BUYERS LOOKING FOR A BRIGHT FALL

Byline: Anne D'Innocenzio

NEW YORK--Current business may not be so stellar, but buyers getting ready for the StyleWorks show are hoping an infusion of bright colors will energize sales through early fall. Slim pants are also prominent on some shopping lists.
The eighth edition of the show, which will offer 350 contemporary and young designer lines, will be held Feb. 24-26 at the Hotel Inter-Continental. For the first time, the show will include a section of European resources. Previous editions included just a smattering of European labels, said Debra LaChance, creative director and owner. Among the 20 vendors that will be featured in the European section are Vertigo, Paco Rabanne, Tempo Paris and Isabella Co.
LaChance said the show also has been targeting foreign buyers, and she expects at least 25 percent of the retail crowd to be international, up from 10 percent in previous editions. Also to be unveiled is a new service called StyleWorks Interactive, aimed at assisting manufacturers and retailers in Web site marketing.
Buyers, many of them hurt by the cold weather and blizzard conditions in December and January, say they nevertheless have healthy open-to-buys for the show--and most have definite ideas of what they want.
The Sandpiper, a contemporary sportswear retailer in Atlanta, was hurt by the cold weather in January. Owner Melissa Murdock is hoping that the Olympics and stocking up on whimsical fashion--"clothes with sort of an attitude"--will turn business around.
"I think tourists will be looking for lightweight, cool, feminine clothes while they are here, and we will definitely be prepared," said Murdock, who will be shopping for summer and transitional fashions at StyleWorks. Murdock's shopping list includes long, flowing skirts with T-shirts and belts, flippy skirts and shots of bright colors like bubblegum pink and lilac.
Connie Strunk, owner of Next Boutique Ltd., Kingston, N.Y., lashed out at what she sees as a plethora of too-tight clothes and said she is on the hunt for loosely fitting fashions. "I want clothes that someone other than a 13-year-old would wear," she said. "I don't want tight pants and tight tops. My customer is not interested in those clothes."
On Strunk's list were business suits, pantsuits and narrow, cuffed trousers, as well as soft white blouses. She noted that business was down in January and is off this month, but she expects sales to improve as winter fades. "We are located on a waterfront, and so we just didn't get many customers coming here to shop because of the cold weather," she said.
"Hot colors, like lime, baby blues and lavenders, is what is really exciting," said Max Martinez, owner of Max, a two-unit contemporary store in Denver, who said he will be on the lookout at StyleWorks for low-slung pants and floral print dresses for the summer season.
"Our business has been strong," she said. "I think there are so many options these days."
"I am keeping an open mind," said Sandy Masters, senior buyer for The Limited. "I will be looking at everything, from stretch pants to zipped-up looks."
Among the exhibitors, designer Jeanette Kastenberg said she is hoping to use StyleWorks to nab some specialty accounts for Jeanette X, which has been launched for spring and already has department store accounts. The line, which features boot leg pants in coated pleather, textured lace blouses and pants and seersucker A-line skirts, more cutting-edge than her signature collection. Jeanette X wholesales for under $100, while the signature line ranges in price from $100 to $300. Jeanette X is expected to generate sales of $7 million in its first year, she said.
"The fashion news is the glen plaid pants," said Susan Lizan, president of Against Gravitee, which will be showing Mondrian-inspired and fractal prints in blouses and skirts as well. The contemporary resource, with goods for spring, summer and early fall, will also feature structured dresses.

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