NEW YORK--A mood of uncertainty prevailed at the early spring edition of the Designers at the Essex House show here Monday. Contributing to the unsure feeling were such subjects as the timing of the show, the slump in apparel, the lack of fashion direction and even Canadian politics. It was the first time in the three-year history of the Essex House shows, which feature an average of 10 out-of-town, upscale ready-to-wear and sportswear designers, that a September edition was held. The Essex House group had previously shown resort in August and spring in November, skipping the September early spring market. The current edition began Saturday and ends Wednesday. As Linda Heister, principal of Chicago-based Mark Heister, said: "The jury is still out [on the timing]. While I've written some nice orders, I'm not happy with the traffic. I'm not really seeing any new people, and the orders I've written I probably would have written in November." Frankie Welfeld, president of the Designers at the Essex House and of Chicago-based Sansapelle, said this week's show was an experiment. "We'll see at the end if it was worth it," she added. "Saturday was the best day because we had a lot of pre-Coterie activity," Welfeld said. "The August show was outstanding, but this may not be the right time for the kind of lines we have." Meanwhile, vendors and buyers were trying to figure out what's wrong with the apparel business. Kay Chiat, who was buying for her store--Tamar in Old Saybrook, Conn.--said, "Everything today is an item business. You have to bring a uniqueness of product to the floor today or the customer just isn't interested. There's just too much competition and price pressures on basic merchandise. That's why we like some of the lines at this show, because they have special looks that we can't find elsewhere." Chiat was buying a group of evening separates from San Diego-based Lili Butler Studio. The selection featured coordinated champagne and sand silk cloquA print jackets, vests, pants, dresses and skirts, adorned trims such as covered buttons, piping, embroideries and lace. At the Lili Butler suite, designer Lili Butler said she had a "very busy weekend," although appointments were mostly with established accounts--like Tamar--that came to preview spring and pick up fall and holiday fill-ins. Heister said business so far this year was even with last year, "and that's miraculous." "The whole dress-down mode is a plague that has descended on our industry," Heister said. "Not everyone can fit into the tight, hip clothes that everyone's showing, nor are jeans for all occasions. But women are starting to dress up again. Newness can come in subtle changes, and there's a lot more salable merchandise in the stores for fall." Heister said she's doing well with her bread-and-butter four-ply silk suits, which are offered in 38 colors, and with jacket and dress ensembles. Therese Jolicoeur, director of sales for Montreal-based Michel Desjardins, said she had seen a combination of new and existing accounts, but her concern was back in Quebec. "There's a difficult political climate we're going through," said Jolicoeur, referring to the Oct. 30 referendum on Quebec's secession from Canada. "Everything is at a standstill waiting to see what happens." Desjardins saw action on its acetate and viscose striped suits and a casual group of red, cantaloupe, white and black safari-inspired suits and dresses.
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