Byline: Kim-Van Dang

LOS ANGELES--That California specialty--soft, casual sportswear--was the star attraction for many buyers shopping at the California Mart's Fall I market here last week.
While the Mart's big Legends fashion show, celebrating Hollywood icons such as Joan Crawford, filled the runways with looks ranging from bustiers and HotPants to ladylike suits and dresses, it was the unconstructed easy looks that buyers sought when they visited the showrooms.
Nevertheless, the fashion show--which pulled about 1,000 to the Variety Arts Theater-- plus two other well-attended fashion shows at the Mart and the New Mart, were the highlights of a market that was otherwise short on traffic.
Buyer registration dipped 10 percent below last year's figure. Ruth McKeown, California Mart director of markets and trade shows, said, "It's due to the early dates.
"It's the first fall market in the country. Last year, our fall market started on April 22. We opted for the early dates so that we can hold Fall II market on June 2 instead of on Father's Day."
She added that the pattern of buying close to the season also affected traffic. Reportedly, many retailers were stocked for the short summer season and not yet prepared to place fall orders.
Still, buying office executives gave the attendance some potency. Among them were Ellen Bradley, divisional vice president of Frederick Atkins California, a buying office here representing 40 large-size retailers. She noted that many of her accounts were interested in "casual contemporary" clothing for early fall. While there were a lot of retro looks in the market, including Forties-style belted jackets with contrast cuffs and collars, she noted, her clients--including such names as Dillard's and Jacobsen's--gravitated toward soft offerings by David Dart, Olive, Johnny Was, Tina Hagen, Free Wear and Free Sport by Johnathon Hoenscheidt, Democracy, Rialto and Tru Supply.
Novelty suits by Nina K and logo sportswear by 90265 were big hits, too, she added.
Barbara Fields, owner of a buying office carrying her name and representing about 250 retailers, said her clients were in search of immediate goods: "hot items, also known as rent payers."
According to Fields, these include cardigans and twin sets, retro floral-printed skirts and dresses, drawstring pants and denim vests.
She also asserted that more and more, retailers--even those within an hour's drive of the Mart--were relying on buying offices to place orders on their behalf.
"A lot of people are not coming in at all," Fields said. "They are not traveling because they are not turning inventory. They have to be home to mind the store."
Lisa Ang and Wendy McIlvain, dress buyers for Nordstrom, did show up. They looked for petite-size dresses in lightweight fabrics for June and July deliveries. Shopping a wholesale price range of $59 to $250, they liked jacket dresses by Laundry.
Meanwhile, McKeown noted, the Mart, out to broaden its appeal for increased traffic, has opened six new showrooms in its 8C wing for better and bridge lines: Mondi, Criscione and Tamotsu, as well as three divisions of Escada Group: Laurel, Nic Janik and Apriori. They join such showrooms there as Dina Bar-El, Adrienne Vittadini, Tahari and Ellen Tracy. In June, she said, the Mart will unveil the Designer Pavilion, a show area on the 13th floor that will feature more better and bridge labels.

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