BUYERS IN RESTRAINED MOOD AT THREE N.Y. TRADE SHOWS

Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK--A trio of trade shows at Le Parker Meridien hotel last week, led by Showroom, found buyers in a fairly reserved mood, looking for what they tended to describe as well-made items that aren't trendy and yet have an important touch of novelty.
While shopping Showroom, Toni Cohen, a retailer on Martha's Vineyard with a 700-square-foot shop, Chica, in Edgartown, Mass., declared: "This is the 12th year I've been in business, and I like it less and less because it's hard to stay unique. This show is good for us because it's a little unique."
Showroom offered a spread of contemporary to designer resources, with 300 collections on hand, the show's maximum capacity, according to Very Important Productions, the producer. The two other shows were Creative British Knitwear, with 17 English designers showing their work, and Pacific Designer Collection, with 18 California resources showcasing handcrafted apparel, novelty pieces and limited edition jewelry.
The shows ran for three days through Tuesday.
Some retailers were actively seeking new resources; others said they felt more comfortable staying with their established suppliers. Open-to-buys, for the most part, were reported steady with a year ago, even though some retailers said they had racked up sales gains over the past year.
Looking for contemporary dresses, pants, jackets and separates for fall, Mary DeeKeehfus, an owner of Ms. Fit, a 1,300-square-foot store in Fayetteville, N.Y., said her budget was even. "January was great and February was down, so I'm being cautious about spending," she said. "I don't want to have to put anything on sale."
DeeKeehfus said she caters to "working women who like fashion." Amy Rigg Clothing Co., Angel Heart and Flax are of the lines that do well at Ms. Fit, she said.
Deborah Gilbert Smith, owner of the Millburn, N.J., boutique that bears her name, said she was holding her show spending to last year's level, even though her current business is ahead of last year.
"I'm trying to stay even and reserve more for later," said Smith.
The retailer said she was "looking for classics that are interesting and suitable for relaxed living." She said she would order knit jackets and skirts from J&J Seaton Knits, Periwinkle, Isabelle, Maggie White, Annie Fewlass, Hillary Rohde, Vasilka, Zoology and Greta Underwood, all of which do well in her store.
She said Patina, Bradea Horan, Ann McKenna and Hanna Hartnell were her important resources for separates and dresses at the Pacific Designer Collection.
Toni Cohen, of Martha's Vineyard, also said she planned to maintain last year's budget, adding she would be ordering "fun and casual" separates, dresses and skirts from Relais, Neil & David, Cathy Allen and Partners in Design. Last year's sales were flat, though tourism on Martha's Vineyard was up, she said.
Another Martha's Vineyard retailer, Daisy Kennedy, owner of Alley Cat, an 800-square-foot store in Vineyard Haven, reported business last year was up 25 percent, but she, too, was keeping her budget even.
Looking for dresses and wool and cashmere sweaters, Kennedy said she would place orders with Dressed to Kill, Zivio, Marigold Textiles, Angel Heart and Supply & Demand. She also noted she was looking for new resources. "Women will spend anything for something wonderful," she said. "Basics don't sell in my store unless they're really inexpensive."
Not everyone was spending cautiously, though.
Anthropologie, a retail division of Urban Outfitters, has seen double-digit increases so far this year, according to Sandy Crow, who was shopping Showroom for three stores, in Philadelphia, Westport, Conn. and Rockville, Md.--each of which is at least 8,000 square feet. With Anthropologie stores scheduled to open in SoHo in New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco before fall, Crow said she would spend substantially more at this year's show.
Slim pants, jackets, sweaters and dresses in lightweight wool and interesting fabrics such as cavalry twill or Tencel were on her checklist, she said. Nisha Knits, Lucie, Ballinger Gold, Christy Allen and Krista Larson were some of the resources Crow said she would use.
Urban Oufitters' own Anthropologie sportswear label accounts for about 20 percent of the stores' merchandise, she said.--Rosemary Feitelberg

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