CHICAGO — Midwestern retailers attending the recent summer market at the Chicago Apparel Center came with broader shoulders based on a pickup in business, as they sought out uplifting merchandise in bright, cheery colors.

Susan McCullough, vice president for apparel at Merchandise Mart Properties, which manages the Apparel Center, said, “The stores seem to be very positive. We didn’t hear the moaning and groaning that we have in the past. They were doing a lot of buying.”

Bob Dowling, co-owner of MeadowCreek Clothiers in Saginaw, with units in Bay City and Mount Pleasant, Mich., reported steady improvement in sales.

“We’re seeing marginal increases from last year,” he said. “We ordered about the same amount as last year, but more diversified.”

Overall, Dowling perceived the show, held Jan. 23-27, as a “market for all seasons,” as he ordered immediate spring, summer and early fall merchandise.

Marilyn Fleer, manager and buyer for Higley’s on Second in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, used the market to fill in for late spring and early summer, ordering novelty capris and linen novelty sweaters from Willow in fruit punch and orange. She also liked novelty sweaters from One Girl Who in petal pink, hot pink, mango, white and black.

“I certainly found out that (pink) is going to be a hot color again,” said Fleer, who bought colorful, bright accessories to pair with the fashions. “I saw a lot of color and it looks like color is going to transition into fall.”

Fleer bought fall transition separates from Eileen Fisher in cement, black and dust blue, as well as boiled wool zip-jackets and coordinating, long-sleeved rayon stretch T-shirts in bluebird and persimmon. She also plans to order three groups from ISDA, including cargo pants, coordinating jackets and T-shirts in red, black and white and java.

For notable prints, Fleer bought rayon camp shirts, flood pants, column dresses and T-shirts from David Dart, a strong-selling line at Higley’s on Second. Dart’s “shopaholic” print features little purses, dresses, shoes and other items.

“I’m always looking for newness and trying to find something different,” she said.Fleer found that in Christine Phillipe, a new line for Higley’s. Fleer opted for both white and black capris and coordinating white jackets with stud detailing. She also ordered ankle-length white pants with bright blue floral appliqués and sequins with matching knit tops.

She also tried the Fibers line, ordering novelty capris, blouses and knits. Like Fleer, Dowling was pleased with the Fibers line, placing an immediate order for almost two-thirds of its collection, including both separates and coordinates.

“We went pretty deep into the collection,” he said. “We liked the bright colors and the clean look. It’s not embellished or overdone.”

Dowling also ordered some 16 styles of black bottoms from Drama.

“It’s a very black-driven collection,” he said, noting that despite the recent emphasis on color, customers still like the versatility of a black skirt, he said. “You can do anything with a black bottom.”

But what makes Drama’s skirts so appealing and a strong seller in Dowling’s stores is that each style has a little flair, such as a ruffled hem, center pleat or white piping, he said.

“They present a basic skirt and do something special with it,” Dowling added.

The Michigan retailer also ordered a microfiber lingerie-inspired top in pastels and brights from Pappillion Blanc, based in Montreal. The lacy shirt, which Dowling ordered in sleeveless, cap sleeves, half sleeves and three-quarter-length sleeves, can be worn alone or under sweaters and suits, he said.

“It’s a younger look, but not too young” for his 35- to 55-year-old clientele, Dowling said.

Although Dowling said he does a strong business with suits from Garfield & Marks and Renfrew, casual looks and sportswear sell best during the spring and summer.

Most of his fall orders will be placed at the Chicago Merchandise Mart’s upcoming StyleMax in March, he said.

Then, Dowling plans to fill in his sweater category.

“That’s very important for us. In Michigan, people like to layer up,” Dowling said, adding that he will search for both novelty sweaters and basics such as cardigans or cashmere styles with mini cables.

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