By  on June 20, 2007

ATLANTA — A return to classic lines in sportswear and ready-to-wear and the dynamic of dresses — always high on Southern buyers' lists — were big draws at AmericasMart's June show here.

Textured fabrics, from jacquard to tapestry, and Lurex replaced the embellishment of recent holiday seasons in new jacket silhouettes such as artist-inspired cropped styles with sleeve details. Monochromatic blends of charcoal, black and gray were the prevalent holiday palette.

Short, flirty cocktail dresses and daytime tunics paired over leggings were well-received, and some buyers said the category was edging out denim as a key fall staple.

Officials said traffic at the show, which ran June 9 to 12, was even with last June. Mike Turnbull, senior vice president of marketing, said contemporary product was driving business, especially in temporary shows such as Premiere and the NY/LA Co-Op area on the ninth floor, a new 14,000-square-foot space that is expanding for August with an additional 5,000 square feet.

But some exhibitors said attendance at this market was off, even for June, which is typically the slowest market of the year. Sales representatives and vendors attributed the traffic partly to confusion over recent date changes. This market established a new Saturday-through-Tuesday pattern, after the April market changed to Sunday through Wednesday.

Color, print and texture, in looks to attract college-age women and their mothers, were the goals for Thomas Heery, owner of Heery's Clothes Closet, a specialty store in downtown Athens, Ga. Shopping for mostly holiday, he also bought fall fill-ins and accessories.

"I'm buying my 'hotshot' sportswear lines for after-September deliveries," he said, listing Tibi, Nanette Lepore, Trina Turk, BCBG and Nicole Miller.

He cited Milly as a particularly strong line this season, and bought short dresses, cashmere sweaters and jackets with Lurex. For mothers, Heery shopped for special occasion looks that combine youthful styling with coverage for arms, either from sleeves, wraps or jackets. He picked up chunky accessories, as well as simple layering necklaces for more petite customers.

Eveningwear and dresses were key targets for Robert Nemer, president of The Cotton Mill Inc., which has three specialty stores — The Cotton Mill Collection, The Cotton Mill Lifestyle and a Nicole Miller boutique — in the Green Hills area of Nashville.Doubling eveningwear assortments, for a clientele that attends black-tie events including Nashville's Country Music Awards, Nemer also increased day dresses, which have replaced denim as a key fall classification. He applauded the variety of silhouettes and lengths, but noted difficulty in finding color with the abundance of black and charcoal for evening.

With a budget up 15 percent from last year, Nemer said, "We're looking to go deep with reputable, strong vendors as partners." Key lines include Diane von Furstenberg, Milly, Nanette Lepore and Shoshanna. He also bought sportswear from Juicy Couture and Vince and T-shirts from Michael Stars.

Day dresses and the return to classic dressing with less embellishment were important to Lisa White, owner of OK Collection, a specialty store operation with three stores in Fairhope, Ala.

"Our customers love dresses and love this look," she said. "I'm tired of embellished stones and bubble skirts, and the clothes now are a breath of fresh air."

White added that she was "on the hunt for dresses with sleeves for fall." She ordered holiday and resort collections and previewed early spring from her best-selling lines: Badgley Mischka, Teri Jon, Jon, David Meister and Lafayette 148.

"Holiday is a precarious season for us, but we have lots of special occasions, including Mardi Gras in February," White said. "We had a roller-coaster year after Hurricane Katrina, but business and tourism is back."

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