By  on March 9, 1994

NEW YORK -- The special sizes market is keeping momentum going into fall with novelty items, brighter colors and fluid, soft dressing as key trends.

Both petite and plus-size selections have grown in terms of the types of merchandise being offered and the number of branded labels joining the arena. Manufacturers are adding to the traditional career dressing for fall, with more unusual items and casual offerings.

"There is an opportunity for us in special sizes," said Jody Austin, vice president of petite and plus sizes at Adrienne Vittadini, "and we want to be the dominant bridge source."

Vittadini launched her plus-size division five years ago, her petite division in 1983. Austin said petite and large sizes now account for about 15 percent of overall volume.

"There is lots of room for growth, particularly in the large-size category," Austin said. "Customers haven't had the options in bridge, whereas the petite customer can buy a misses' and alter it."

Austin said the main focus for fall would be on more color and novelty trims in casualwear and knitwear. Austin feels the casual area is prime for growth because not as many manufacturers concentrate on it.

In the casual line, the company is offering a group of ribbed cotton and brushed fleece pieces such as jogging pants, jackets and tunics with an average wholesale price point at $45.

The knit grouping features silk tweeds and wool jersey double knits in blouses, cardigans, skirts, tunics, pants and cropped sweaters. Novelty items include jodhpur pants with a velcro ankle, available in eight colors; jacquard tunics over skirts; wrap skirts; one-button fly-away cardigans; silk pants distressed to look like leather and paisley-print sweaters. The average price point is $57.

Austin noted that both divisions are derived from the misses' line with modifications in sizing, prints scaled to petite, and some offerings, like a short skirt in petite, would be translated to a longer silhouette in plus size. The petite line is priced on a par with misses', while plus size is 15 percent higher.

At Andrea Jovine, both the petite and plus-size divisions are also crafted from the misses' line. However, certain items are also designed specifically for Andrea Jovine Woman -- the plus-size division."The overwhelming aspects are going to be novelty items and colors; they're really driving this business," said Dennis Gay, president of Andrea Jovine. "The customer wants pizzazz, something to spice up her wardrobe. Women are not spending tons of money. They want something special."

For fall, Andrea Jovine is offering a lineup that includes a mix of patterns, embroidered skirts, tapestry vests and vests with fringe, hand macrame and beaded vests, and wool kilt skirts in black, teal and red.

These are pieces that can each sell on their own, as well as work with what a customer already owns, Gay said.

A rayon grouping in black and white tweed includes pleated skirts, vests with braided detailing and ruffled capes.

An exclusive large-size knit group features pointelle and open stitching. The group includes tunics, skirts, and pants, in red, white and black, with novelty details like crinkle and lattice edging.

Gay said the petite division has been strong since its launch two years ago, and since the large-size division was started a year ago, "it has added tremendously to our company."

"In the past five months we've added 40 new doors," Gay said.

Dana Buchman, a division of Liz Claiborne Inc., will be shipping its first plus-size line this month, two years after the successful launch of its petite division.

"We really went into the plus-size business because we had so many requests from customers," said Gia Castrogiovanni, national sales manager for special sizes at Dana Buchman.

The line wholesales for $75 to $175 and will be a capsule representation of the misses' line.

"We will continue to take the best of misses' and translate it to plus sizes," Castrogiovanni said. The line focuses on soft, fluid dressing featuring tunics, loose-fitting pants, belted soft jackets and skirts.

"Every season our petite division continues to grow," said Castrogiovanni, "as does the size of the line." Castrogiovanni said that shorter jackets and relaxed dressing will be key to the line, as will color, lots of detailing and skirt lengths just below the knee."We will continue with the whole soft and feminine feel going forward," said Castrogiovanni. "In order for us to move forward we have to move forward with what the customer wants." Over at Elisabeth, the large-size division of Liz Claiborne, which has grown from a volume of $10 million in 1989 to about $160 million last year, is expanding the types of fabric that will be key for fall.

"With retailers buying closer to season," said Lisa Versacio, vice president of Elisabeth, "we're taking a wear-now approach to fall in terms of fabrics and colors."

She said the biggest trend was the expanding use of a variety of textured fabrics, including crushed, crinkled and sueded rayons and sandwashed silk.

Versacio also pointed to knitwear as an important factor for Elisabeth, in blends that include rayon, nylon, Lycra spandex and cotton in cardigans, pants, and skirts -- and a new item -- knit sport dresses.

The collection has four theme groups: ethnic inspired, using embroidery, patchwork, ethnic stripes and narrative symbols; an environmental theme, stressing natural fabrics and colors; a luxurious segment of paisley silks, and a minimalist theme, which has simple and clean lines, monotone prints, pajama stripes, madras and plaids.

Important items include long and short vests, novelty T-shirts in colors including plum, olive and gold, with browns added for holiday. Other aspects include layering, 25-inch skirts and narrow pant legs.

A new entry for Elisabeth is a lined group called Street Styles, which is targeted to a younger, casual customer and has it own label and hang tag. Versacio called it an item-driven line of denims and printed skirts.

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