Byline: Rosemary Feitelberg

NEW YORK--With sales for daytime and special occasion dresses running strong, buyers scouted two ready-to-wear shows here last week looking for exclusive items.
The Designers at the Essex House and the American International Designers at the Waldorf-Astoria--each featuring predominantly upscale, out-of-town resources--opened Aug. 6 and will close on Friday, although some individual vendors finished showing on Sunday. The Essex housed 11 exhibitors, and 10 were at the Waldorf.
While November shows are typically stronger, several buyers reported increased ordering for the resort market. Those who weren't there to buy now said they would place orders closer to the resort season. With small specialty retailers struggling to stay in business against the competition of the big stores, several buyers said having a wide selection is crucial.
Pleased with the increased offerings in special occasion dresses and eveningwear, Jay Dugan, owner of Octavio, a specialty store in Cross Keys, Md., said he ordered 20 percent more than last year. When several of his competitors went out of business, he said he increased the 5,000-square-foot store's selection from 200 vendors to 250. In the past four weeks, the store has seen some of its strongest sales, Dugan noted.
"Small stores have folded--that's a fact," he said. "But if a customer finds something she can't find at the big department stores, she may well spend $1,200 to $2,500." Becky Bisoulis, David Hayes, William Pearson and Mark Heister were key resources, Dugan said.
Marcia Posner, a partner in the JP Associates buying office here--with such specialty store clients as Saks Jandel in Chevy Chase, Md., and Joe Brand in Laredo, Tex., pointed to David Hayes, William Pearson and San Sappelle as leading resources.Buyers responded to pantsuits, eveningwear and knits, she said.
"All the stores are looking for silk dresses. It's been a real problem finding them on Seventh Avenue," Posner said.
Ettie Atun, owner of Boutique Elle, said she planned to increase special occasion offerings in all of her three stores--in Cedarhurst, Scarsdale and Woodbury, N.Y.--by 40 percent.
"It's an easier business," she said. "Customers will spend $700 for a dress for her son's bar mitzvah, but she won't spend that money just to have another suit that will sit in her closet." A regular attendee of the shows, Atun said she usually finds a few items for her boutiques, but she rarely places orders on site. After discussing the offerings with two of her managers, Atun said she may place orders in the months ahead.
"Today you don't just buy--you have to research," she said. "I don't have room for anything now in my stores. This is something for me to file. When I need new merchandise, I'll know where to go."
Dail Adelman, owner of Giovanni, said she concentrated on collections such as Claire's Collection and San Carlin. Located in the Drake Hotel in downtown Chicago, Giovanni caters to high-end customers, she said. Having seen six of her competitors close their doors in the past year, Adelman said she has increased her offerings to broaden her customer base.
"People are buying more for special events," she said. "People are always going to have weddings, bar mitzvahs, christenings and charity events."
Adelman said she placed 15 percent more orders this year, the bulk of which were placed in the $500 to $900 range. Merchandise selected at the Essex and Waldorf shows usually generates 40 percent of the store's annual business, she said.
Ellen Stirling, owner of The Lake Forest Shop, Lake Forest, Ill., a Chicago suburb, said she planned to maintain her spending at the show at about last year's level. Although she had more money to spend, she noted the general tenor of the offerings didn't motivate her to push orders ahead right away.
Stirling said several customers of her 2,650-square-foot store requested simple black dresses and tailored sportswear, but "customers do care how much things cost. Many customers indicated to me they didn't want to spend more than $800 or $900."
Stirling said she would place a few orders for resort to see how they perform at retail, but she usually scouts the shows for new resources.
Standouts for this year's shows were Becky Bisoulis, Lily Samii and Achille Dattilo, she said. Stirling also said she was very excited about Judy Hornby designing the Chicago-based Becky Bisoulis line. As reported, Hornby took over designing the line shortly before Bisoulis died this month.
Among those exhibiting at the Essex was Linda Heister, vice president of Mark Heister, a Chicago-based dress resource. "This is a funny market because buyers from the Midwest and other cold weather climates are here to sniff the air for spring," Heister said.
"Resort is still an important market, depending on where you are geographically. But for us, we see this as an introduction to early spring."
After seeing 60 buyers last week, Heister said she was ahead of plan and projected at least a 15 percent increase, compared with last year's market.
Lily Samii, a San Francisco resource, generates 60 percent of its annual business from the show at the Essex House, according to Elizabeth Schumacher, sales manager. This year, the firm increased its offerings from 60 pieces to 90 and enhanced its daytime dress offerings by 20 percent, she said. As a result, business is expected to triple compared with last year.
Strengthening sales were items such as a four-ply silk crepe dress with satin piping, a four-ply silk crepe tuxedo dress with long flute skirt and a velvet kimono lined with satin. With nearly twice as many appointments as last year, the company should book 950 units during this show, Schumacher said.
Exhibiting at the Waldorf, David Chappelle, executive vice president for Becky Bisoulis, noted that in the first three days of the event, he had matched last year's total show bookings. He noted that the part of that reflected better business among the specialty stores that shop the show.

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