CASUAL APPROACH DRAWS BUYERS AT CALIFORNIA MART

Byline: Kim-Van DangWith contributions from Maricarmen Kaluaratchi

LOS ANGELES--Easy does it was the byword of buyers shopping the spring market here last week, as they sought casual, uncomplicated sportswear including jumper and apron dresses, jumpsuits, rompers and overalls.
The five-day market at the California Mart, which also featured plus sizes and bridal wear, ended Nov. 8.
With mostly increased budgets, buyers packed three California Mart weekend fashion shows replete with easy looks. The New Mart staged its own spring show featuring easy sportswear as well as body-conscious items--bra tops, HotPants and micro-minidresses.
Among the many in search of relaxed weekend wear was Roberta Du Buque, buyer for Fairfield Store, a women's apparel store in Fairfield, Conn.
"I shop here every spring and summer market. California has the edge when it comes to those seasons," she said, noting her price range ran from $30 to $120 wholesale. Rompers, overalls and coordinated sportswear separates in a host of fabrics made her list. Du Buque liked cotton jersey and fleece overalls and rompers by 90265, hemp cloth separates by Malibu Group, baseball jackets and sweats by Gravel, Tencel jeans and jackets by Votre Nom, Tencel overalls shorts, jeans and vests by Tupelo Honey, jumpsuits by C.P. Shades and laundered linen dresses by Flax.
"Washed linen brings back visions of last year to me, but it's still an important fabric for my customers," she said. "Last year, everything was too neutral, though. This year, there are pastels and nice, muted shades such as sage green, dusty rose and blue in the market."
Although the buyer had not finalized her spring budget, she expected to increase her spending significantly.
"Business is good," she said. "We renovated a year ago, and the casual trend in fashion is helping my sales."
Marsha Masterman and Jan Wright, owner and manager, respectively, of Two Sisters, women's boutiques in Toluca Lake and Pacific Palisades, Calif., were in a buying mood, too. They looked for what they termed "urban romantic" clothing: dresses with princess seams and Empire dresses with gored skirts in rayon and silk.
"Sheer dresses looked nice on the runway, but they're not practical," Masterman said. "Women have to buy slips to wear under them."
The women, who are sisters, also rejected the popular shrunken T-shirt, but were enthusiastic about another spring trend--pastel colors.
"We're going to have a lavender and robin's egg blue store," Wright declared. "We will still offer some neutrals, but too much of it makes the stores look boring."
With a buying budget up 10 percent, they left paper for T.T. Mar's floral and polkadot lavender rayon dresses. Corsets, bustiers, jumper dresses and overalls were other items that caught their eye.
Kay Wilson, owner of Zelda's, a women's boutique in Eugene, Ore., shopped for spring goods at $20 to $120 wholesale, and noting that T.J. Maxx and Ross stores recently opened nearby, said, "I look for washable, wearable clothing that is not carried by department or discount stores."
Her finds included Due per Due's soft suits and dresses in pale yellow, Limelight's polar fleece separates and Auditorium's striped cotton jumpers and separates with rayon trim. Wilson reported a flat open-to-buy.
Pauline Hawthorne, owner of Nora's, a women's boutique in Denver, was in search of spring contemporary sportswear at $100 wholesale and up.
"Business is up about 15 percent," she said. "There's a lot of building going on in my area."
Although she did stock up on some brights and pastels, Hawthorne still favored "tans, taupes and beiges." Two-piece suits by Kenar, Moschery, Entre Deux Mode, Votre Nom and Criscione fit the bill.
Mary Zilberman, buyer for Lester's, a junior and contemporary women's boutique in Brooklyn, N.Y., came to market in search of new resources. Shopping price points of $30 to $150 wholesale, she found some.
"The whole store is going to be pastels, Seventies, Mary Tyler Moore- style," Zilberman said, adding that her budget was up. She ordered tight shiny lavender disco shirts by Parallel; pastel, hot pink and tangerine mohair sweaters by Easel; Madison Brown capri pants, and printed and eyelet dresses by Jill Stuart and Wendy McCauley.
"I love the new looks," she said. "I feel like business will pick up because we are giving women a reason to buy."
Traffic at California Mart was even with a year ago, but officials were quick to note that this was a busier market than the last two. "Momentum is building here," said Maurice (Corky) Newman, California Mart president and chief executive officer.
Exceptions to the upbeat mood were Helga Gallagher and Mary Lindsay, owners of The Tack Room in Lakeside, Calif., reporting an open-to-buy down 25 percent.
"San Diego is still in a recession," Gallagher said. "Sales are slower than a year ago. We would like to see more economical lines here with decent quality."
Shopping price points of up to $100 wholesale, they sought western-inspired denim sportswear and romantic dresses. The pair found the latter: lacy dresses with silk satin slips from Design By Margot.
Meanwhile, bridal buyers were favoring traditional looks in silk, with clean, A-line and trumpet silhouettes worn over more elaborate beaded gowns favored for the past few years.
Jennifer Jerke, buyer for Brides of Old Town in San Diego, Calif., said the increased selection of silk gowns, especially those from the Orient, has increased her business.
"Lower-priced gowns with couture looks will be really big," she said, adding that she was hiking her spring budget 10 percent. The buyer shopped for silk gowns in the $500 to $1,500 wholesale range.
Shelle Regos, owner of Here Comes the Bride in San Diego, Calif., was excited about silk gowns by Impressions. The silk is bleached to make it much whiter and keep it from yellowing, she said. Regos also liked Audrey Hepburn-style gowns in organza and tulle by Eve of Milady. Many companies offered silk shantung in designs for mothers of the bride and bridesmaids as well, noted the buyer, as she eyed price points of up to $3,000 wholesale.
While color is making a resurgence in ready-to-wear, however, the bridal market seems to be moving away from color this season. Regos gave an enthusiastic nod to Waters & Waters for their bridesmaid dresses in colors such as platinum.
"They're gorgeous," she said. Although sales are flat with a year ago, the buyer increased her spring budget by 10 percent.

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