NEW YORK -- Mass merchants are right on top of spring's hot trends. Influenced by key looks from the designer, bridge and better markets, they have loaded their floors with textured fabrics, sheer styles and lots of neutral colors.

CALDOR

Marjorie Barnes, vice president of fashion and product development for Caldor, Norwalk, Conn., said knits and knit dressing are key elements for spring, particularly ribs and thermal textures.

Caldor has also made a foray into dresses that are very sportswear-oriented, in smock or fit-and-flare silhouettes, soft rayon prints and long or short lengths.

"These are in keeping with our casual concept," Barnes said. "In the skirt business, too, the best performers are casual knits coordinated with tops, and pull-on styles with elastic waists. It's all easy and relaxed."

One particularly hot group has been a collection of neutral-colored separates, ranging from $19.99 to $24.99. Reportedly, Caldor sold more than 10,000 units chainwide.

KMART

Kmart's fashion director, Dina Tenser, said spring silhouettes are not changing dramatically, so newness is coming from fabric textures, like crinkles, rib knits and thermals.

"Crocheted vests, tunics, tanks and T-shirts are looks," she said. "Sweaters, which was a very strong seasonal business in fall and holiday, has gone into overdrive for spring, too."

Tenser said Kmart is careful not to overreact to trends. For example, neutrals were important for spring, but the the Troy, Mich.-based discounter is not eliminating classic brights.

Tenser said femininity is still important, with lace trims, cutouts, and soft, drapey dressing with fluid fabric.

Kmart's best-known private brand, Jaclyn Smith, features linen looks in colors like cream, tobacco and banana.

"We've focused the colors to a neutral-based palette for a casual career look," Tenser said. She also said the chain is staying with basic shapes, such as blazer, skirt and cardigan, "because that's what the Jaclyn Smith customer looks for. We're using color as the nod to newness."

She said layering was also scoring big with Kmart customers, particularly vests and bodysuits.

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