Dresses, Casual Spark Dallas Market

DALLAS -- Items, casual weekend wear and dresses drove the business at a thinly attended six-day fall and holiday market that ended last Tuesday at the International Apparel Mart here.<BR><BR>Buyers, who often complained about a lack of new looks,...

DALLAS — Items, casual weekend wear and dresses drove the business at a thinly attended six-day fall and holiday market that ended last Tuesday at the International Apparel Mart here.

Buyers, who often complained about a lack of new looks, scoured showrooms for items like leopard-printed leggings, patterned chenille sweaters or A-line leather skirts. They also booked a range of dress styles, from short Empire-waist numbers to flowing cut velvet contemporary styles and special occasion dresses with jackets.

In weekend wear, thermal knits and textured fabrics continued to be strong, along with coordinating knit separates in muted hues.

Sales representatives complained about the slim attendance, but many also said they had opened new accounts and seen high-end stores from across the country that rarely shop here.

“I think traffic was off and it was a very tough show, but I’m really pleased with the quality of stores we had come in,” said Brad Ritz, who operates two showrooms focusing on special occasion dresses and suits.

Reps speculated that retailers skipped this market to save money on expenses, figuring they could still order holiday goods at the August show. Others asserted that the number of independent retailers continues to shrink, and five markets a year aren’t necessary.

“This is the market that nobody wants to come to, so I don’t think anybody is expecting much,” said Barbara Hairston, owner and designer of Hairston Roberson sportswear here.

“June is a market we have to keep in perspective because we’re coming off a great Mega Market [in April],” pointed out Cindy Morris, executive vice president of marketing at the Dallas Market Center, which owns the Mart. “We thought it was a solid June market and we had some good out-of-territory business. We’re really focusing a lot on retail development and trying to bring in the quality stores. I think that’s really paying off for us.”

Kay Glatter, director of women’s merchandising at Stanley Korshak here, was one of the buyers making a first visit to the Mart. Glatter said she came mainly to see Chloe-Valentine, a bridge-priced suit line shown in the new International Suite at the Mart.

“If the market has little gems like that, it’s worth the trip,” Glatter said.

Glatter also looked at some additional lines, including Julie and Leonard and Bonnie Strauss.

Many buyers were intent on maximizing profits by buying more carefully and minimizing markdowns. Their budgets ranged from flat to up 10 percent. Many lamented a lack of fresh fashion.

“There’s really no direction — everything is the same,” said Donald Ayre, an owner of Morgan’s, an 11-year-old better-priced shop in Galveston, Tex.

He and his partner, Patrick Healy, praised Karen Kane and Andrea Jovine for coming up with new styles instead of merely recoloring successful silhouettes. They had boosted their budget by 10 percent.

Inge Manatou, who was shopping for her better-to-designer store, Inge’s in Irving, Tex., reflected a common buying approach.

“I’m looking for dresses, sweaters, items and something different,” Manatou said. “I think accessories are going to be very important to make things look different.”

She ordered mixed-metal jewelry from Dayne Duvall and glitzy crystal jewelry from Swarovski, as well as colorful sweaters by Coogi and chenille sweaters by 525 Made in America.

Jill Dunning, an associate buyer for advanced collections at Neiman Marcus, was reviewing Christine Albers sportswear. “We’re looking for October deliveries — lots of tartan plaids, leather and pinstriping,” Dunning said. “We’re staying away from long narrow skirts.”

Nancy Diebolt, owner of Turtletique, a 25-year-old boutique here, was concentrating on accessories and items. She planned to buy more velvet, including shirts and leggings.

“I’m buying mostly charcoal, brown and black and a touch of color,” she observed. “Our customers have accepted the neutrals, and they understand them.”

Diebolt especially liked a Lulu Bravo ensemble with a long black blouse with Peter Pan collar and cuffs over a lace skirt.

“We’re buying a ton of dresses because they’re blowing out,” said Vickie Jackson, co-owner of Byzantine, a contemporary store here that she said has been exceeding plan since it opened in February. Jackson booked plaid styles by Victoria Falls, cut velvet dresses by Alexander Brown and Caron Joy, dresses with unusual buttons by Lolita West, bright printed dresses by Flattery, as well as Beau Geste sweaters and A. Encell vests, among others.

One of Jackson’s stops was in the new Style Council showroom, a consortium of contemporary firms from California organized by Marlene Feder, owner of West Watch buying and consulting service in Los Angeles. Feder said she felt many California lines who didn’t ordinarily show at Dallas wanted to, “so I put together a showroom where I sublet space to about nine lines.”

Casual knit weekend wear by Free Wear did best.