DALLAS — Most retailers were upbeat and in a buying mood at the spring market at the International Apparel Mart here, although buyers and vendors continue to cautious in their outlook.

Several of the largest sales representatives reported solid business that exceeded last October’s event, when the mart got extra traffic because of the cancellation of key trade shows in New York following the events of Sept. 11.

"I have never in recent history had such a positive experience at a show all the way around," said Brad Ritz, whose bookings of contemporary and bridge lines jumped 50 percent. "The vast majority of stores told us their business was pretty good and they were optimistic. I just hope it wasn’t an anomaly."

"It was much bigger than last October," said Michael Singer, a principal with Brad Hughes & Associates, which also shows contemporary and bridge collections. "Where is it coming from, because all you hear is gloom and doom?"

But not all sales reps were so enthusiastic."It was all right, and I think when the dollars finally come in it will be OK," said Scott Harner, who shows contemporary and better lines. "The retailers say business is very unpredictable. They used to know when their best periods would be, but now they don’t know day to day or month to month what will be good anymore."

"We always have mixed reviews, but the majority of the feedback was very positive," said Carrie Carter, vice president of marketing for the Dallas Market Center.

Immediate deliveries of holiday apparel were strong, as cautious buyers expanded inventories that they had kept especially tight. But the primary focus was on spring.

Probably the hottest category was embellished denim, as buyers sought out styles with inset lace, embroidery, beading, crystals and embossing.

Blouses gained even more momentum, especially twist-front, striped and other novelty looks. Tops featuring printed mesh, lace trim, appliqués or lacing abounded, while patchwork and Asian-inspired motifs and prints did well across apparel and accessories. Flirty Fifties-inspired and strapless dresses, as well as flouncy skirts, were key silhouettes.

Buyers also went for jewelry made from such natural elements as mother-of-pearl, shell, coral and semiprecious stones, as well as handbags with perforations, splatter painting, crystals, patchwork, horn and suede or leather flowers. Belts with ornate buckles also booked well.Many buyers hailed the end of the peasant tops, but were ambivalent about cargo pants and flood pants.

"We’ll test cargo pants, but Mexican nationals tend to resist camouflage and [similar] pants," said Nan Napier, whose Tres Mariposas specialty store is in the border city of El Paso, Texas. "There’s not a lot of newness. After denim and bohemian, then what?"

But she did find styles she liked, such as H. Starlet’s hooded crocheted tunic with linen drawstring pants, clean sportswear by Theory and contemporary-shaped suits by Jon. Sales are up a few percentage points this year at Tres Mariposas, which was just remodeled.

Lorna Farrar, owner of LGF Inc. in Houma, La., said business has been "wonderful" — ahead 15 to 20 percent this year. "Southern women are still into dressing," she said. "They don’t get too casual."

Farrar invested in a red Asian-print wrap blouse by Finley; a mandarin-collar jacket from Tara Vao; amethyst and peridot jewelry from Asia House, and leaf-printed bags with fake tortoise handles by Elaine Turner.

Callie Saitowitz was preparing to open a second BB1 Classic store this December in Houston after she had to close one unit earlier this year. She praised Pigalle’s frosted ice blue embossed jeans, geometric- and Asian-print silk knit tops from Mark Richards, and embroidered and ruched blouses by Byron Lars.

"I think there is a whole untapped market who has not gotten into jeans, people who do not shop in jeans stores," Saitowitz said.

Phyllis Walker, owner of Del-Ann’s in Dallas, said business had been strong in September, but was "schizophrenic" in October, so she was being cautious for spring.

"I’m looking for novelty jeans and pants that will accommodate a hip and thigh," said Walker as she took notes on Byron Lars’ tops. "I’m buying very few serious clothes. What I have on [a gray pantsuit] does not exist in my store."

Julian Gold is budgeting spring up for its four stores in Texas, since last spring was so strong, said Steve Skoda, vice president and general merchandise manager at the San Antonio-based chain.Concentrating on accessories, Skoda was zeroing in on rugged patchwork bags by Tiziana, mother-of-pearl ornamented bags and shoes by Rodo, and embossed leather belts with novelty buckles from Streets Ahead.

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