By and  on January 19, 2005

LOS ANGELES — Two weeks of torrential rains across California caused fatalities and mudslides and disrupted the lives of millions of people, but appeared to do little to reduce the shopping appetites of consumers, said retailers and manufacturers attending the summer market here.

As a result, retailers were on scouting missions at the California Market Center, New Mart, Cooper Design Space and Gerry Building to replenish shelves with distinctive fashion statements. These included peasant and hippie-beaded skirts, jewelry-encrusted T-shirts, embroidered denim and even sticker shock-inducing Swarovski crystal-studded cashmere sweaters ($475 wholesale) by local designer Cake Couture. Buzz also was strong around the “Desperate Housewife” logo T-shirts selling at the Hank showroom at the Gerry Building.

“I think we provided a refuge for shoppers who were willing to climb over sandbags to get to our store, which tells us that consumers aren’t slowing down their spending,” said Melanie Shatner, owner of Dari in the chic Studio City section of Los Angeles. She is the daughter of actor William Shatner.

What was a concern for mostly showroom owners in this downtown apparel hub was the sale of two core buildings, the California Market Center and the Gerry Building. Until the market center’s sale to Jamison Properties closes by the end of January, a number of key showrooms, such as Rep et Trois, don’t plan to renew their leases.

“We want to know what we are getting for what we’re paying,” said Michael Todd, co-owner of Rep et Trois.

In the meantime, it’s been business as usual at the market center, said general manager Paul Lentz, who was pleased with sales at the show.

“I had no reason to believe it wouldn’t be business as usual,” he said.

The other two show presenters, the Designers & Agents Annex held at the New Mart and Cooper Design Space and ENK International’s Brighte show at the California Market Center, said their exhibitors reported consistent business even with a slower day on Monday, the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Traffic grew 33 percent to 1,609 from 1,200 attendees last January and the number of exhibitors increased 46 percent to 114 from 78, said Ed Mandelbaum, co-organizer of the D&A Annex show with Barbara Kramer, which also drew home accessories and gift exhibitors such as Assouline books and Dwell Bedding.“The gift category is becoming an important part of our show, reflecting the way boutiques are set up with multiple categories,” Mandelbaum said.

Brighte, which attracted about 100 exhibitors and 1,700 buyers, showcased apparel and accessory and jewelry lines such as 7 Slade, Ana Capri, Beth Springer Handbags and Jelessy denim.  

“We had an excellent show with retailers hailing from Denver on west to the Pacific Rim,” said Elyse Kroll, president of the event’s producer, ENK International.

Minimalist-looking offerings weren’t on the radar for now, retailers said. “It’s all about bling-bling,” said Yvonne Greene, fashion scout for Henri Bendel, citing lines such as T-shirt resource Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Contemporary designer Charlotte Tarantola, whose showroom is at the California Market Center, said it’s the “crazy stuff” that’s working.

“My customer is going for that Las Vegas/Palm Springs vibe,” said Tarantola, noting Lurex T-shirts in white, gold and black were top sellers. 

Rhinestone-studded T-shirts and liquid jersey shirts in flutter-cap sleeves were key sellers at A.B.S. by Allen Schwartz exhibiting at Brighte, said Lloyd Singer, A.B.S. president.

“They’re looking for lots of flash,” said Singer, who said first-quarter business was ahead of last year. He did not specify how much.

Even an antifashion statement — Birkenstock-inspired shoes — were getting bejeweled by Nandini, an accessories line at the Arlene Henry showroom at the market center. Nandini also launched beaded mesh tank-over-T-shirts, wholesaling from $38 to $62.

Another launch from the showroom was Staples USA’s casual division of twill pants, knee-length skirts and buttonless jackets piece-dyed in 50 colors, along with matching printed tops. The updated misses’ line will wholesale from $23 to $39.

Sales for both lines were brisk, Henry said.

“I have no complaints about this show,” said Henry, adding that so far, 2005 sales were ahead of last year.

In their quest to turn into brands, T-shirt companies were expanding their offerings. White-hot T-shirt line Noun, started by designer Max Azria’s nephew, David Jahan, and known for its Custo-inspired prints, was selling its mixed-media sweaters in lace and contrasting fabric at the Rep et Trois showroom. At D&A, Love This Life, an almost two-year-old company begun by singer David Culiner as a way to market his band, has broadened its mix of spiral-motif Ts and tank tops to include butterflies and sunflowers along with fleece miniskirts, fold-over yoga pants with rear-wording and zip-up hoodies.Dressier styles were also popular for those summer soirees. White eyelet slipdresses and printed silk dresses by Harvey’s, which has begun upgrading its fabrics, as well as shirtdresses with contrast colors by Belka were selling at the Fille showroom in the Cooper Design Space.

Nellik’s crocheted champagne-colored sweater looks were a standout at the Creative Concepts showroom in the California Market Center.

Spending on higher-priced denim is one love affair that’s not cooling, said Jaye Hersh, owner of the West Los Angeles boutique Intuition. “We’ve got lines like Antik denim, which we’re selling for $250 and meeting no price resistance.”

She also placed an order for David Kahn denim, an updated misses’ line with higher rises and wholesale price points between $59 and $74. “I’m going to get the customer who’s tired of the thong hanging out of her pants,” Hersh said.

Other key denim looks were cuffed styles, trouser silhouettes, sailor looks with bigger buttons and rounded pockets and jeans done in white. New denim resources were still on the minds of buyers, who were on the hunt for vendors pushing the fashion envelope.

One contemporary line that received orders from Dari and Blue Bee in Santa Barbara was People of the World, a new Los Angeles-based denim line designed by Ange Sfez, who has worked at Dickie’s Girl and Levi Strauss. It featured colorful, diamond-shaped embroidery on the back pockets, signature zigzag stitching and fabric-patch labels. Wholesale prices ranged from $80 to $105.

New denim companies were one draw for foreign retailers who roamed the buildings in search of “California chic.” Kazuto Hamada, owner of the Rush boutique in Kobe, Japan, who picked up Dragonfly and Flesh T-shirts, said he’s been shopping the L.A. markets for two years.

“The Japanese like the L.A. lifestyle of denim and T-shirts along with the celebrity influence of the area,” said Hamada through an interpreter.

What's Hot

  • HIPPIE/SEVENTIES EMBELLISHMENTS: Leather patches on jeans, colored jewels on skirts and embroidered button-down shirts — everyday basics get glamorous with homespun decorative techniques.
  • RICH PAISLEY: Exotic textiles with a vintage feel; graphic prints in jewel and earth tones, blues, burgundies and browns.

  • SPARKLE AND SHINE: Sequin trims on tiered skirts; crystals on blazers, T-shirts and skirts.

  • VINTAGE-LOOKING DENIM: Dirty, worn-in-looking denim; soft and faded washes; retro shapes in denim; industrial worker-style overalls; overall-style dress, and suspender attachments on cropped jeans.

  • MUTED PALETTE: Mauve, lilac, mint green and peach.

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