NEW YORK -- Following a plus year in 1993, wool coat manufacturers are banking on even stronger sales increases for this year, projecting gains of up to 40 percent.

Buoyed by a snowy, cold winter and interest in a variety of looks and trends, makers say conditions are right for a big year. Wool coat makers said they registered gains last year ranging from low single digits to 15 percent, but this year their optimism is being further fueled by the extended length of the fall 1993 season going beyond the normal January finale into February and March.

Many coat executives agree with Sandy Ressler, president of Ressler Enterprises, which produces the licensed Bill Blass collection and a new licensed Kasper coat line, who said: "This is going to be a great coat year. Retailers are going to remember this cold shock that we had. All these snowstorms have made the consumer and retailer frightened of another cold season and they want to be prepared."

Noting that many retailers also have cleaner inventories than usual because of the improved business and longer season, coat manufacturers feel buyers will be looking for newness and are even talking about earlier deliveries. They also report that some of last year's fashion-forward trends, like the fit-and-flair looks, are now being translated to the moderate market.

Some of the key trends for 1994, and some carried over from last year, include:

  • Three-quarter-length swing coats.
  • Feminine, dressy coats with velvet trim.
  • Military style coats with gold buttons.
  • Fifty-inch, top-of-the-ankle fit-and-flair coats.
  • Precious fiber coats, especially cashmere and alpaca.
  • Deep colors such as plum and maroon.
Jill Salomon, sales director of Searle Blatt, which produces a promotional line called Steve as well as higher-priced Studio and Searle lines, noted that the higher-priced coats are still selling strongly at retail now at full price.

"We are still doing a tremendous business with our $1,600 coats," she noted. She believes her business will be up by 40 percent, compared with a 12 percent gain for the season now ending.

"Last year we had gains of 10 to 12 percent, but this year we expect to run even farther ahead," said Sanford Fodiman, vice president of Karen Fashions, which in addition to producing its own Karen Coats line makes the Alpert Nipon licensed coat collection.Fodiman said the line, formerly made under license from The Leslie Fay Cos., is now made under license from Albert Nipon, who is no longer associated with Leslie Fay.

He, too, noted that his firm's coats are still selling strongly at retail this month, particularly cashmeres. Fodiman said Alpert Nipon is expected to triple his number of in-store appearances this year.

"Last year we had six. Now we are going to have close to 20 appearances," he said, adding that the Alpert Nipon line is expected to post gains of 20 percent, while Karen Fashions is expecting increases of 10 to 12 percent.

Fodiman said that last year the company successfully tested three-quarter swing coats and other styles, which he believes will continue to be strong through the year. Important trends for this year include novelty looks, such as fox and raccoon trims.

Herb Bogart, sales manager of Ashley Scott, said peacoats and other military looks will continue to be strong as well as the 50-inch fit-and-flair looks. While black wool coats make up 40 percent of Ashley Scott's volume, Bogart predicted that color will be more important, including shades of green, camel and brown.

Ressler agreed that color should sell well in tones such as deep browns and eggplant. He also predicted that shaped silhouettes will be important, citing peacoats and swing jackets, as will precious fibers including alpaca and camel hair.

Velvet trims are among the important details on the new Kasper line.

"We're seeing a strong demand for a variety of looks," said Josh Lipman, president of Cuddlecoat, which makes the licensed Christian Dior coat line. Key silhouettes at Cuddlecoat range from short swings to long military looks. Lipman said he also expects that the trend toward deep colors like deep browns and deep greens to inspire sales.

Lipman said that he predicts a 20 percent gain this year, compared with about a 13 percent gain last year.

Bill Winters, vice president for Billycoat, a new wool division of G-III Apparel, noted that the business will be driven by colors like forest green and tobacco. He also predicted the popularity of basic seal and persian trims. Other important trends include peacoats and anoraks. Winters said he's also doing some private label business in cashmere.

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