LOS ANGELES — Miniskirts have legs.

So said major department stores, discounters and off-pricers at this month’s Junior and Contemporary Majors Market here. Retailers predict the item will be the number-one sales driver for spring, helped along by the season’s bright colors, Marilyn-style bateau tops and sheer “tissue” novelty tops.

Allen Questrom, chairman and chief executive officer of J.C. Penney, said the “explosion” of color, femininity and movement away from “unsaleable” deconstructed clothes toward dressier items is a reprieve from the dearth of fashion in the last five years.

“You gotta have things that relate to the customer,” he said, calling for manufacturers to pay more attention to older consumers, too. “We don’t want to lead the way, but we want to be a fast follower.”

The ceo’s presence at this particular market is somewhat of a rarity, aboutwhich he said, “I got invited back. You really can get a quick direction in California. It’s a really good resource for us.”

“It’s happy clothes,” summed up Wendy Red, fashion director of Up Against the Wall.

And, it’s a source of fun.

Self Esteem threw an opening party for its new showroom; Hot Kiss held a fete at the Lounge at Astra at the Pacific Design Center, and XOXO, under its new licensee, Kellwood Co., hosted a fashion show at the Concorde nightclub in Hollywood.

Stephen Ruzow, Kellwood’s president of women’s sportswear, said the line is benefiting from its exclusivity to better department stores and the season’s return to dressier looks.

“For our customer, the most important look she’s looking for is clothing that takes her from the desk to drinks,” he said.

Those cleaned-up styles, ranging from pinstriped jackets to Fifties halter swing dresses with side bows, appealed to Burdines general merchandise manager Suzanne LaPorte.

“People are getting more cleaned up as they go to work, maybe because they’re trying to protect their jobs,” she said, noting she planned to “buy more aggressively in fashion dressing.”Up Against the Wall’s Red picked up cheery Eighties-influenced silhouettes in bright colors and “lots of stripes.” But the retailer’s sales aren’t quite so jubilant, she said.

“It’s fall. It should be great. It’s not great. Kids aren’t spending as much money because their parents aren’t giving it to them.”

Lisa Riene, Hecht’s divisional merchandise manager for juniors’, echoed the sentiment. “I just think we’re in a slow retail ready-to-wear period,” she said, noting she “feels great” about knit minis, scooters (shorts built into miniskirts) and off-the-shoulder tops for spring. “The demand is less for clothes when their parents are buying cars and houses.”

Junior firms responded to the shaky environment with a host of new offerings, especially those with a better bent:

  • Paris Blues introduced its higher-end Triple Q line, featuring better fabrics, washes and embroideries.

  • Fang kicked off Dolled Up, a 100-item line of contemporary junior looks with hanky and printed-lace skirts, lace tanks with chiffon flowers and shirred tops with appliqués.

  • Shameless was promoting Eight Sixty, its 25-piece collection of more contemporary looks, such as garment-dyed Tencel shirts and rayon striped skirts.

Stephen Brown, Fang’s president of sales, said the company, which has seen sales grow about 15 percent to $75 million this year, said its expansion was a response to retailer and consumer demand. Since April, it also has licensed denim to JEL Apparel, a collection featuring crinkled, cropped and long-legged jeans with buckle treatments and “butt hits.”

“You can’t rely on who you were yesterday,” he said.

Denim continued to be relevant for spring. Chris Baxter, a buyer for 78-unit B.C. Moores department stores in the South, admitted that indigo cotton is still a draw for the chain and picked up versions in light and dark washes and in stretch. She said the denim is something the chain must stock, because “if juniorshave to have it, they’ll find the money for it.”

For contemporary sales reps, twofer looks were bestsellers at the Stacy Keyes Showroom, led by contemporary line Awake. Keyes noted customers also were asking for more character-driven shirts, feeding off the strength of the showroom’s Disney Vintage line.Contemporary tops label Love Amour launched its secondary line, Ice Cube, a 60-piece collection offering sublimation prints in mineral washes and fine rib fabrications. Carried at Gene Zuckerman & Associates, the line will target a bigger distribution with its lower price points, according to Zuckerman, who met with several major department stores at the show.

For the first time, the three-day Urban Suburban show, attracting such lines as Live by Karl Kani, Baby Phat, Chica and Lady Royalty, offered a fashion show and was held in conjunction with the market, bringing in more buyers from outside of the region, said Jim Kremer, owner of the Kremer Group showroom.

“We usually get stores from San Diego to San Luis Obispo, and this time, I’ve had orders from stores in Massachusetts and Arizona,” said Kremer, whose showroom launched The Source Juniors from hip-hop publication The Source, featuring rollover waist skirts, tube mesh dresses and corduroy miniskirts with zipper treatments and cropped jackets.

There was no shortage of me-too ideas at the market.

C&C California’s sheer, long-sleeve Ts were found reinterpreted in juniors’ at Shameless and Union Bay. Those candy-striped, asymmetric skirts with gathered waists, made famous by contemporary designer Tiffany Alana, were also on display at La Belle, Shameless and Dolled Up.

Other top trends were:

  • Novelty jackets — fitted tweed and bouclé-influenced styles with ribbon and hardware details.

  • T-shirts sporting zodiac screen prints replacing the monogram.

  • Denim scooters — shorts-miniskirt combinations.

  • Cuffed denim jeans.

  • Mod black-and-white miniskirts.

  • Printed party skirts with peekaboo tulle and ribbon details.

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