ATLANTA — Retailers attending the normally slow June market at AmericasMart here were ignoring the summer doldrums and ordering with renewed vigor for the second half following a strong spring.With better-than-expected attendance, the action was in classic feminine looks and lots of color at the June 20-24 event."We anticipated a flat market, but brought in lots of new buyers from target lists and other "VIB’s" or Very Important Buyers," said Jeff Portman, president, chief operating officer of Atlanta Market Center, parent company of AmericasMart.Buyers came from outside the Southeast through intense scouting efforts. Merchandise ran the gamut for immediate fall II deliveries to holiday, cruise or early spring. Key areas were denim in a wide array of washes and embellishments, including fur and fringe treatments, as well as ruffles, laces and Victorian influences contrasted with suede and leather in a variety of details.Jewelry was presented in colored stones, bold necklaces and layering bracelets, while novelty handbags included beaded, fringed and leather tooled styles.Richard West, sales representative for Barse & Co., and president of Southeastern Travelers Exhibitors, a sales representatives’ organization, said the market was better than expected, with sales up 15 percent over last June.Bruce Blaustein, president of New York-based social occasion line Teri Jon, had a 24 percent sales increase, based on items such as evening separates and novelty looks for holiday."Our biggest competition is what is already in a woman’s closet," he said. "We have to offer novelty in fabrics and accessories to give a reason to buy."Marcia Simon, president of Paul Simon for Women, a 4,000-square-foot store in Charlotte, N.C., shopped Atlanta for the first time. Looking for early spring goods, she bought pantsuits and blouses in cotton and lightweight wool that work year-round and picked up a few immediate items.Simon ordered Zanella’s Italian sportswear, transitional jackets from Maggie London, Starington’s colorful blouses, sportswear from Isda and Misook and underpinnings by Hanky Panky. For day and evening handbags, she bought Rodo, and in jewelry, she ordered chunky necklaces in semiprecious stones by Simon Sebag.With larger sizes, 14-16, more in demand, Simon bought cotton separates by Irene Allison, a new line for her store, and one-size-fits-all sweaters by Finzi.At Sisters Boutique & Shoes, a 12,000-square-foot specialty store in Lumberton, N.C., owner Alicia Moody divided her budget equally between accessories and resort apparel.She bought Lilly Pulitzer, Sharon Young and Pine Cove for misses’ customers, and lines including Jade and Cyle & Chloé for contemporary shoppers. In blouses, she ordered Ravel’s white cotton pieces and a range of off-price tops to pair with capris from such lines as Richard & Co.Estimating a handbag buy between $600,000 to $700,000, she bought higher-end Lulu Guinness novelty looks and colorful beaded bags by South Coast.Moody shopped for "interview suits" for pageant contestants, a category that is in demand in her area, but hard to find, she said. Spring business was good, helped by better inventory control, said Moody, who estimated an inventory slashed by $750,000 since September. She projects $2 million sales for 2002.Jennifer Williams, owner of Jennifer’s in Fort Myers, Fla., shopped with a slightly increased budget for "unique looks, not too young, in basic styles with sophisticated detail," she said, citing lightly beaded tops by For Joseph as an example.While suede and leather are a difficult sell in Florida, Williams bought a few pieces with whipstitch or lace details to pair with Michael Star’s T-shirts. She bought a range of blouses in cotton poplin, mesh prints and ruffles from Donna Degnan, Weston Wear and Liquid, along with pants from Leon Max and dressier looks from Yansi Fugel. In denim, Williams bought dirty denim looks by For Joseph and styles with innovative washes by Beau Dawson.Owner Sheryl Smiles of Sheryl Hope Exclusive Fashions Sizes 12 and Up, shopped for stylish looks and good fit, also buying for a second location, which will open in Lakeland, Fla., in September."The market is about 50 percent better than seven years ago when we opened," she said. "At that time, we had to go door to door asking for handouts. Now many manufacturers do plus sizes, as it’s such as big percentage of the population."Rather than lines that simply "size up" misses’ looks, Smiles sought out those with real commitment and expertise in plus sizes. She bought looks from Liz & Jane, Marissa Christina and Due Per Due. Damianou works well for her special occasion departments, she said.

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