NEW YORK — Although the selling remained highly promotional, coats and outerwear had their second straight plus year at retail in 1993, posting gains that generally ranged as high as 10 percent, and sometimes went higher.
A survey of some major retailers showed the strength of the market was in two basic areas — long precious-fiber coats, especially cashmere and cashmere and wool blends, and active outerwear such as down-filled and polyester fiberfill parkas and anoraks in polyester microfiber with real or fake fur trim.
Rainwear and leather and suede coats were spotty. Shearlings showed some signs of life, while fake fur coat business was virtually nonexistent.
Beth DiSabato, buyer for misses’ outerwear at J.C. Penney Co., said it’s been a good season, with increases of more than 10 percent over last year. Top-selling labels include Alorna and Larry Levine, she added.
“Wool coats have been in the forefront,” DiSabato said. “Long wools with shawl collars using pile trim or fur trim and any kind of novelty treatment have been the top looks.”
Leather jackets and coats are “holding their own,” she said, led by three-quarter-length silhouettes. Active outerwear is about even with last year, paced by lightweight “grunge looks at a price point.” This includes polyester microfiber anoraks and other casual bodies that use suede and leather trim, and mix fabrics such as wool and cotton with the microfibers.
Rainwear has seen “huge gains, close to 50 percent over last year,” DiSabato said, particularly a polyester and cotton poplin trenchcoat with zip-out pile liner, sold under the Worthington private label. Available in black, pewter and teal, the style retails at $129, with an end-of-season promotion at $99, and has been the best coat in the chain, the buyer said.
Fake fur coats, which did well last year in novelty prints, bombed this year, and DiSabato said she’s not going to recommend a buy for next year.
Mike Fine, senior coat buyer for Dayton’s, Hudson’s and Marshall Field’s, Minneapolis, said, “It was a pretty good coat year that came on strong in the fourth quarter.” Business in the third quarter was slower than last year, which Fine attributed to “customers buying closer to need.”
“It also became extremely cold [in the Midwest] before Christmas, and that seems to bring in a lot of business,” Fine said. “Holiday was well beyond my expectations, and we’ll be pushing slightly ahead of last year, which was very good.”
The leading category for DH & Field’s was casual, active outerwear, Fine said, led by polyester microfiber parkas and anoraks. Two color groups — one featuring dusty tones of blue, sage and teal and another with bright reds and blues — sold best in labels such as London Fog, J.G. Hook, Cyclone, Forecaster and Fleet Street.
Long wools also had strong sales, Fine said, but were driven more by late promotions than was active outerwear.
“Leather jackets were decent,” Fine said, but were very promotional, while rainwear was flat. The microfiber parkas and anoraks represent a lifestyle where people are dressing more casually for work. There’s also more newness in fabrics and colors, prices have come down and it’s functional.”
Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president for fashion direction at Bloomingdale’s here, called the season “very strong,” adding, “The big surprise was how well cloth coats have done. We had dramatic increases in better-price coats such as Searle and Calvin Klein. Coats really seem to be in a good cycle right now.”
Ruttenstein said long officer coats and fit-and-flare coats with fur trim were the strongest silhouettes of the season, in better wools and wools blended with precious fibers such as cashmere and camel hair. Long and three-quarter-length coats also did well in leather and shearlings.
Ralph Romberg, divisional vice president of outerwear at Neiman Marcus, Dallas, said it was an “OK year, that might have been better,” but nevertheless ended up slightly ahead.
The stars of the season for Neiman’s coat department were precious fiber coats, particularly cashmere and camel hair, including those fabrics blended with wools.”We had difficulty selling plain wool coats because the price difference with the precious fiber blends got so close that the customer opted for the better quality,” he said.
Leather and suede coats also did very well, but only in items such as suedes that looked like shearlings and long leather coats with fur trim.
Insulated ski jackets and active outerwear with fur trim also had solid seasons, Romberg added.
Lavelle Olexa, senior vice president for fashion merchandising at Lord & Taylor here, said long wool coats with fake fur and real fur trim have sold the best in what she said was a “great coat season.”
Dressy cashmere coats and cashmere and wool blends have been very strong, said Olexa, citing Searle as a top label. Active looks have also sold well, as have casual leather jackets and short coats, she noted.
Caroline Moss, fashion director for ready-to-wear at Macy’s East, here, said it was a good season for coats and outerwear, with “nice increases.”
“There was some good business early in the season for the wear-now fashion customer, but business got very strong once the cold weather hit,” Moss said. “The newness that gave women a reason to buy was the long, full silhouette, as in military coats and fit-and-flares.”
Moss said consumer interest was spiked by soft wools blended with cashmere, camel hair and mohair. She said Christian Dior and Gallery were among the top labels.
In active outerwear, Moss said down-filled polyester microfiber coats in assorted colors did well, but the category lacked some newness. Leather was very promotional, she said, and the long military looks also did well in this category.