By  on September 6, 2007

There's still plenty of growth left in contemporary.

The market that has been fashion's engine for the last five years — accounting for about $16 billion of the $105 billion women's apparel industry — continues to skyrocket even as more designers flock to the increasingly competitive sector and prices jump.

It seems as though everyone wants in — Vera Wang launched her Lavender line last year, Imitation of Christ soon will introduce a contemporary collection called Imitation, Daryl Kerrigan will enter the arena for fall, Hollywould took its high-end brand off the market to create a contemporary line and Mint's Jodi Arnold loves contemporary so much that she is launching a second line, called Jodi Arnold, for spring. These designers, and many others, clearly are rushing to tap into a market that has helped put brands such as Theory, Diane von Furstenberg, Marc by Marc Jacobs and Phillip Lim on the fashion map.

Even as designers add collections, more stores are lining up to buy them. Neiman Marcus is tapping into the market, both in its main stores and its new Cusp format, while Barneys New York does the same with its flagships and Co-ops, which new owner Istithmar is eager to roll out. Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale's and Macy's also are capitalizing on the growth of the sector.

These stores are seeing no slowdown in business, despite the prices in the market spiralling upward. The rising prices in contemporary, they said, are still considered accessible in comparison with the young designer collections carried at high-end stores.

"Our girl is looking to the Co-op for stylish, casual, high-quality clothing, and there's a demand for that," said Julie Gilhart, fashion director for Barneys. "There's so much energy on the floor and a lot of excitement coming from this market. I love designer clothes, but personally, when I shop, I shop the Co-op."

Gilhart noted that Phillip Lim, Helmut Lang, Vena Cava, Diane von Furstenberg, Marc by Marc Jacobs and Band of Outsiders are just a few of the brands that continue to draw customers into the contemporary area of the store.

"While prices have gotten higher, it really doesn't matter for our customer. She's looking for style and fashion, and contemporary is where she can find that," she said.

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