By  on June 6, 1994

NEW YORK -- Looks that move around the clock -- from day into night -- continue to grow in importance and are emerging as a major presence in holiday ready-to-wear collections being shown here this week.

While the shine remains bright on eveningwear business from designer to popular price, the traditional glitzy looks have been supplanted in large part by more subdued dresses and suits that fit today's tight budgets and the move to a more casual lifestyle in general.

Jon Levy, president of The Gillian Group, said evening and dinner are strong classifications right now in the firm's A.J. Bari eveningwear division and its Gillian Suits collection.

"Overall business is very difficult," Levy said. "But eveningwear and special occasion clothes are part of the entertainment business and they represent an escape from the everyday world. Women may hold off on buying something for daytime -- and they are right now -- but they will buy that special dress or outfit for evening or a special occasion."

Levy said day-to-dinner suits with fresh jacket shapes are performing very well because they represent "excellent value" to the consumer. Evening dresses are more understated with just a touch of beading to give the look some glamour, Levy said. He said that since both divisions are well established, he's only planning increases of 5 to 10 percent over last year, even though he thinks it will be a strong holiday season.

At the MMCF division of Mary McFadden, looks that work for day-into-evening are the major focus of the holiday collection, said Bob Pitofsky, president of McFadden's secondary collection.

"We find in general that special occasion dresses and suits have a very strong acceptance at retail," Pitofsky said. "While women may forgo buying a new daytime outfit, there is always a stronger need to buy for a specific purpose. If the dress or suit is designed so it can be worn from daytime to evening, it gives the consumer great flexibility and a multi-purpose reason to make a purchase."

Connected to that, Pitofsky said, is a "dramatic change from the overly glitzy looks of the past," into a more "subdued elegance."Important looks at MMCF, which wholesales for $400 to $600, include a black keyhole-neck velvet dinner dress with gold and silver soutache and metallic fiber flared cuffs, a bordeaux sculptured velvet evening suit with jewel buttons, a black gold leaf lace fit-and-flare dress, a bronze brocade jacket over a black cut velvet flared skirt and a black four-ply silk crepe suit with silver metallic lace trim.

Pitofksy said based on early bookings, he sees gains of 10 to 15 percent for the season.

Designer Steven Fabrikant agrees that the glitzy gowns of yesteryear have been replaced by styles that offer more value and more flexibility.

"Women are more versatile in the way they dress and are wearing things that are more relaxed than they used to be," Fabrikant said.

Wool and rayon rib knit dresses adorned with gold and silver Lurex, short T-shirt dinner dresses, slipdresses and knit evening shawls are all selling well since the line opened about a month ago, Fabrikant said. In repositioning its dress division into separate day and evening segments, Liz Claiborne is increasing the day-to-dinner segment in its day line, recognizing the importance of expanding basic career dresses into "multipurpose dresses that give the customer more value for her investment," said Harriet Mosson, president of the dress and suit divisions.

"We realized we had to become more focused to better serve the needs of the consumer," Mosson said. The evening collection -- now sold under the Liz Claiborne Night label -- will feature evening dresses and dinner suits, as well as social occasion and mother-of-the-bride styles. It also has some cross-over pieces that work well for day-into-evening, Mosson said.

The Night collection, introduced for fall-holiday shipping, wholesales for $69 to $170. Silk, velvet and crepe are important fabrics, in silhouettes that include dinner suits, three-piece tiered cocktail dresses, fit-and-flares, A-lines, Empires and tunics.

"We've interpreted a lot of our successful styles from the day division in the Night collection," Mosson said. "The overall theme is to present looks that are understated, but well embellished."

While Mosson wouldn't project sales for the new division, she said the new focus should lead to an improvement in business. In 1993, the dress and suit division, combined as one unit last year, had sales of $130 million, down 24.1 percent from 1992.Holly Thorner, vice president of the Scarlett Nite division of Dalil fashion, which makes junior and misses' party dresses, said the spring prom season was strong, mostly in long velvets and short fit-and-flares, but since then it's been spotty. Holiday special occasion business, however, is showing good early indications.

"We're also selling a lot of inexpensive rayon crepe dresses that can go day-into-evening, which is very important for holiday," said Thorner, who expects solid gains for the season. "We're also getting some nice early private label commitments for simple velvet and crepe dresses that have multi-purpose appeal."

Metallic fabrics are also important at Cover Girl Fashions, which sells junior and misses' party dresses to mass and moderate stores, according to owner Herman Rudman. Following a "fantastic prom season," Rudman expects "big business for holiday."

He's banking on a new metallic gold polkadot lamÄ fabric, imported from Korea, to be an important look for holiday in long and short halters, keyhole dresses and ankle-length gowns.

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