Tootsies, the season has had ups and downs, but will come out OK, said Penne Weidig, buyer of designer collections. Tootsies has stores in Atlanta and Dallas, but does its biggest designer business at the Houston flagship. Colorful, feminine dresses by Giambattista Valli, Roberto Cavalli, Missoni, Pucci, Donna Karan and Zac Posen have been standouts, she noted.

Key items included Giambattista Valli's black-and-white bouclé suit with big white buttons and three-quarter sleeves, Zac Posen and Roberto Cavalli's sexy silk cocktail frocks and easy dresses from Donna Karan, such as a halter dress belted at the waist with a big wooden buckle.

Houston is the U.S. headquarters of the energy industry, so its economy strengthens with the price of oil.

"We had an Andrew Gn personal appearance and fall trunk show, and we did over $300,000 with his collection," Weidig pointed out. "Numerous customers spent well over $20,000 each."

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