DALLAS BUYERS GO WITH SURE THINGS

Byline: Holly Haber

DALLAS--Buyers shopping the MegaMarket at the International Apparel Mart here applauded the abundance of fitted, feminine fashions. They sank their dollars into proven lines, especially suits and dresses for immediate through fall deliveries.
While some exhibitors rated overall attendance as even to off compared with a year ago, there was an appetite for buying. While stores, for the most part, said they weren't being expansive in their budgets, some of the established showrooms were so busy that buyers had to queue to view lines--a rare market sight these days. Getting the most attention were curvy suits in textured and colorful fabrics, dresses for day and relaxed weekend dressing, including coordinated knitwear and fanciful sweaters in chenille and nubby finishes.
The MegaMarket, an annual event that combines women's, children's, western and men's wear into one big show, ran for five days through April 3.
There were some soft spots. The devaluation of the peso, for example, has cut Mexican buying at the Mart by 20 to 30 percent, according to an estimate from mart management. It was an observation echoed among observers as well. "The peso has hurt a lot, and the retailers are having a hard time," noted Debbie Garrison, who represents bridge collections.
Moreover, retailers often reported that generally business this year has been strange, marked by spurts and stops. Most were cautious and spending no more than last year, but some cited budget increases as high as 20 percent.
A quirk of the market was the big appetite for fashion for immediate delivery. While this is not a new phenomenon, it seemed particularly pronounced this time around.
"The buyers who are here are interested in spring and summer for quick delivery as much as fall, and in some cases more," pointed out Jim Quist, who shows a number of better and bridge collections. "The specialty store is doing the same thing as the department store and waiting."
Several buyers confirmed they were placing orders later to get a better handle on trends. Others, however, said they needed spring fashions because shipments had been erratic, and they were short of goods.
"We did not get deliveries on a lot of what we ordered, and some companies went out of business," noted Laurel Goddard, an owner of Laurel's Fashions in Reno, Nev. She planned to stock slip and retro dresses by Cynthia Rowley and Datiani, social dresses by Farinae, colorful looks by Jeannene Booher and dressy sportswear by Cameron and Roberts.
"I think people are tired of looking like sacks, and a little bit of fit is good," Goddard noted. "You really have to shop for your customer, or you'll be stuck with merchandise."
Business has been so good at Barbara Jean, Little Rock, that owner Greer Grace plans to expand the store in May by 1,200 square feet, or 25 percent. She filled out her fall buy here with day and evening styles by St. John Knits, chocolate and black suits with fur trim by Citi by Yansi Fugel, chenille sweaters by Cameron & Roberts, casual sportswear by Linea S and sleek knitwear by Joan Vass and Beau Tricot.
"I think styles are very salable now," Grace noted. "We like the mixed textures. We're putting in more sophisticated casual clothes, since that's what everybody is asking for."
Deborah Dickinson, owner of Portfolio, a better-to-bridge boutique in West Des Moines, Iowa, said she achieved a 22 percent sales increase in March through heavy marketing--a postcard campaign and TV ads--and she's organizing a fashion show this month. Dickinson was shopping primarily for immediate goods.
"I'm not buying a lot of fall, because I don't know all the trends yet," Dickinson noted. "I'm looking for classic styles with panache--nothing too trendy. The customers really dislike corset tops and lengths below the knee and skinny belts because it reminds them of the Seventies."
She planned to order from Max & Mabel, Cynthia Steffe, Chetta B and Laundry.
Business has also been up slightly for Irene Opposs, owner of Irene's Boutique in Ames and Des Moines, Iowa. Opposs sought fall and holiday styles, especially suits, knitwear and beaded evening wear.
"I like clothes that for the most part you can wear year-round," she noted. "The customers like the fitted suits because they're very feminine looking. The belted suits are good if you can wear them without the belt, too."
Opposs was writing orders for George Simonton suits, Alex de Bolzan sportswear, Niteline beaded eveningwear, Cattiva special-occasion dresses and Rich & Levy knitwear.
Anne McClure shopped for May-through-July deliveries of shaped sweaters and dresses for her casual shop, Cotton & Co., Shreveport, La.
"I buy close in and leave dollars open for immediate goods and watch what happens," McClure explained. "I thought it was a great market. It's good to see so many people, and it's easier for me to see lots of New York and Los Angeles lines here. There's not that much that's different, but I found some really pretty sweaters by Annie Barrie and D.A.R."
McClure's dress business has been growing every month, so she stocked up on easy styles by Modern Romance, Flax, Democracy and Donna Jessica.
"We're looking for more dresses--customers are asking for it," echoed Helen Chapman, who was shopping with Charlotte LeMaster, both buyers for Marse & Son in Plainview, Tex. They booked slightly fitted, feminine dresses by Kasper, California Girl and Carol Anderson.

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