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Cotton Candy Cuts the Chill

NEW YORK — "Thanks for braving our first winter storm of the year, which I’ll take as an indication of your commitment to cotton," Cotton Inc. president and chief executive officer J. Berry Worsham said Thursday night at the group’s...

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NEW YORK — “Thanks for braving our first winter storm of the year, which I’ll take as an indication of your commitment to cotton,” Cotton Inc. president and chief executive officer J. Berry Worsham said Thursday night at the group’s annual holiday gala at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The party opened with a walk-through of an exhibit called “The Legacy of Genghis Khan.” The parallel between the infamous Mongolian hordes that swept across much of Asia and the feared onslaught of Asian imports in 2005, when the quotas are dropped, was clear to the textile executives who made the trip.

The walk-through was followed by a fashion show, which is a regular feature of the event, called “A Celebration of American Style.”

Attendance by top executives from mills in the Carolinas was notably thinner than it has been in recent years, largely as a result of closed airports in Raleigh and other southern cities, which made it impossible for some to make the trip up.

Ira Livingston, senior vice president of consumer marketing for Cotton Inc., said he’d expected about 330 guests, but estimated actual attendance at around 200.

Still, he said, “Two-thirds isn’t bad on a day like today.”

And proving the adage that every retailer is a farmer at heart — at least when it comes to blaming the weather for business conditions — several executives said they hoped that the early winter snowstorm would drive consumers into their stores in search of coats, gloves, scarves and other winterwear.

“I think it clearly signals the start of the season and can stimulate demand for cold-weather apparel,” said R. Brad Martin, chairman and ceo of Saks Inc. “Our New York store was busy today.”

Martin said he is confident about the holiday selling season, despite the weak comparable-store sales results reported for November by most major chains. But he acknowledged: “There’s a lot of buying that has to be done in a compressed period of time.”

Anne Keating, senior vice president of public relations at Bloomingdale’s, said the cold weather hasn’t kept shoppers away. “It makes people buy gloves and scarves,” she said.

Peter McGrath, president of J.C. Penney Purchasing Corp., said he thought the timing of the storm worked well for merchants. “The good news is that it’s cold early in the season,” he said, which makes it more likely consumers will reassess their cold-weather wardrobes sooner than they might during a February cold snap.

Not everyone was buying the snow-is-good theory, though.

“That’s probably an old wives’ tale,” said Paul Charron, chairman and ceo of Liz Claiborne Inc. “But I’ll go for anything right now if it will help the business.”

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