By  on June 28, 1994

LOS ANGELES -- Buyers turning up at the fall II market at the California Mart here last week shopped for a wide range of goods -- from lightweight sportswear for immediate delivery to chenille sweaters and leathers for late fall.

Reports on retail action were mixed, from bumpy to solidly ahead, reflected in open-to-buys that ranged from flat to 30 percent ahead, compared with last year.

Meanwhile, the debate over the viability of June markets continued, with the market posting a 16 percent decline in buyer attendance compared with a year ago. The four-day event ran through June 21.

California Mart director of markets and trade shows Ruth McKeown was quick to note that the attendance dip was "in line with all markets this season nationwide -- very soft."

She added,"Our stores are buying closer to the season, and there seems to be a question in the marketplace as to whether June is truly a buying season. As a consequence of changing buying patterns, we are looking at our 1995 market dates, which will be announced in the next couple of weeks."

Many showroom owners here also questioned the California Mart's decision to hold a market over Father's Day weekend, too, but McKeown defended the move.

"The holiday did not help matters, " she said, "But we had little choice. We did not want to conflict with other national markets."

On a brighter note, special events during market week were well-attended. A "Night at the Races" party, hosted by Pacific Coast Travelers, attracted 300 buyers, and a runway show dubbed "Directions" packed 400 buyers into the Mart's Fashion Theater.

As buyers shopped the market, they had strong and diverse opinions on current trends. Jackie Brander, owner of two better juniors stores -- Fred Segal Fun in Santa Monica, Calif., and Philosophy of Comfort in Costa Mesa, Calif.'s trendy mini-mall The Lab -- noted, "For the first time in a long time, the selection at market is not so boring."

Shopping price points of $20 to $40 wholesale, she went for shrunken silhouettes in frosty pastels and metallics, flit-and-flare dresses, wrap skirts and kilts, inexpensive leather and suede items and little sweaters and tops. Brander ordered baby-cut golf shirts from Tease Tees, mohair sweaters from XOXO, bouclÄ ones from Free People, slinky knits by Brat and dramatic long full skirts from Bonnie Strauss.Brander came to market with a flat buying budget.

"Business is still erratic, but I feel it's improving," she said. "Price points have come down. Wholesalers are taking less markup."

Robin Foster, co-owner of Eclectia, a contemporary women's boutique here, sought sexy schoolgirl looks and ordered mohair sweaters, apron dresses and baby T-shirts from Jill Stewart and Natalie D. Shopping prices of $25 to $220 wholesale, she also ordered a rubber coat by Cynthia Steffe. Colors she sought ranged from chocolate and taupe to celery and pale pink.

However, she added, "I'll be buying none of the new orange and lime green. I don't like brights. They are not sophisticated enough for my store."

The buyer has not finalized her fall budget. "Retail is so up and down right now," she said.

Mike Rosow -- owner of Purple Sage, a Santa Fe, N.M., boutique -- and his buyers Gina Alfaro and Patrice Ray said they despised the new skirt length that skims the knees.

"Not even tall 6-foot-1 Amazon women can look good in it," Ray said. The three looked for black and brights, as well as a few traditional fall shades, such as hunter green. Shopping prices of $20 to $200 wholesale, they picked up silk blouses, soft suits and chenille sweaters from companies that included Farideh Pour Publique, Democracy, CPX, Freedom To Change, Parallel and Due Per Due. Sales were up 20 percent in his store, Rosow said, attributing this to a new merchandise mix: handmade leather garments that retail for up to $1,800 hanging alongside moderate-price apparel and glass and ceramic items for the home.

Susan Boerner, owner of Artrageous in Fullerton, Calif., also reported increased sales and a fall open-to-buy up 30 percent.

"Californians are getting more positive. I'm also carrying bright colors and getting away from black. Brights sell twice as fast as dull colors," she said.

Roy Seltzer, owner of The Soft Dressing Co. in San Marino, Calif., said comfort was key in clothes she carried. Instead of buying brights, the retailer ordered neutral and muted tones that can coordinate with brights."You get more mileage that way," she said.

Reporting a budget flat with last year, Seltzer added, "Sales are slightly better than a year ago, but still only half of what it was five years ago."

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