By  on May 2, 1994

NEW YORK -- A run of fall ready-to-wear collections that showed more accessories than have been seen in several seasons has set the stage for a top-notch May market, according to vendors and retailers.

The melange of hats, neckwear and other items seen in the U.S. collections last month cemented the conclusion among many that the minimalist look is on its way out.

The resurgence of accessories started at the European collections earlier this spring and continued through the runway shows here, causing a number of department and specialty store executives to wax enthusiastic about the potential for accessories business this fall.

Even jewelry, which had become almost a no-show on American runways and in fashion magazines, was more prominent this time. Ready-to-wear designers as diverse as Marc Jacobs and Oscar de la Renta tied both fashion and fine jewelry pieces into their presentations.

"We feel very good about the upcoming season, and one of the main reasons is because we see a lot of options to work with and draw consumer interest with," said Sandra Wilson, fashion director of accessories for Neiman Marcus.

Wilson said she is planning to use what she saw in Europe and the U.S. to put together her buying plan for the May market, which takes place here May 9-13.

She added that she anticipates a pickup in belts, a classification that has been experiencing major lags.

According to Joanne Hart, fashion director of accessories for Federated Merchandising, merchandising arm of Federated Department Stores, the new rtw trends are more favorable to accessorizing than they have been in the past few seasons.

"After all the deconstruction we saw, I think there's a slightly dressier and more structured element coming back into the clothing," Hart said. "And that can only help accessories more.

"The bright colors are really refreshing, coming off such a naturals-oriented season," Hart noted.

Hats, handbags and neckwear will be the classifications Hart said she'd key on during market week. As for jewelry, she said, "I think we've all been concerned about the minimal presence it's had, but with the brightly colored knits and industrial fabrics coming into ready-to-wear, I see a lot of potential for modern, sleek-looking metals."The return to glamour that showed up in many collections should also help spur jewelry sales, said Sheila Aimette, fashion director of accessories for Macy's East.

"I think women are starting to want to dress up again and look a little more polished, a little prettier," she noted.

Other merchants, however, said they still had qualms about the classification.

"In the U.S. collections, jewelry showed up a little more but still wasn't there in a major way," said Rob Goldfarb, merchandise manager for accessories at Henri Bendel, New York. "For us, I'm afraid there's not going to be anything great coming out of the May market as far as jewelry is concerned," Goldfarb added. "I'm expecting refined ethnic looks to be the strongest look in the classification, and that's not what our customer comes to us for."

Instead, he said, he will continue to emphasize hats and neckwear, both of which have been strong spring sellers.

Many vendors are also moving into market week with upbeat attitudes.

"The fall season for accessories is shaping up as wildly successful so far," said Carol Hochman, president of Liz Claiborne Accessories. Following some pre-market meetings with major retailers, she said, areas such as hats and scarves have been very strong.

Neckwear designer Adrienne Landau, based here, was similarly enthusiastic.

"I think fall is going to be a great season for my company, and for the accessories business in general," she said. "Wraps and shawls, which have been showing a lot of growth over the last year, are going to be even stronger with all the interest in fabrics and textures that were shown in the collections."

Those who specialize in more formal, sophisticated merchandise say they are glad to see structure starting to return.

"Because of the return to more classic, polished looks, I think this is going to be the strongest May market I've ever had," said Lana Marks, owner and designer of Lana of London, an upscale handbag and belt firm based in Palm Beach, Fla.

Marks said she sees belts, as well as top-handled bags, making a major comeback."The desire to look polished and finished is coming on so strongly right now," she said. "Once the grunge look hit, career women in this country had very little to choose from, and I think they started to tune out. But we're going back to the point now where designers are addressing those needs."

Still, some in the industry feel that a full recovery from the stripped-down styles, particularly those that have shaped U.S. collections of late, is still a few markets away. "What came out of Europe was very encouraging, but I think they are at least one season ahead of us in terms of showing accessories in their collections," said jewelry designer James Arpad. "I think the designers there understand accessories a little better and also know their customers better."

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