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.

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