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A SUBTLE PLAY ON HOLIDAY

LOS ANGELES -- Don't expect this holiday to be a dressy affair.<P>Although there were plenty of slinky gowns shown at the fall II-holiday market here, which ended Tuesday, vendors said women will be showing up at Thanksgiving dinner and holiday...

LOS ANGELES — Don’t expect this holiday to be a dressy affair.

This story first appeared in the June 12, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Although there were plenty of slinky gowns shown at the fall II-holiday market here, which ended Tuesday, vendors said women will be showing up at Thanksgiving dinner and holiday cocktail parties in glammed-up versions of the comfort silhouettes that have been selling well all year: cashmere drawstring pants, sherpa-lined velvet jackets, peasant blouses tinseled with metallic embroidery and cozy crochet sweaters.

Misses’ vendors continued to do a strong lace business.

This market is typically a smaller one, sandwiched between a strong fall I and the holiday-cruise market in August, during which most boutiques are finally ready to think seriously about their holiday buy. At this round, with a market in New York also competing for attention, several sales reps voiced the familiar complaint that there needs to be national-level coordination of dates.

“June’s always soft. But I did work with two catalogs. So far, they’re the only ones ready to sit and write holiday,” said Karen Lopez, West Coast sales rep for updated misses’ collection Michael Alexander. Lopez said she did well with “sported up” velvet, like a stretchy dress with lace-up front and bell-sleeved velvet tops.

Retailers appeared relaxed, with most noting they were fairly well set for fall, picking up a few accessories for immediate deliveries and generally taking more note of holiday merchandise than placing orders for it. Even those who heralded a strong fall holiday selling season, optimistic from a solid spring, were unwilling to risk adding inventory, no matter how fresh the fashion.

A Marc Jacobs mood of patchwork and paisley appears through late fall deliveries. Items range from a velvet jacket with piecework trim from Japanese resource Balloon at the D&A Annex to the “Gypsy” cummerbund dress from eveningwear line David Meister. Audrey Felli, who reps the line, said she worked with department store buyers who were “sharpshooting for their needs.”

Separates offerings such as floaty chiffon peasant blouses paired with bias-cut silk skirts booked well, she said.

The gypsy theme struck a chord with Carl Dias, women’s wear buyer at trendy Los Angeles boutique Traffic. “I’m filling the space after hippie whoredom,” he said. According to Dias, gypsy is a notch more feminine and sophisticated than hippie. Dias is considering the look for next spring forgoing buying for a holiday season that’s “nonexistent,” he said. “Celebrity clients get [gowns] for free.” For other customers, he will have retro Thirties-inspired silk shirts on hand, “something sexy and beautiful enough.”

On the bohemian tip, designers from Alicia Lawhon to knitwear line Agofilo showed wrapping silhouettes — shawls, scarves and ponchos. Sales rep Rachel Barr at the Valerie Hambas and David Kahn showroom said she thought Agofilo’s $68 wholesale poncho was a nice alternative to the coat-cardigan business.

At the Liza Stewart showroom, Dee Ragano, buyer for Emphatic in Fred Segal Santa Monica, extolled the virtues of Tamara Katz’s Missoni-inspired knits, including matching dress, bag and fringed shawl combos.

“Can’t keep it in,” she said. “Every month, every style, it goes.”

Of course, no matter how small the market, there are new faces and ideas. Former Victoria’s Secret designer Frankie Kwong switched from inner to outerwear, introducing his Teski label at CaliforniaMart’s Focus show. His lambskin Nehru jacket with tooled inset booked well, said rep Phara Petrie.

At D&A Annex, former Blue Cult denim designer Robin Chretien showed a new line, Hudson Jeans, which uses denim, velvet and corduroy. Chretien drew on Seventies-inspired styling with slit coin pockets, basketweave appliques and patchwork stripes. The line, which includes bottoms, blazers and a motorcycle jacket, booked $1 million in five weeks, according to partner Peter Kim.

Even basic lines added interest. Three Dots, known for its T-shirts, continues to broaden its collection, showing everything from micro-cord quilted vests to stretch-lace thermal tops. The resource is up 20 percent at wholesale, according to Sarah Angell, Western sales manager.

“We’ve got a year’s worth of solid selling behind us, so I think people are becoming very accepting of buying different things from us,” she said.

Small specialty stores, which are realizing they can have a leg up on department stores, want this kind of variety from smaller resources.

To further differentiate her store from “faceless” venues, Susan Carvey, owner of Partington Ridge Co. in Salinas, Calif., said she’s steering clear of big brands to give her customers “almost personal shopper” service.

“People don’t have time to shop department stores,” she said. “They get overwhelmed. So I’m always buying with someone in mind.”

“I stay away from anything department-store-y,” echoed Margit Meriwether, who opened a high-end contemporary boutique, Nolita, in Missoula, Mont., two months ago. Lauding the patronage of celebrities who have ranches there, she said she doesn’t “feel like I’m in competition with anybody.” Meriwether placed orders for hippie blouses and wool cashmere slacks.

If retailers had one complaint, it’s not finding enough fashion for baby-boomer women, among the largest demographic groups. “It’s either too young or too old,” said Sophie Maddix, owner of Studio 67 in Saratoga, Calif. “Women in their 40s still want to look good.”

Noelle Klein, owner of Pretty Woman Inc., in Capitola, Calif., said her misses’ customer wants junior styles but she can’t find the sizes from junior lines and the quality is not up to snuff.

“The misses’ market is so uncreative, it’s pathetic,” she said. “My customers refuse to wear those linen dresses that make them look like a sack. People want practical, useful garments at a good price, with bells and whistles.”

HIT LIST

Motorcycle Jackets

Brocade pants

Paisley prints

Fringed scarves and shawls

Printed chiffon tunic tops