By  on November 2, 2007

DALLAS — The dress continued to reign at the four-day spring market at FashionCenterDallas.

Buyers at the market that ended Oct. 24 found newness in prints and details like crochet trim, metallic touches, draping and subtle sparkle. The dress has become so popular that it usurped some of the denim business, retailers said.

The slow start of fall business clouded the outlook and buyers planned spring with flat budgets or small increases. Sales representatives said traffic was spotty, but they were happy with the quality of the retailers they saw.

"We're so excited about dresses this season and we will have a store full," said Christine Bailey, co-owner of Barbara Jean in Little Rock, Ark. "Whether it's solid, print, stripe or short, there are so many cute options out there that I really do feel it is new for the client."

Krista Ward, a partner in the Moxie showroom, where demand was high for Sugar Lips' inexpensive young contemporary dresses, said dress sales tripled this year.

In addition, there was praise for the Dallas Market Center's recent decision that markets would resume a Thursday-to-Sunday schedule next year.

"Overwhelmingly, people want to go back," said Susanne Taylor, who specializes in eco-friendly lines and comfort clothing at her namesake showroom. "For my larger corporate buyers, Monday was report day, so [the Sunday-to-Wednesday market] was difficult for them."

Cindy Morris, chief operating officer of the Dallas Market Center, FCD's parent, said, "We saw an increase in buyer attendance from key regions and received positive feedback regarding the 2008 date pattern change to Thursday through Sunday for apparel markets going forward."

The DMC made an effort to bring in retailers who hadn't shopped here before, including Winter Hodges, who was rounding out spring orders for his five contemporary stores in the Southeast called 310 Rosemont and Westwin. Based in Roanoke, Va., Hodges plans to open a unit this month at River Oaks Shopping Center in Houston.

Hodges and his buyer, Josie Hayes, were enthusiastic about Francesco Biasia, a core resource, and his big bronze python handbag and yellow ostrich tote. They also hunted for new labels."We found a great line of dresses and tops with a lot of design, called Gold Hawk," Hayes said. "They had a pretty black satin shift dress with crystals at the neck and pockets."

Dresses and tops were priorities for Miriam Garvey, owner of Serendipity in Fairway, Kan. She liked a strapless white dress with silver pinstripes from Beauty Mark by Byron Lars, as well as a cocoon cotton sweater by Autumn Cashmere.

"We are planning up in dresses, which has doubled this year," Garvey said. "I even ordered half-slips."

Christine Bailey, co-owner of Barbara Jean in Little Rock, came primarily to buy Lafayette 148 and review spring collections.

"I love Lafayette," Bailey said, citing a leopard-print taffeta dress as a favorite. "It was very sophisticated and a little more forward for our bridge customer than some of the other options she might buy in the bridge market. I picked up the black-and-white group because any time of year black and white is always strong for us."

The unusual warmth of September and October had Bailey thinking about next fall.

"For fall next year, 80 percent of my buy needs to be transitional," she said. "We used to have coats and furs, and those days are gone. We really do need the designers to give us fabrics that are more year-round."

Pamela and Peter Cott, owners of Pamela's contemporary boutique in Coppell, Tex., sought special items to retain customers who are straying to discounters.

"We're going less mainstream," Peter Cott said. "When Sam's started carrying Joe's [Jeans] and Antik [Denim], then we're out of it."

Seeking alternatives to denim, the pair picked up wide-leg pinstripe pants by JWLA and seamed cargo pants by Another, both divisions of Johnny Was. They also favored a colorful print silk chiffon dress by Abi Ferrin, a fledgling Dallas designer who won a statewide design contest last year sponsored by the Dallas Fashion Incubator.

The annual Dallas Fashion Awards ceremony and gala drew a number of designers who do significant business here, including Nicole Miller, Edward Wilkerson of Lafayette 148, Biya Ramar of Johnny Was and Paige Adams-Geller of Paige Premium Denim."The Southwest is the best thing for us in the whole country," said Bud Konheim, chief executive officer and a principal of Nicole Miller. "It's the best part of the Southern mentality where people dress up to go outside, but it's a little faster and not as laid back."

Miller, who won the fashion award in the After 5 category, has been slowly expanding her sportswear offerings and selling them only through specialty stores, Konheim noted. The spring collection was half sportswear.

"In September, we doubled our sportswear business and we haven't sold to one department store yet," Konheim said. "The whole country is in a funk, but our specialty store business is 30 percent ahead."

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