NEW YORK — Coat makers have stepped up their game for fall by jumping on trends faster than in the past and creating merchandise that spurs impulse purchases, according to outerwear retailers in the U.S. and Canada.

They’re also offering many different types of coats in more of an item-driven style of merchandising that’s used by sportswear vendors.

“Outerwear has become much more about fashion. If it’s not fashion, they’re not interested,” said Holt Renfrew’s Barbara Atkin, fashion director at the Toronto-based retailer. “The days of the basic winter coat seem to be history.”

With outerwear trending almost like sportswear, the nine-unit chain has stepped up its offerings with new silhouettes for fall. Atkin expects waiting lists for a Gucci white funnel-neck coat and Ralph Lauren’s white suede biker jacket. Moncler parkas and Marc Jacobs’ Sixties-inspired car coat should also generate interest in the category, she said. Trenchcoats with corseted waistlines and standup collars, similar to Tom Ford for Gucci’s runway looks, and bomber jackets with detachable hoods also should “give new impetus to outerwear,” Atkin said.

In 2002, women’s outerwear sales slipped to $4.4 billion, a slight decline compared with $4.5 billion in 2001, according to Mintel International Research’s Chicago office.

However, last winter’s frigid temperatures and heavy snowfall helped boost interest in outerwear at retail, with some stores experiencing double-digit increases. Now stores are hoping women will be anxious to replace their well-worn winter coats.

In recent years, independent outerwear firms have begun taking more inspiration from the New York, Milan and Paris runways. But now, retailers in the U.S. and Canada said outerwear firms are shortening the runway-to-retail cycle.

This fall, Saks Fifth Avenue will showcase an array of runway-inspired looks, thanks to the sector’s increased emphasis on the latest trends in designer sportswear. Beth Kanfer, market editor for outerwear, said in the past it often took a year or two for designs to filter down to coat departments.

In addition, shoppers are more interested in having coat wardrobes than they were in previous years. In line with that, Saks will offer short coats from Chan Paul and Anne Klein, parkas and anoraks from Moncler and a customized woolen version from Cinzia Rocca, as well as bomber jackets from Andrew Marc and DKNY.Saks also is bringing in a few new resources to its stores this fall, including Montreal-based Mackage, as well as New York lines Adrienne Landau and Chan Paul. Kanfer said fur styles that frame the face will be popular, such as standup collars and hoods, and Searle’s vintage-style coats in soft colors including purple, pink and blue.

“After last winter, everyone will want to get rid of their coats and find a new one,” Kanfer said.

Neil Munro, product manager of outerwear for The North Face, said there has been a continual rise in its women’s outerwear business and that the outerwear category as a whole at the firm is expected to be up about 20 percent for fall.

Top sellers include the Nuptse, which is a poofy down jacket; the fleece Denali jacket and the Mountain Light Parka, all of which are continual bestsellers.

However, The North Face is also selling the Greenland, featuring a quilted down jacket with a belted waist and fur-trimmed hood. It is one of the company’s most fashion-forward styles and retails for $249.

For J. Mendel, which has three freestanding stores and a shop-in-shop at Bergdorf Goodman, knitted fabrics such as mink and cashmere will be strong this fall. Also, the concept of layering to create a total ensemble is a key trend.

“We translated the idea of layering into the clothes, such as a cashmere sweater with Lipi cat panels (a nonendangered South American cat that resembles leopard) paired with a crocodile skirt and fur coat,” said Gilles Mendel, designer.

With seven stores in Manhattan, Searle will focus on new fabrics like novelty tweeds and colorful coats for fall, said founder Steve Blatt. Fitted silhouettes with set-in sleeves, fancy details and fur also are expected to be important. Interest in pink, turquoise, purple and other colors also should help fall sales, Blatt said.

About 85 percent of the retailer’s offerings are its own label. Moncler remains a branded bestseller for Searle and that is expected to continue, Blatt said. The label is known for its quilted jackets and athletic-inspired styles.

Blatt also is counting on fur to be another bright spot in fall business. Along with Mongolian fur, Finnish raccoon, “a bushier, heavier, wilder fur,” should help fall business.Searle plans to expand the square footage in its 62nd Street and Third Avenue store. The company also is scouting spaces and plans to open another store here possibly by the end of the year, Blatt said.

Though business is solid, Searle’s decision a few years back to focus on sportswear and accessories instead of just outerwear was a wise one, since Blatt said those two categories now outshine coats.

At Henri Bendel, merchandise manager Allyson Krowitz said the store is best known for its novelty jackets rather than basic styles, so it will continue offering that type of coat come fall. The coat business at the store is up 14 percent for spring, most likely due to the poor weather in New York and should be up 10 percent for fall, Krowitz said.

Top-selling lines for fall are expected to be Blumarine, Mackage, Biya and Moncler, as well as other coats from sportswear lines including Kors, Juicy Couture and Rebecca Taylor.

Rabbit bomber jackets and nylon ski jackets with fur trims are expected to be solid sellers, since they were prevalent trends on the runways, Krowitz added.

She stressed the importance of fur and said the store will add a 500-square-foot fur boutique on the second floor in September featuring fur vests, jackets, fur-trimmed parkas and fur accessories from various designers. There also will be faux-fur merchandise.

TravelSmith, a Novato, Calif.-based mail-order business geared for those who like to travel, will continue to focus on lightweight, packable microfiber coats for fall. For the first time, the company is offering a full-length raincoat this fall.

At the Sheepskin Coat Factory in Ketchum, Idaho, business is expected to rise between 8 and 10 percent this fall, according to Brenda Norton, owner of the 35-year-old store.

Though the store once made and designed all of its merchandise in-house, it began contracting out manufacturing about 10 years ago. Today, the store’s private label business represents about 40 percent of its selection, while the rest is bought from other outerwear vendors, such as Zuki, a Montreal-based line of high-end fur coats.

Trendwise, sheared beaver and mink coats sell well at the Sheepskin Coat Factory, since their versatility is popular with customers.“In most cases, the higher end is doing better,” said Norton. “We’re also concentrating on traditional shearling looks, since we’re seeing a lot of interest in that from younger customers.”


Here’s a look at what will be hot for fall:

  • Shearling coats in traditional three-quarter lengths.
  • Shorter coats, such as bomber jackets in rabbit fur.
  • Ladylike colors, including purple and pink.
  • Wool coats with embroidered details.
  • Real and faux fur-trimmed parkas.

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