SAN FRANCISCO--Buyers came to the spring market at the Fashion Center here last week with generally good attitudes about business and modestly increased budgets. But they played it safe when it came to ordering, often sticking with the easy, ethnic-look sportswear that traditionally sells in this area. This consists of rayon pieces, frequently in prints, in broomstick skirts, tunics, drawstring pants and vests. At the same time, they debated the appeal of the spring pastels being featured, including pale pink and baby blue, and had mixed reviews for some of the curvy and shrunken looks shown at the featured fashion shows. The five-day market ran through Oct. 25, with buyer traffic down 6 percent from a year ago, according to Fashion Center general manager Gerald Sorensen. "The number one issue is that there are fewer stores out there," he said. "All we can do is keep coming up with innovative programs to get buyers here." The latest such program--dubbed "Pavilions On 2"--was rolled out over market weekend. Housed in Suite 2117, it is the first showroom owned by the Fashion Center and run by a center employee instead of a manufacturer or independent sales representative. The idea is to bring in diverse lines not already represented in the building to increase buyer interest in shopping there. Sabrina San Martin, formerly a saleswoman for I.B. Diffusion, runs the 1,300 square-foot showroom, representing 10 misses' and contemporary lines. Lines being shown include Nino Wong updated misses' separates, Sandi Kent lace and velvet items, Black Market cotton sportswear and Elise Designs novelty activewear. San Martin hopes to double the number of resources by the next market in January 1995. "It's a novel concept," said Sorensen. "We're working to put out seasonal catalogs and videotapes of the lines in the room, too. It's an excellent way for manufacturers to pioneer a new territory without spending a lot of money." Although rejecting some elements of the spring fashion pictures, many buyers at market were not adverse to spending. Their open-to-buys ranged from even with a year ago to up 15 percent. Maureen Callaghan and Hannelore Rippel, co-owners of Splash, a women's boutique in Florence, Ore., looked for dusty pastel sportswear in cotton, linen and sueded rayons. "I will not buy baby colors for spring," Rippel said. "They're too babyish." Catering to a mature clientele, the two liked full trousers, tailored shirts, long slim skirts and cotton knit separates to layer, at $15 to $45 wholesale. Lines that caught their fancy included Kusnadi, an ethnic line that is offering more solids for spring than usual. Cotton U.S.A.'s poet shirts and Splurge's cotton knit goods also made their buy list. "We came with a flat open-to-buy, but I'm very happy," Rippel said. "The economy in Oregon is generally stable. We ring up fewer sales these days, but they are bigger sales." Joyce Bjorgum, owner of Wyoming Woman Apparel in Jackson, Wyo., also favored ethnic goods. Shopping price points of up to $120 wholesale, she ordered casual dresses and long, full skirts in earth-tone prints by Putumayo. While she sought items in moss green, rose and muted blue, the buyer was not adverse to baby colors. "I will buy touches of it," she said. Bjorgum also placed orders for fine gauge sweaters by Adele Joyce, chambray and denim goods by Ruff Hewn, Action Gear and Crazy Horse. She reported a "slightly increased" buying budget. "Business has been great. A lot of visitors are coming to the area, and we have also developed a wonderful local following," she said. Marion Engel, owner of Valley Chic, a women's boutique in Minden, Nev., said her budget was up between 10 and 15 percent. "I'm optimistic," she said. "My area is growing, and sales this season have been good so far." Shopping price points of $30 to $100 wholesale, she looked for day-into-evening items including softly shaped jackets in wool gabardine to pair with jeans or above-the-knee skirts. "I'm tired of muted colors," she said. "I want brights: blues, greens and purples. I don't like baby pastels. I cater to women ages 25 and up. There's no demand for it." The buyer expressed several concerns. She was disappointed by market fashion shows because they "did not present things real people can wear." In addition, the center does not have enough petite wear and special occasion suit lines, she said. Offerings that did impress Engel included Audio by Connie Anderson's royal blue and teal coordinates, black and gold sun, moon and star-print separates by Surya, a resource for ethnic looks, and Carol Anderson's conversational-print pantsuits. Art and Ginny Grohs, co-owners of The Bootery, a Susanville, Calif., women's boutique, also liked ethnic goods by Putumayo and Cut Loose. Carol Anderson's dresses and P.A. Company's casual cotton separates also topped their list. Shopping price points of $30 to $60 wholesale, they preferred neutrals and misty pastels for spring, but conceded that they will be buying some baby colors, especially baby blue. The couple reported a budget up 10 percent. "A new prison is under construction in our area," Art Grohs said. "Once built, it will create 1,200 new prison staffing jobs." Leila Van Dyke, owner of Persepolis, a women's boutique here, said she was shopping for washable coordinated sportswear at $30 to $150 wholesale. "I like lighter colors for spring such as natural and sage," she said. "Baby colors are fun, but I can't sell much pink. My customers are over 40." The buyer reported a budget up 10 percent. "Business has been frustrating," she said. "But I'm an optimist."
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