By  on September 25, 2007

NEW YORK — Floral summer dresses gave way to a slightly cleaner, more sophisticated look at the Designers & Agents show here last week, although the dress trend, while slowing down, will continue through spring.

Ron Herman, owner of the Ron Herman stores in Los Angeles, lauded the exhibition for its energy and selection of exhibitors who "are passionate about their product, and they still love the industry."

As for collections, he noted: "I liked seeing a line with soul and meaning like Organic, and at the same time, there were people who have been in business for a long time, like John Ward at Maggie Ward. I specifically buy lines that are creative.

"I am feeling there is a move to sexy clothes, and the idea of tight, skinny jeans has given way to long, lean sexy jeans, and baby-doll tops have given way to sexier tops. We are in a dress cycle."

Jennifer Cunningham, a contemporary buyer for the Houston-based chain Tootsies, said dresses continue to be a key classification, but added: "I'd like to see a return to skirts and pants because there has been a void. I am looking for color, prints [and] skirts, and always for novel and special items."

Eva Weiss, owner of the Butter boutique in Brooklyn, said she typically sees her regular vendors at D&A, which include Christina Lehr, Shirt and Kristensen du Nord. Weiss also bought pieces from Organic, which does "very, very well," adding "dresses are still definitely happening, and I don't think it's changing."

D&A continued to adapt its show this season, which ended its three-day run Sept. 17. After May's "green" initiative, the exhibition's new elements included two booths for Council of Fashion Designers of America members as part of a partnership with CFDA's Business Services Network, and a highlight of Danish designers (see related story, this page). The featured CFDA designers were Gemma Kahng and Twinkle Jewels.

"It gave buyers a chance to step back and look at us in a new light," said Barbara Kramer, who coproduces the show with Ed Mandelbaum.For the first time, the show was held in two separate locations, at the Starrett-Lehigh Building on West 26th Street and the Chelsea Art Museum on West 22nd Street. The show was busy in both venues, with almost every booth visibly taking orders. According to D&A, attendance was up 15 percent from last year, to 2,320. In total, there were 239 booths and 271 collections at the show, up 12 and 9 percent, respectively. Within that, the Starrett-Lehigh Building featured 149 booths, while the Chelsea Art Museum had 90 booths.

At the Starrett-Lehigh venue, Staci Woo, designer of the Los Angeles-based Woo brand, presented a new group called Staci Woo Souvenir Edition. It featured vintage prints remade into novel dresses and tops, some of which have a vacation flair, "like a treasure you want to keep forever," Woo said. Bestsellers included a Mod-like minidress in a vintage print for $145 at wholesale, and a cotton crinkle blouse with a vintage silk trim for $65. "We had a slower resort showing, but I feel that people are ready for spring now, perhaps because they have more room for inventory," Woo said.

Moonie Pantharath, managing director and owner of Panthar Management, which represents Bangkok-based Kloset Red Carpet, said this was the best season so far at D&A. Top sellers included an embroidered vest for $120 at wholesale, a geometric print jacket for $227 and a strapless floral-print suspender dress for $214. "The buyers still have money in their budgets," she said. "It's still about the dress, but they are buying a little bit more separates than last seasons."

Beau Soleil was a newcomer to D&A. Now in its second season, the New York-based eco-friendly dress line was launched by Marc Jacobs alum Anne Epstein. The line featured cool studded dresses made from fabrics such as bamboo and organic cotton, and trimmed with recycled or surplus materials. Epstein even offered a cotton bag for $15, which she hopes people will use instead of a plastic shopping bag. It featured the slogan "Remove, Recycle and Renew," "which is my slogan, and I am trying to trademark it," Epstein said.

At the Chelsea Art Museum, CFDA member Kahng said, "We have been able to meet stores from Italy, Germany and France here." Top sellers included a cotton wrap jacket for $395 at wholesale and an asymmetric silk satin dress for $360.Walter Fleming, president of Organic, said top items include a chunky hand-knit organic cotton cardigan for $128, a recycled men's shirting fabric blouse for $110 and high-waisted Italian organic linen pants for $135.

D&A will continue to take the additional Chelsea Art Museum space for the spring and fall markets, while a search for larger venues continues. As for the future, D&A's Kramer said she and Mandelbaum are considering starting the show on Sunday rather than Saturday. Mandelbaum added that D&A was reconsidering its involvement with London Fashion Week, which finished last week. "We have to decide whether to jump in it in a big way or not do it at all," he said. "We could instead fine tune [the] New York and Los Angeles shows, and maybe add a show in Las Vegas."

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