DUDS OF THE SPRING SEASON

Byline: A.D.

NEW YORK--When fashion executives look for the prime reason apparel business failed to turn around for spring, they might find the answer in one word: sameness.
Whether women were shopping in upscale boutiques on Madison Avenue or downtown at Union Square's discounters, they were bombarded with many of the same fashion statements, from baby T-shirts and polo shirts to retro-Forties suits with skinny belts.
One could find the polo shirt virtually anywhere, and at all price points--from a $52 Ralph Lauren polo and a $38 Henri Bendel private label version to $12.99 polos at Bradlees. There were some big hits--twinsets, narrow pants, structured suits and anything denim, especially in dresses--but overall, the fashion season generally failed to inspire consumers to buy. Perhaps, say many observers, it's because it was hard to distinguish between different versions of the same item, regardless of price difference.
"The democratization of fashion should have been the industry's salvation, but it didn't work out that way," said Cathy Paul, fashion director at Certified Fashion Guild, a buying office here. "There was too much sameness in stores. Fashion can't be sold like cereal boxes.
"There were some terrific trends, but those same trends were available at every price," she continued."There was no market segmentation."
"The lack of imagination--and, as a result, all this imitation--led to an overkill of fashion trends, leading to tiresome sameness," said Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Marketing Report, an industry newsletter based in Scotch Plains, N.J.
Here, based on reports from buying services and retail analysts, are the spring 1995 trends that failed to meet expectations.
Severe costumey retro-looks, such as the overdetailed, fitted, dressmaker jacket: Although the look was everywhere, it only was flattering for women who don't have a cellulite problem.
"It's not a universal look," said one retail executive, who wanted to remain anonymous. "If you're long-waisted, it's a dream come true, but if you are short-waisted, it's very difficult."
As a result, several Seventh Avenue firms--including Barry Bricken, a bridge sportswear resource, and Evan-Picone--are toning down the fitted jacket, opting for a more loosely structured version for holiday.
The skinny belt, especially on a sweater: The skinny belt showed up on almost everything imaginable, from sweaters, pants and skirts to bathing suits. And from Macy's and The Limited to Bradlees, stores promoted it heavily.
"Too many clothes came with belts," said one official at a buying office, who did not want to be named. "Skirts came with belts; jackets came with belts; the sweaters came with belts. By the time you put an outfit together, you had three belts. It was a great idea that went wrong."
"The belted sweater look was the biggest flop of the belted styles, because you have to be very skinny to wear it," said Heidi Goldstein, an associate merchandising manager at The Doneger Group.
Bubblegum and pale pink: Bubblegum and pale pink, which were pushed by such designers as Ralph Lauren, Bill Blass and Isaac Mizrahi on the spring runways, were welcomed by stores, many of which were looking for a burst of color after seasons of beige. Many stores, including Bloomingdale's and Macy's, went after the look. Overall, the color bombed with shoppers.
"If you want to look like a Barbie doll, the color is fine, but most people don't," said Tom Tashjian, a managing director at Montgomery Securities.
"People preferred black and white and dark colors, not pastels this spring," said Paul of Certified Buying Group."Pink may have been highly promoted, but it just didn't sell."
She pointed out, for example, that on a recent trip to Bloomingdale's, she saw racks of pink Ralph Lauren dresses, pants and jackets.
The polo look, including shirts and dresses: This was billed as one of the major fashion statements for spring. From The Gap to Macy's, ads touted the look in an array of colors, but it never met its high expectations.
Based on reports from key buying offices, the polo look sold as a basic item, but failed to grab the designer customer.
"Our fashion customers were not buying polos; it was the traditional customer who bought them as basics," said Debbie Laverell, a divisional merchandise manager at Philadelphia-based Strawbridge & Clothier. "There was an overload of inventory in polo looks," said Barnard.
The cropped look, including baby T's and polo shirts: While cropped looks worked well with the junior and contemporary consumer, it failed to excite the misses' customer, who didn't particularly want her belly button showing.
"It is great for a junior customer, but not for anyone over 30," said Goldstein of the Doneger Group.
"The misses' customer will not buy cropped tops," said Laverell of Strawbridge & Clothier. She noted that the retailer recently tested a branded cropped polo in a silk knit, but, she said, "it was a bomb."

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