By  on February 22, 1994

NEW YORK -- Buying has been vigorous and the mood buoyant at the Fashion Coterie at The Plaza here. Retailers and exhibitors at the three-day event, which closes today, agreed it has been one of the most spirited trade shows they've attended in some time.

It appeared that spirits were boosted by the spring-like weather pervading the region over the weekend. Retailers reported that while they were looking for items for immediate or late spring delivery, fall was really the season they wanted to see. For the most part, they had bigger open-to-buys than this time last year -- when budgets were particularly cautious -- and they were leaving orders for lines they really liked.

Among the most popular trends at the show have been leather sportswear and outerwear, often distressed; knitwear, with a continued focus on cropped pieces with texture; and lighter-weight fabrics in fall lines so looks could be layered.

Most collections featured muted palettes in grays, browns, tans and, of course, black, but there were pieces of color thrown in, usually in rich, deep tones. Exhibitors did not seem to think the show had been negatively affected by the President's Day holiday. Many of the suites have been consistently busy, and vendors were pleased with the quality of the retailers they were seeing.

Among the retailers, Benny Lin, fashion director for Macy's East, was working his way in and out of suites Monday morning, looking for new contemporary resources and getting an idea of what direction vendors were offering for fall.

"I'm shopping for knits and anything textured -- tweeds, boucles, that sort of thing," he said. Later in the day, Lin said one of his favorite lines at the show was Laundry Industry, a collection out of Amsterdam, Holland, being shown at the Coterie for the first time and represented here by PhD showroom. Mary Jane Denzer, owner of a signature store in White Plains, New York, said she was at the Coterie to find item-oriented lines to carry in the store she plans to open this summer.

Denzer said she plans to relocate from her original space on East Post Road to a store about "four doors up" that is twice as large. The new store will include the European collections she normally carries, as well as leased shoe and lingerie departments. There will also be a lower-priced, more contemporary area for "our younger customers," said Denzer.Of the collections Denzer had seen so far, she said she liked the L.N.I. sweater collectionand Y.L. by Yair, a sportswear line.

Dottie Chanin, an owner of Ice, a three-store operation in the Los Angeles area, was viewing the richly colored sweaters at Beautricot with her daughter Elizabeth Rubin on Monday afternoon.

"We're looking for newness in knitwear to begin with," she said. "I like crops and new colors, which we've found here."

Chanin noted that her business has picked up notably since the earthquake. "I don't know if it's that so many of the malls were damaged, so people are coming to us, or if it's that people are just happy to be alive and are out," she said. "But we're expecting a good fall. Our spending will be up."

Lisa Hovav, buyer for Big Drop in SoHo here, said she was putting together her plans for how she would allocate her fall budget, which is the biggest yet for the store. "We're looking to place more dollars with our important resources," she said. "My strategy is to get in collections before other people do, and then have an exclusive with them, at least for downtown. Fall is extremely important for us."

Among the lines she was checking out at the Coterie were Diapositive, a French firm with which Hovav said she does substantial business; Whistles, a collection out of London; Gaultier Jeans, and WJI, a sportswear line from Pawlings, New York. Among the bevy of retailers squeezed into J. Morgan Puett's suite to watch a presentation by the designer was Gael Lauritzen, owner of 341 Bayside, a specialty store in Newport Beach, Calif.

"This is the type of line I'm looking for," she said. "It's versatile, different and has interesting items. It seems to be fashion of the future. We're leaving orders for the lines we want exclusives on, like this one. We're a new store -- one year in March -- and you have to do something to be different from everyone else these days." Elyse Kroll, executive director of ENK Productions Ltd., which produces the Coterie, said that of the approximately 270 lines on display, nearly 70 of them were showing at the Coterie for the first time.Both newcomers and veterans were pleased with traffic, when visited Monday.

"We were very happy with yesterday," said Tony Longoria, vice president of Times Seven by Todd Oldham, a Coterie regular. "We saw accounts from the New York area but also people in from California and Minnesota."

Longoria reported many more stores were leaving paper for fall orders in comparison to past Coterie shows, when they usually have not ordered a full season out, but purchased immediate pieces.

At Times Seven, the novelty jackets were doing very well, as were the plaid and solid short pleated skirts and vests, said Longoria.

"We've been really busy, both yesterday and so far today," said Barbara Kramer of Gabriel-Kramer, a sales agency that represents several lines, including Misc. (short for miscellaneous); Gaultier Jeans; Andrea Sargeant, and two new lines -- Zino & Judy, out of Belgium, and Milu, from Chicago.

"A lot of people couldn't get in last week for Premier Collections," said Kramer, who also exhibited at that show. "So they've made a point of getting here now. We've seen our major retailers and smaller people who only come in for the shows now. They don't fly in every month or so to see what you have anymore, so this show is good to get them in."

Jill Stuart presented her line to a group of retailers, including Barneys New York and Neiman Marcus. Annett Breindel -- who runs the Annett B showroom, which represents Stuart -- said Stuart's suite had been crowded since the show opened Sunday. "They're looking at her fall pieces, and she seems to have hit with each one," said Breindel. "This show has been great."

Jerry Hirsch, president of L'Zinger Intl., which produces the Go Silk collection, said his two suites had been busy with retailers looking at fall.

"We're showing silk blends, silk and wool, silk herringbone -- pieces that can be layered, and that have surface texture," he noted. "And it seems to be what the stores are looking for for fall."

Hirsch said he does not get final orders at the show because of the size of the orders: "It takes a lot to work out our orders because there's so much merchandise. People usually take some time to work out their orders or to come back into the showroom to re-work the line. But we've been seeing great specialty stores."Traffic at the Magaschoni suite, which offered the Tracy Reese for Magaschoni collection and the more casual MAG line, was "nonstop," said Ellen Greenberg, president.

"More people are looking for early fall than at this show in the past," she said. "They're reacting to the year-round cotton in the MAG line, and to Tracy's early fall collection, which has silks and fabrics that can be worn for most of the year."

Felicia Lonigro, an owner of the Felicia, Grace & Co. showroom, said retailers seemed to be "more enthused" about business than they've been in some time. Lonigro said stores were ordering fall merchandise from Jenne Maag -- especially the vintage plaid jackets and cavalry twill and stretch corduroy trousers -- and immediate through early fall looks from Margaret O'Leary, a sweater collection.

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