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Boutique Show Hits” Dresses, Novelty Items

NEW YORK -- Dresses and novelty items such as vests and sleeveless jackets for spring and summer took center stage at the International Fashion Boutique Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center here.<BR><BR>While snow and ice storms dented...

NEW YORK — Dresses and novelty items such as vests and sleeveless jackets for spring and summer took center stage at the International Fashion Boutique Show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center here.

While snow and ice storms dented traffic at the start of the show on Saturday, many vendors said they were still able to report an increase in orders and new accounts. Some, though, said the action was down. The show ended Tuesday.

The mood among retailers was mixed. Some said they were simply scouting the booths and remaining cautious with their buys, while others left paper and shopped with an increase in their budgets.

David Larkin, vice president for corporate development at the Larkin Group, the show’s producer, described Saturday as “tough,” but added, “We made it up over the next few days.”

While there was continuing demand for long lengths, several retailers generally agreed that short lengths were giving dresses and skirts a boost. They also liked soft and drapey layered looks in textured fabrics such as linen and cotton. Also popular were sheers, muted colors and ethnic prints.

“Summer is my favorite season,” said Pat Loranson a buyer from Dalliance, a boutique in New Bedford, Mass. “I always see things I like.”

Loranson said she was looking for sleeveless jackets, vests and jumpers.

“They usually show a neutral palette here, which I like,” she said. “I’m also buying gauze and linen more than anything else. Price points are an issue with me. I’ve had the same budget for the past three years. I feel the business mood will be slow for the next five or six weeks and then volume picks up towards spring.”

On the other hand, Dianne Fair, a buyer for the Providence, R.I.-based Gabrielle, said that at the Boutique Show, “it doesn’t really matter what price point it is.”

Fair said that she came off an “excellent Christmas” and her open-to-buy was up 10 percent from last year.

“I think people felt good about buying,” she said. “People had extra disposable income. With taxes coming in April, they might be tentative. But I think it will be a good summer.”

Fair said she was interested in the whole ethnic trend, handpainted graphics, and art-to-wear items.

Marci Klein, a buyer at the Broadway Generation here, said she came to the show to “see what’s new and what’s out there.” Klein said she was looking for spring and immediate goods to be shipped in February and March.

“I’m not leaving orders,” she said. “If I like something I order it later.” “My open-to-buy is down,” said Lara Heath, a buyer form Eccoli in Burlington, Vt. “Christmas was down from last year and I’m kind of pessimistic about business.”

“I’m concentrating on dresses in lighter colors, florals and prints. We always do well with shorter dresses,” she said.

Heath said she rarely leaves paper at the show.

“It’s too stressful and busy here,” she said. “If I like something, I call back at the end of the week.”

Cipy Zimrat of the Madame boutique in Tel Aviv, Israel, said although her open-to-buy had increased by 20 percent, after an hour of browsing, she had not yet found what she was looking for in the way of casual and conservative dresses.

“I used to buy more in Paris, but because of a better currency rate I’m coming here,” she added.

Piero Nuti, a buyer at Pairs in Wellington, Fla. was looking for summer and spring goods to be delivered from February to May.

“My budget is up 20 percent but I never leave orders. I look and sift through everything and then call them back. Price is not an issue. If I like it, I buy it,” he said.

“My customer doesn’t like what’s being offered in fashion, so I’m looking for basics and simple things,” he continued, noting he was interested in both separates and coordinates. “I’m looking for new color, but everything seems to be in naturals.

“We had a good Christmas but not as good as last year where we were up 80 percent. It’s hard to tell where business is going. People are not as excited about buying as they used to be. I don’t know if that’s because they don’t like the fashions or they don’t want to spend the money.”

For vendors, the main concern seemed to be the weather, which slowed down traffic considerably in the opening days of the show.

“We had a slow first day,” said Raymond Ercoli, designer of Whorl by Raymond Ercoli Inc. in Philadelphia. Because of a delayed start, he said, retailers were doing their preliminary shopping of the show later than usual.

Ercoli said that nevertheless business was slightly up from last year. “People are buying immediate and spring with a March 15 delivery date,” he said.

Long slip, trapeze and Empire dresses in cotton and rayon crepes were selling well, he noted. Ercoli said that while he had sold a lot of long looks, he thought that by summer short looks would be big.

Manning one of the particularly busy booths, Kenny Phelps, account executive at Urban Outfitters, claimed a 50 percent hike in orders, with floral print dresses, both short and long, as bestsellers. Also active, he said, were rib tops and a new line of denim items, such as overalls and jackets.

“Traffic has come in spurts,” said Maria Pomara, merchandise manager of Femme, a Brooklyn-based contemporary sportswear firm.

“I’ll be honest, business hasn’t really increased. All of our January shows are very strong but, compared to last year, it’s slightly lower.” Pomara said that 45 percent of people were leaving paper.

“A lot of stores didn’t have a great holiday season,” she said. “They are ordering cautiously and are very concerned about price and quality.”

Key sells have been Irish linen and cotton long strap and tank dresses, and a coordinating long jacket in natural.

Ann Kasper, vice president of sales at Eileen Fisher Inc., said business was up by 15 percent from last January’s show and noted that she had picked up several new accounts.

“We’re booking 40 percent more linen than last year,” she said. Big looks included muted tones in crinkle rayon, textured silks and French terry mixes in sweaters, A-line tanks, trousers and skirts.

“We’re tying to get back the casual customer we used to get at the boutique show,” added designer Eileen Fisher.

“We lost that casual customer when we stopped doing the terry line,” she said.