By  on January 30, 1996

DALLAS -- Buyers were practically of one mind as they shopped the market at the International Apparel Mart here last week: They wanted items, novelties and accessories with which to tempt reluctant customers.

So lines like URU, which offered embroidered ikat jackets mixed with printed silk chiffon separates in a distinctive palette, fared best.

"The customer will not be satisfied with basics," declared Kathie Gustin, owner of Impressions and C'est Nouveau contemporary stores in Eureka Springs, Ark. "I'm shopping for anything unusual and different with good prices and fit, and that's hard to find."

Gustin's mission was typical of buyers shopping the five-day event that ended Jan. 22. The market offered goods for a wide period of deliveries, from February to September, and is usually one of the slowest of the five annual market weeks.

"Attendance held its own compared with last January," said Robbin Wells, senior vice president of marketing at the Dallas Market Center Co. "We were thrilled, particularly with the Christmas that we had."

"Anyone who bothers to come to Dallas in January is serious about buying," observed Virginia Utt, a longtime sales rep of better and bridge ready to wear. "A lot of it is that they delayed buying in October, and if they need spring and summer, they better go do it."

Hot looks included pastel shantung or satin dresses, brightly hued printed and solid dresses and sportswear, bold combinations of black and white, fitted ladylike suits sparked by contrasting trim and cigarette pants.

Basics did get some play. Some buyers sought simple knitwear for casual wear; others ordered conservative career styles on the theory that an economic pinch would drive more women into the work force.

Accessories showrooms bustled, as buyers stocked up on delicate jewelry, Y-necklaces, handbags, scarves and belts.

"People still want accessories -- they're just more understated," said Susan Ritter, an owner of Savvy Clothing Co. in Vero Beach, Fla. She and her partner, Deana Marchant, were booking Kate Spade handbags, Moore Collections bags and hats and jewelry by BeJe and Mish."They also want nice, casual sportswear that they can wear from day into evening for cocktail parties," Ritter continued. "No one dresses up anymore."

Among their reliable sportswear resources, they cited Finity, Gruppo Americano, Kenar and Giuseppe.

Reeling from a roller-coaster year that often ended in flat sales, many retailers had lower expectations and budgets for 1996.

"We're trying to cut back spending and focus on the lines that people are asking for," said Gretchen Richards, owner of Grove Hill Ltd. stores in Austin and San Antonio. "We're looking for things that you can wear year-round. In Texas, it can be winter one day and summer the next."

Shopping with her daughter, Kristin Ernst, Richards was investing in floral printed rayon dresses by David Dart, black and white stretch pants and shirts by Body Action Design, tailored sportswear by Garfield & Marx, Votre Nom and Barry Bricken, and cocktail dresses by Kenar, Nicole Miller and Andrea Jovine.

The pair also paid closer attention to accessories.

"We've had people buy more accessories to go with their wardrobe," Ernst pointed out. "We can't keep Y-necklaces in stock. We're also buying belts, bags, sunglasses, straw hats and neck scarves."

Among their finds were Roberta Chiarella jewelry, Nicole Miller sunglasses and animal print handbags by Nine West.

Mary Glasscock, owner of Glasscock in Louisville, Ky., had pared her budget for her special occasion store.

"I don't think women are as interested in clothing as they once were," she observed. "It's so dressed down that unless they have an occasion, people don't shop to plan ahead for the season."

As she ordered a pale sage satin dress with a jacket from Julie & Leonard, Glasscock said she planned to review Carmen Marc Valvo, Victoria Royal, William Pearson and Moschery.

"My customers want fitted, ladylike clothing with sleeves," Glasscock pointed out. "They don't want bareness, and they want more variety. They don't want to see just Jackie O dresses. They want color and versatile fabrics."

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