By  on May 8, 2007

ATLANTA — New dates, combined shows, extended hours and packed special events created buzz, and some controversy, at AmericasMart's fall show as buyers and exhibitors reacted to new initiatives.

The show, which ran April 15 to 18, featured two big changes: It ran from Sunday-to-Wednesday, instead of Thursday-to-Sunday. And the market combined for the first time the women's, children's and accessories market with the Alpha men's wear show. Show dates have again been shifted, this time to Saturday-to-Tuesday.

"It was a market of experiments and innovation," said Mike Turnbull, senior vice president of marketing for AMC, AmericasMart's parent, who said the initiatives helped boost attendance.

Turnbull wouldn't give overall numbers, but said 1,000 buyers registered Saturday before Sunday's opening day, creating long lines at registration areas. Sunday included extended show hours until 8 p.m., and such hoopla as a balloon drop, prize giveaways and a performance by Montreal's Cirque Eloize that accompanied a fashion showcase of Canadian lines at AmericasMart.

Many exhibitors were pleased with Sunday traffic, but some reported a drop as the show went into Wednesday afternoon.

"Sunday was our biggest market day ever, with sales in seven figures," said Brad Johnson, principle of Ambrosia & Co., a contemporary sales firm.

But Lauren Sheets, of Lauren Pink, another contemporary showroom, said the timing of the mart, in mid- to late April, combined with the date change, threw off traffic, resulting in lower sales by as much as 20 percent. Other sales reps agreed that traffic declined during the week.

"Customers complained [about the dates] and we had no showroom help, because we rely on part-time workers that are hard to get during the work week," she said. "This major market was not a good time for such a major change."

Some buyers, however, said the weekday format allowed better access to vendors' corporate offices in New York when questions arose. Others said the weekdays provided better opportunities for reservations at restaurants, while others complained of a lack of nightlife in the early weeknights. Still others said they needed to be in stores or home with schoolkids.For those buyers searching for entertainment, the mart provided it Monday night, hosting a "Fashion With the Fish" event at the Georgia Aquarium in nearby Centennial Park.

Fashion was in full fall bloom, with palettes of gray, brown and black, and men's wear patterns. Lightweight wools, tweeds, knits and cashmeres contrasted with frilly blouses and camisoles for classic appeal. Prints ranged from bold patterns to wallpaper-inspired graphics applied on tunics, A-lines and minidresses. Short dresses were in big supply, especially in halters, strapless styles and bubble silhouettes for cocktail.

Buyers applauded new suitings and liked the range of pants options, including higher waistlines and wider legs, along with more slim, rather than skinny legs.

Texture, from metal threads to heat transfers or appliqués, added interest to casual fall sportswear.

Retailer Marigail Mathis found the market experience so compelling, the new dates didn't faze her.

"I'd come on Christmas Eve if that's when they were open," she said.

Mathis, owner of an eponymous better-to-bridge store in Florence, Ala., praised the show's fashion offerings, especially in the Premiere area, a juried contemporary showcase.

"It was beautifully marketed, merchandised and made me want to buy," she said, noting she bought Paul Lishman's lightweight fur capes, scarves and accessories, which, given the weather's unpredictability, were "an easier sell than a wool melton coat."

Challenged to "offer eye candy with all the black, brown and gray," Mathis said she added color with wrap paisley scarves by Echo, cashmere separates by Elliott Lauren and red patent leather shoes by BCBG. She also brightened up dark shades with crisp white shirts by Elliott Lauren, Olsen Europe and Calvin Klein, and added texture with layers of pearls by Fahrenheit.

"We have to add texture and color to keep the store from looking funereal," she said.

Mathis picked up Citrine, a new line that she liked for its quality fabrics, sophisticated design and sharp prices. In T-shirts, a category that Mathis said needed fresh new styles and resources to give customers a reason to buy, she bought velvet trim thermal styles from In the Wash.Julie Routenberg, owner of two bridge specialty stores in Atlanta, didn't like the new dates.

"The Monday and Tuesday mart days cut me off from two important days in the store at the beginning of the work week, when we usually handle administrative details or handle delivery issues with vendors," she said.

Routenberg bought two new bridge sportswear lines from the Premiere area — Helene Kidare and Hilton Hollis — and also purchased Cino, a new line of casual sportswear, in a permanent showroom.

She ordered grays paired with colored layering pieces by Anue, Cosabella and Only Hearts.

"Everybody's complaining about no color, but I'm not," she said. "I love gray, with gorgeous camisoles, shirts and scarves in colors underneath."

While she hadn't carried a dress in five years, dresses were strong spring sellers, from sportswear lines such as Peserico, Garella and Lafayette 148, and traditional dress lines such as Teri Jon.

"Fall dresses are harder to find because with sleeves they don't look as fashionable, but I'm still searching," she said.

She bought fall dresses from Schumacher and Lafayette 148 and wide-leg pants, paired with knit blazers and dusters.

The biggest challenge for Francine Whyman-Brown, owner of Mario Pucci of Boca Raton, Fla., was finding fashion-forward fall looks in fabrics lightweight enough for her Florida climate and contemporary clientele. She picked up silk and knit suitings in charcoal gray and navy, with fitted jackets and wide-leg pants from Donna Degnan, Yansi Fugel and others, along with feminine blouses with lace and ruffles.

She also ordered Badgley Mischka's new sportswear collection, adding to the line's gowns she carries for special occasion, as well as eveningwear from Teri Jon and Dina Bar-El.

"In general, we're upping our price points and broadening our customer age range," she said. "We're in a bubble in Boca Raton, a wealthy area where people love to shop."

Meg Walters, owner of Henri's Cloud Nine, a 15,000-square-foot social occasion store in Minerva, Ohio, shopped the market after selling 1,500 prom dresses this spring, at an average price of $390. She carries up to 30 lines in her store."The economy doesn't affect prom," she said. "We're selling higher prices."

Walters bought homecoming, prom and mother-of-the-bride dresses, along with pageant, a new category for her.

Increasing her buy for prom, she shopped for silk charmeuse and jersey fabrics, with jewel accents, in halter, strapless and ballgown silhouettes. She bought Tirani and Jovani for both prom and pageant. While her average size is an 8, she found a void in large sizes, which are increasingly in demand.

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