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Caution Permeates Hotel Shows

NEW YORK — Buyers who visited two ready-to-wear hotel trade shows here — American International Designers at the Waldorf and Designers at the Essex House — came with cautious attitudes, but were looking for upbeat styles for...

NEW YORK — Buyers who visited two ready-to-wear hotel trade shows here — American International Designers at the Waldorf and Designers at the Essex House — came with cautious attitudes, but were looking for upbeat styles for immediate, holiday and resort.

While the hallways at the Waldorf and the Essex House were not booming with traffic, since some designers dropped out at the last minute or opted to wait until the September editions, the mostly out-of-town vendors said the turnout was fair enough to make the trip here worthwhile.

There was a Florida-like theme among many of the collections, offering colors such as lime green, coral, turquoise and other shades associated with sunshine and resort life. Designers said they felt the need for vibrant upbeat colors and the trend was evident in day and eveningwear. Fabrics with surface interest like nubby wools or upholstery-like fabrics were popular with several lines.

However, many vendors said buyers placed orders for immediate deliveries in a continued attempt to be more cautious with their buys in difficult economic times.

At Denham Springs, La.-based eveningwear line San Carlin, co-owner and designer Carla Jumonville said the company plans to launch a bridal collection in 2003. Jumonville said it will be a small collection with made-to-order pieces priced between $3,000 and $6,000 wholesale. A San Carlin evening gown usually runs around $3,500 wholesale.

“We’re not going for the mass market,” said Jumonville. “We have done a few wedding dresses in the past. We want to start small. We’re not looking to jump into the huge bridal market.”

Jumonville, who is the main organizer of the Waldorf show, said she plans to hand over management responsibilities to a New York-based trade show organizer. While she wouldn’t give the name of the company since the deal was not finalized, Jumonville said the new management will begin with the 2003 show schedule.

One of the primary efforts of the new company will be to get more designers to exhibit at the Waldorf. At the Aug. 3-7 show, only seven designers came. The resort market has gotten smaller, since many designers said they prefer to wait to come to New York for the traditional spring market week in September. Some designers at both the Waldorf and Essex shows said the August shows are on the verge of being redundant.

“It’s a mess,” said Linda Heister, vice president of Chicago-based Mark Heister, who is also an Essex House coordinator. “But we wanted to be in tandem with the Europeans and we’ve actually done nice business this week.”

Heister said the Designers at the Essex House resort market — which ran Aug. 10-14 — is still important for retailers from the South, since many Midwesterners flock to places like Florida during the winter. Heister also said retailers told her that leaving their stores in September is difficult, so they choose to come in August.

For September though, Heister said she expects to have 24 vendors at the Essex House, which will be the largest group to date.

As for the Mark Heister line, cotton, silk and linen gray windowpane, tweed pantsuits and skirtsuits were strong sellers because of their lightweight versatility. But the evening looks, such as a black taffeta circle skirt paired with a champagne taffeta top, wholesaling for $350 and $440, respectively, and a cobweb lace scarf worn over a dress in matching sea mist color ($280 and $680), were the line’s bestsellers.

Taffetas were also strong sellers at San Francisco-based evening line Michael Casey, who showed at the Waldorf. Casey said his basic taffeta evening gowns, which retail for $2,800 to $3,300, continue to sell well for retailers that want to offer a flattering gown without too much beading or novelty applications. For the customer who seeks something more elaborate, Casey offers dresses with a more fashion-driven element, such as a black-and-white circle-print silk chiffon gown.

Casey said he was inspired by the Seventies’ French film “Stavisky,” which starred Jean-Paul Belmondo. Set in the south of France, it featured costumes designed by Yves Saint Laurent.

Casey said he expects sales to be around $2 million for 2002, which he said is even with 2001.

Also at the Waldorf was Vancouver-based line Catherine Regehr, where colors like aqua, coral and water green were used throughout the resort collection. Bestsellers included Regehr’s cocktail dresses in black stretch brocade or an off-shoulder black shantung silk dress with a bell skirt, according to salesman George Caffin.

Fran Stamper, vice president of Auer’s specialty store in Denver, said she is on the prowl for fun merchandise that consumers will buy on an impulse. She said she is not looking for repeats of fall and spring trends, since the customer who is browsing — what Stamper calls a stock shopper, as opposed to a trunk show shopper — is effected by news about the economy and will be careful about purchasing. By enticing them with must-have items, Stamper said they are more likely to buy.

At Los Angeles-based suit and dress maker David Hayes — also shown at the Essex House — saleswoman Sharon Lee said luxury fabrics from Europe helped the collection remain wearable in warm-weather cities like Palm Beach, Fla., where Hayes has a strong following. These included cotton faille; silk, linen and cotton fabrics, wool and viscose blends and silk chiffon.

At Lourdes Chavez, another Los Angeles-based vertical dress vendor, president Billy Busse said he still received orders for immediate deliveries.

“People were very cautious, whereas before they would order more items to have in stock,” said Busse. “Now they’re pushing for more special orders and we’re lucky we can accommodate since we can turn around in 4 to 5 days.”