TIMING, PRICE KEY FOR SUMMER

Byline: Dianne M. Pogoda and Arthur Friedman

NEW YORK--Summer is a hit-and-run season.
The relatively short selling period is squeezed between spring clearance in May and the first fall deliveries in July, so manufacturers must get in and out quickly with hot looks that spur impulse buying.
Some of the key issues facing makers as they head into market week include:
Price.
Timely delivery.
A highly promotional retail environment.
Caution among retailers, owing to a less-than-stellar Christmas season.
Makers generally project gains in the 15 percent range for summer.
"We're coming off a wonderful year, but overall business conditions are not great," said Ricki Freeman, designer and owner of Teri Jon. "The consumer has been spoiled to buy under promotional prices. Department stores have become discounters, and that's the toughest challenge facing the industry."
Freeman said special details on her dresses and suits are "aimed at enticing the customer to buy impulsively at regular price. The bread-and-butter styles have become promotional pieces or private label merchandise."
Key looks for summer-transition include jacket dresses and belted suits done in lightweight spun polyester and triacetate crepe and double-face fabrics that are matte on one side and shiny on the other.
Freeman said the May-through-July delivery period bridges fall and spring and has become increasingly important to keep a continuous flow of fresh merchandise in the stores. Freeman said spring bookings are up 28 percent over last year and she plans increases of 10 to 15 percent for summer.
"Price has become a big issue," concurred Bud Konheim, president of Nicole Miller. "The stores have done a terrific job of educating the customer to buy everything at 125 percent off. We manufacturers have to convince the customer she's buying something of value at regular price."
The other big challenge, Konheim said, is to avoid saturating the stores with boring looks by offering enough fresh styles.
Summer plays an important role in the company's "off-the-rack and on-your-back" merchandising philosophy by filling a gap between spring and fall with wear-now clothes. It also gives the company a barometer of early fall trends and on what fabrics to reorder.
Shiny satins and silks continue to be important in easy Empire and A-line dresses with touches of embroidery and other embellishments. Konheim projects a 10 to 15 percent increase for the season.
At Nancy Crystal Dresses, price plays a key role for summer, said sales manager Roberta Winley. The collection is priced 20 to 25 percent below spring, at $30 to $60 wholesale.
"Summer is about disposable clothing," Winley said. "We're able to keep our prices sharp because we have good off-shore sourcing and we're a small company without a huge overhead."
Colorful silk solids and prints make up most of the summer line, with tank dresses a key silhouette. In addition, the dresses are offered with bolero jackets for women who want to cover up or look dressier at a summer party. Now in its second year, Winley expects to double last year's summer volume.
Howard Bloom, president of Chetta B, has realigned seasonal production into hot weather, cold weather and in-between clothes.
"We combined spring and summer lines "because summer became a non-issue for a lot of retailers," Bloom said, adding that it was a difficult season to sell since many retailers do not come in for the market. Plus, retailers and consumers are each buying closer to need.
Key styles include more shape, closer-to-the-body looks, and pretty--not gimmicky--dresses. Lengths are not an issue and run from short to long, he said. Bloom projected an increase of about 15 to 20 percent this year.
Tom Platt, of the husband-and-wife design team Tom & Linda Platt, said while spring bookings are going well, "stores had a tough year in '94 and are being cautious."
"We're coming off a two-year program of cutting costs and overhead. Every time we think we're at the right point, the stores come in and make more demands," Platt said. "But we're off to a good start in '95 and it should be a good year."
The Platts' summer line focuses on a palette of black, white, gray and pink in looks such as long floral-print dresses, rayon and Lycra spandex knits and cotton and sateen shirtdresses with narrow belts.
Designer Cynthia Rowley said summer is a season for items and impulse-buying, contrasting with fall, which is more transseasonal.
"Summer isn't really a testing ground for us, it's for picking up additional business," she said.
Rowley said shopping for good buys on fabrics is especially important for summer, and she said prices have not been a problem.
"There are a lot of great cottons out there that aren't expensive," she said. "You have to be careful for summer, because people don't want to spend a lot of money for these items."
Bill Cohn, senior vice president and director of business development for Dominic Rompolo, said the critical issue for the short summer season is timely delivery.
"I think it affects the majors more than some of the smaller stores," he said. "The majors want to have some newness on the floors, even as they clear out spring merchandise to make room for fall. But that makes timely delivery very important."
He said trunk shows are a key vehicle for selling this season, as they are for any other season, and Rompolo has increased the number of shows he's doing across the country. Just as early spring shows--held from mid-December through February--give an indication of the best bets for summer, trunk shows preceding summer deliveries allow the company to test styles and colors for early fall.
Designer Rompolo said key fabrics for summer are those that can transition into fall. Linen, silk and linen blends, cotton jersey and cotton piqué can slide into September, before wools take over, he said.
In contrast to the rising costs of fabric in general this year, Cohn said fabric prices have held steady for summer.
"Our suppliers realize there is a lot of uncertainty out there, because of rising interest rates and because retail has been tough," he said. The summer period accounts for 5 to 8 percent of the company's overall business. He anticipates a hearty gain of 38 to 40 percent over last year.

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