DALLAS--Bright colors and more wearable silhouettes are a few of the reasons Southwest specialty retailers are planning on fall gains of 10 to 25 percent against last year.
Early fall business as of late July was proving their predictions, as snappy suits, pantsuits, shorter skirts and brights from red to purple to fuchsia were checking fast.
"This fall season marks a rebirth in shopping--people are buying again," said Kay Glatter, vice president and director of women's apparel at Stanley Korshak, a women's and men's better to designer store here. "It's 110 degrees, but the early response to the fall collections has been nothing short of superb. Customers like the colors and the silhouettes. Last fall, people held back. There was confusion about lengths and the economy wasn't so great."
Glatter projected at least a 10 percent sales gain over last fall.
Designer sportswear and dresses have checked fastest through July at Korshak, with bright colors, suede, leather, wool, pantsuits and short skirts bestsellers.
Glatter specifically cited Giorgio Armani's Le Collezione, Emanuel Ungaro, Genny and Valentino.
Other bestsellers included Valentino's pale blue and pink wool short suits, four of four sold at $2,100, and Emanuel Ungaro's mohair and wool textured sweaters, retailing from $800 to $1,500.
"This fall's clothing is much more emotional than last year," said Ann Stordahl, general merchandise manager for designer apparel at Neiman Marcus here. "With all the novelty detailing and color, customers certainly have a reason to buy. Last year everything was very neutral."
Stordahl said early fall designer and bridge ready-to-wear business has been strong, and she predicted the season would finish more than 10 percent ahead.
"Designer sportswear, dresses and eveningwear have performed exceptionally well," said Stordahl. "Our fall trunk shows have been excellent, too."
Early bestsellers at Neiman Marcus include Escada, Bill Blass, Richard Tyler, Giorgio Armani and Chanel.
"Pantsuits, shorter hemlines and color are key fall trends," she said. "And the understated cocktail dresses, like those from Pamela Dennis and Vera Wang are hot, as are cocktail suits like those from Rickie Freeman and Chris Kole."
At The Gazebo, a women's specialty store here, cashmere is an early fall bestseller, according to owner Shelle Bagot, citing vendors Tse Cashmere and Valentine. Cashmere prices at the store range from $195 to $900.
Bagot reported a 35 percent sell-through on cashmere by mid-July and expected even better results as autumn approaches. Other hot categories at The Gazebo include dresses, A-line suits, snappy suits, fake fur and bright colors such as red and fuchsia.
In July, The Gazebo sold out of 12 wool crepe Roger Sakoun suits at $2,500 each, with colors including periwinkle, red and fuchsia.
Other bestsellers include various looks from Rena Lange, Anne Klein and Michael Kors.
"Customers are in a buying mood," said Bagot. "It'll be a good fall. The bright colors are alluring, offerings are more diversified and skirts are shorter."
Bagot projected sales would increase 10 percent for the fall season.
Pantsuits in varying widths and suits are the strongest early fall silhouettes at Lilly Dodson, a women's better-to-designer store here, and the adjacent Escada franchised boutique, according to president Bill Dodson.
"The early response to fall has been strong," said Dodson. "Trunk show bookings are up 21 percent. Total units booked this season are 3,573 units compared to 2,941 last fall. And we still have two shows remaining."
Dodson is planning a 25 percent sales gain, citing a year-to-date increase of 28 percent.
"In-store promotions and trunk shows are paying off and Escada increases have contributed to our growth this year," he added.
Early fall bestsellers at Lilly Dodson included George Simonton's royal blue wool crepe suit with an asymmetric closure, at $300; Ilie Wacs red wool crepe jacket with button detail and matching black slim skirt, at $620; Escada's black crepe double-breasted dress with white pique collar and cuffs, at $1,200; Augustus's cashmere single-breasted oversized blazer, at $400; and Citi's sportswear group in bordeaux with nailhead detail.
Dodson said fall prices are up marginally but are not slowing sales.
At Mr. G's Especially For You, Amarillo, Tex., a women's better store, gains of about 10 percent are expected this fall, according to owner Dean Campbell.
"The mood is much more upbeat than last year," said Campbell. "They're much more secure in spending money, and they'll purchase the whole outfit, not just an item."
Sportswear is expected to drive fall business at Mr. G's, with prices ranging from $180 for a top to about $400 for a suit.
"I have a very good feeling about pants--both in slim and wide, fluid silhouettes," said Campbell. Early bestsellers at Mr. G's include sportswear groups from David Brooks, Barry Bricken, Robert Scott, Jerry Sherman, Canvas Backs, Alex de Bolzan and Suzelle.
Fall designer trunk shows at Tootsies, a five-unit women's better-to-designer retailer in Houston, are showing 30 to 40 percent increases against last year, according to Penne Weidig, senior buyer.
"Early fall business is excellent because the designs this season are more wearable than last fall," reasoned Weidig.
She said clothing with novelty touches, intriguing details or colors with pop were snaring customers' attention. Weidig cited seam detailing from Calvin Klein, vibrant colors from Thierry Mugler and luxurious, textured fabrics from Giorgio Armani.
A cavalry wool twill trench coat from Anne Klein Collection by Richard Tyler and a wool velour topper from State of Claude Montana also are early bestsellers, along with pantsuits and short skirts.
Weidig predicted overall gains for this fall of at least 10 percent.

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