Byline: Anne D'Innocenzio, New York, and Carol Emert, Washington / Annie Gowen / Georgia Lee / Rusty Williamson / Lynn Rhodes O'Rourke / Michael Marlow

NEW YORK--There's no doubt the April-June swimwear retail period has been a difficult one. Unseasonably cool weather drove many major department stores across the country to slash swimsuit prices right before Memorial Day weekend. That was a week earlier than the year-ago period. Consequently, many stores are reporting flat sales compared with the year-ago period. Still, the season did have some bright spots. The push-up bra look and vibrant colors, including bright pastels, were two trends that had a limited appeal in the Midwest, but drove sales on the West and East Coasts as well as in the South. Swimsuits that can be mixed and matched, retro styles, including belted looks, and skirted suits all scored well across the country. Here's what was hot for the season, by region.

The Northeast
NEW YORK-- Saks Fifth Avenue managed to drum up double-digit sales over theyear-ago period, despite unseasonably cool weather.
"It's been a real dogfight," said Scott Schramm, divisional merchandise manager for swimwear, as well as career and casual sportswear."We really had to hustle to meet our plan. In the swimwear and coat business, people watch the weather report."
He added that Saks did aggressive testing back in March and April to get a read on color.
"We switched into bright colors when we realized that the dark and serious suits weren't selling," he said. In another effort to drum up swimsuit sales at Saks, customer sales representatives intensively began calling their customers, informing them of new deliveries.
Overall, Schramm said that bright colors, texture, including pucker, pleating and overlay, and bust enhancement, from floating underwire to the push-up version, scored well with the consumer. The retailers' major vendors include Anne Cole, Gottex and Baja Blue. Schramm said the two-piece business outpaced sales of the one-piecers, adding, "I think because of all this new construction, people felt more comfortable wearing the two-piece."
At Bloomingdale's, push-up bras, as well as skirted and belted styles, were some of the best-selling looks, according to Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president, fashion director. Hot colors included either white or bright pastel shades. Some of the retailer's top vendors are Gottex and Anne Cole. Last November, the retailer also added Malia Mills, whose suits with shine were hits, said Ruttenstein. He said it was too early to offer sales results for this season.
In the Washington, D.C., area, bust-enhancing tops, hip-concealing skirts, bikini separates and tropical colors have been four of the hottest swimwear trends this season, local retailers said.
At Woodward & Lothrop, April and May sales combined were flat against last year, but May "was very strong," according to Patty Dillon, swimwear buyer.
"We keyed into a stronger fashion assortment [this spring], and the customer certainly was looking for newness and fashion--she was not looking for the same old thing," she said.
In particular, the retailer did well with the bust-enhancing suits, which were popular for all age groups. One of Woodie's best-selling suits during April and May was a Baja Blue underwire bikini in a "bubble" fabric. It comes in black, indigo, hunter and red and retails for $74.
The "Mighty Bra" bust enhancement system used by Baja Blue is also driving strong sales in brands such as Swim Systems, Rebel Beach, Daffy and Tango Rose, all by Beach Patrol.
Skirted looks were also very popular among all age groups, including the $90 skater-skirt Calvin Klein suit with spaghetti straps.
A Lord & Taylor store in Chevy Chase, Md., has increased sales this year by catering to a more conservative, older customer who is looking for concealment, according to Nora Piroglu, a sales associate in the swimwear department.
"Sales have picked up a lot this year," Piroglu said. "Last year we got a lot of complaints we didn't have enough for older women. Lord & Taylor is a conservative store, and we have to cater to a conservative clientele."
This spring, the store did well with skirted suits and suits with lower-cut legs instead of the French cuts that were heavily stocked. Last year, the store had heavily stocked up on French cuts.

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