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Coterie Climbs Above the Fray

NEW YORK — For many vendors at the Fashion Coterie, there was light at the end of the tunnel.<br><br>The industry has been talking about it for months: The economy is slowing and business is tough. While many of the vendors and retailers...

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NEW YORK — For many vendors at the Fashion Coterie, there was light at the end of the tunnel.

This story first appeared in the February 27, 2003 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The industry has been talking about it for months: The economy is slowing and business is tough. While many of the vendors and retailers attending the Coterie, which ended its three-day run on Tuesday, admit that the poor economy is still on their minds, things are looking up. With bookings back on the rise, many of the 990 exhibitors who took out booths at the show said this was their strongest show in years. Many of the 9,600 registered retailers who attended the show agreed and said that they were finding an array of new items to fill their stores to draw in customers.

“There have been so many rumors of a bad economy, but I see a lot of good things going on here,” said Terumi Ogihara, owner of Zapple, a specialty contemporary retailer based in Tokyo. “I see fashion getting much more casual and it’s nice. There is a really good mix of new things to buy this time.”

Ogihara said that she already carries Betsey Johnson, To The Max and Free People collections in her store, but picked up a new resource during her Coterie visit.

“She just picked up Walter, a great new contemporary line,” said Mariko Gato of Mika Corp., the U.S. representative for Zapple. “It will be its first presence in Japan.”

While Ogihara had some good luck finding what she wanted, Regina Bello, owner of the Sparks, Md.-based The Monogram Shop, was having a more difficult time.

“I’m looking for something very unique to sell in my store,” she said. “I am finding a few things here and there, but not nearly as much as in past shows.”

But she was in the minority.

“I am hearing from my clients that this is the best Coterie show in years,” said Adam Winters, senior vice president of Merchant Factors Corp., which has such clients as Chaiken, Vivienne Tam and Sweet Romeo, all showing at Coterie. “People are placing orders, it’s terrific. Last spring was not good at all, so now some stores are writing immediates, allowing these companies to sell their spring lines.”

At Olo, a contemporary knit firm based here, Don Nowakowski, president, admitted that business has been tough in the past few years, but has figured out a way to stay strong in this economy.

“You can’t be just a fashion company offering the trendy stuff or you will go out of business,” he said. “You have to build a core business and be known for something other than the trends.”

Nowakowski said he has built his business on his line of super-soft knit sweaters, something he sells continuously in any economy.

“Buyers come back for this again and again,” he said, holding a black zip-up sweater. “They buy these and pick up something new from our trendier pieces.”

For the Los Angeles-based Hale-Bob, bookings were strong and owner Daniel Bohbot said he’s on track to double his volume this year to $12 million.

“I began to think about putting this line together when I was still living in France,” Bohbot said. “I knew I was going to move to the U.S., so I wanted to start the line there.”

Bohbot, whose brother Marc owns True Meaning and Bisou Bisou, had years of experience in his family business, so he said he knew that there was a niche he could fill with Hale-Bob. Today, 1 1/2 years after its launch, the brand has become known for its signature feminine printed chiffon and beaded sportswear and dresses.

“Coterie is always our best show, but it was just great this time,” he said. “Maybe it’s because there are so many booths that have the military-inspired, cargo-type clothes, and we are sticking with our focus: feminine and sexy skirts, pants, tops and dresses.”

Bohbot said he’s in the process of preparing his first license, a Hale-Bob shoe line, ready for retail in time for holiday. While he said he plans to remain picky about choosing licensing partners, he would like to launch handbags, children’s wear and cosmetics.

Shoshanna Lonstein, owner and designer of her Shoshanna line, said for fall she started from scratch in her design scheme.

“I really had a great time this season,” she said. “I picked everything myself and went the extra step to find new resources for fabrics. For me, it’s so much easier to translate dresses into spring collections. It took a lot of years to get the fall line to this point.”

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