By  on February 15, 1994

NEW YORK -- Coming off a fairly good year in 1993, leather outerwear makers are riding high in the saddle as they ready for what they feel will be a big year in 1994.

The consensus from leather vendors is that overall volume in 1993 ran from flat to considerably ahead over the previous year, which was difficult. Gains in 1993, though, often came at the expense of margin, because of the highly promotional retail atmosphere.

This year leather executives forecast there will be increased open-to-buy for the category, reflecting the renewed interest stores have seen from consumers. The makers expect more early, nonpromotional buying.

Casual looks such as anoraks, stadium coats, bombers and baseball jackets, which topped bestseller lists last year, are again being counted on for the fall-winter season. Makers are using mixtures of leather and suede with fabrics such as wool, cashmere and shearling for a fresh look, as well as developing new finishes and novelty skins to attract customers.

Morris Goldfarb, president and chief executive officer of G-III Apparel Group, said overall leather volume was about equal to 1992, which he said was a "major accomplishment."

Goldfarb said the firm's G-III label sold well at $75 to $129 retail -- the lowest range for this moderate-price line -- as did the Siena Studio line -- its bridge-price line -- at $250 to $350. Coats selling between those categories and above did not sell well.

"It shows that the designer customer and the moderate customer traded down," Goldfarb said.

Promotions were steep, making margins tight, Goldfarb said.

"But the promotions keep us on our toes," he said. "It challenges us to source more effectively, and find new places to manufacture that can help our margins."

G-III is also expanding its domestic production facility on West 37th Street here. It currently employs about 200, and the short-term goal is to add 100.

So far, bookings are 20 percent ahead of last year, Goldfarb said. He expects important elements this year to include sueded skins and pig napa in casual silhouettes such as baseball jackets, and dressy and casual looks in imported lamb leather.

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