By  on August 15, 2007

LOS ANGELES — From east to west, north to south, one trend is clear: dresses won't be going away anytime soon.

At the holiday-resort market held downtown here Friday through Tuesday, easy-fitting smocks and shifts remained the favored styles among retailers and vendors. However, silhouettes were markedly slimmer — and often shorter — than in seasons past, and vendors also updated styles with playful fabrications, including bold prints and metallics.

Sportswear company Ever, based in Maywood, Calif., responded to the seemingly unending demand at retail for frocks by adding dresses and skirts to its spring collection for the first time in its four-year history. The brand also capitalized on the metallic trend, showing a $110 one-shouldered metallic silk dress that flowed like liquid mercury, among other styles.

Elsewhere, the shimmer trend was interpreted differently. Turkey's Mer D'or sewed silver beads under the cap sleeves of a $70 black mesh tunic, while Italy's Dismero sprayed a gold coating on cotton twill pants with a $147 price tag.

Still, you can't beat white in warm weather, said Nancy McCabe, who was buying spring clothing for Daitaro, an upscale women's boutique in Sacramento, Calif. McCabe said she shopped for a lot of dresses, particularly those that were, in her words, "semifitted, spare, clean but with detail," such as pleats, pintucks and appliqués.

Los Angeles-based manufacturer Johnny Was, which produces seven apparel collections (including a namesake line), embraced the dress craze in a big way, showing silk printed dresses in various styles across all three brands the firm exhibited at the Designers & Agents show. The company launched Whitley, a line almost entirely comprising easy-fitting shift and smock dresses in solid colors and retro-inspired bold floral prints, for holiday.

"Whitley was created to be more trend driven than the other [brands]," said Linda Shaich, sales director for Johnny Was. Retailers that picked up the line, which sells from $90 to $105, include San Francisco store Behind the Post Office and Los Angeles boutique Petro Zillia.

Despite the focus on dresses, designers didn't give up on pants. Last month, Los Angeles' Chan Luu bought locally based Georgie for an undisclosed sum with the hope of relaunching the pant line for next spring. Started three years ago as a vendor of tailored trousers wholesaling from $85 to $95 at 600 stores including Intermix and Nordstrom, Georgie will be recast as a more casual line with wholesale prices that are at least 20 percent lower.Also expanding into tailored pants was Three Dots, of Garden Grove, Calif., which is best known for its knit tops. After unveiling a sailor-style pant for fall, the company expanded its holiday array of bottoms with a jean-inspired version, a wide-leg trouser and a jodhpur, which wholesale from $85 to $110. All pants are made of a double-knit black viscose.

"There are too many dresses," said David Lazar, Three Dots' executive vice president, adding retailers that have ordered the new pant line included Bloomingdale's and Saks Fifth Avenue. "Hopefully, everybody will need a black pant in her wardrobe."

In denim, the days of the skinny leg are waning. For spring, Rock & Republic brought back a flare jean with a 21-inch opening that it last offered two years earlier. Charlotte Ronson presented a wide-leg trouser with suspenders in washed linen for resort. The Vonderheide Showroom said that, for spring, pants falling at various points on the leg, from the knee to midcalf, were popular for brands such as Michael Michael Kors.

Marty Bebout, co-owner of the Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Blue Bee stores, picked up dark, clean-wash denim styles from Joe's Jeans, Rock & Republic, Seven For All Mankind, Frankie B. and Dittos, among others. "The main denim lines are getting more refined and sophisticated," he said. Bebout also ordered dresses from Alice + Olivia, the New York-based contemporary brand, noting, "Alice + Olivia just keeps getting better and better. We almost don't need any other dress resource."

As the saturated denim market continues to correct itself from a sales slump last year, premium denim company Cassette increased its sportswear offerings to make up 65 percent of its spring collection. Among the popular items from the spring collection shown at market was an oversize jersey racer-back dress wholesaling for $71, said Josh Kuyt, sales representative at the Riot Showroom.

Bold, retro-inspired prints were a key trend at the D&A show. Contemporary brand Mint showed painterly splatters on shift dresses, while Glendale, Calif.-based brand And Cake embroidered folksy Hungarian patterns onto above-the-knee white peasant dresses. New York's Shoshanna offered silk tops and dresses printed with a Mod-inspired black-and-fuchsia block pattern, wholesaling for between $140 and $180. "People are asking for bright, flowy things," said Kasey Kahler, sales representative for Shoshanna, which is sold at Kitson and Scoop, among other stores.At the Brighte trade show in the California Market Center, metallic handbags were at the forefront of accessories trends. But Dale Pike, an account executive at Inge Christopher, which sells under the Inge, Inge Christopher and Whiting & Davis labels, saw metallic tastes shift a bit from gold to pewter and gunmetal. Elongated and pint-size box clutches were the company's bestsellers, priced from $48 to around $200.

Gold still ruled in jewelry at Double Happiness by Stephanie Wells. The brand introduced a cast collection at Brighte to provide a lower-priced alternative to its handmade collection. Cast earrings topped out at $88, while the handmade ones can go up to $120 wholesale. "We can do anything in silver, but we do mostly gold," said Ann Pham, a production manager for Double Happiness Design.

Jewelry buyers also were experimenting with other shades of gold. Pham pointed out that two-tone gold earrings with silver beads were getting noticed, and Mark McKenzie, co-founder of the jewelry brand Azaara, said rose gold had a strong showing in vintage-inspired pieces that run from around $50 to $78.

Rings were popular items at both Double Happiness Design and Azaara. McKenzie said handblown glass adjustable rings, priced at an average of $88, were finding an audience. The brand showed its wares for the first time at Brighte, a decision McKenzie said paid off. "We have had some pretty healthy orders," he added, noting most buyers were placing immediate and holiday orders.

Despite McKenzie's enthusiasm, the overall mood among Brighte's vendors was considerably less sanguine than a year ago. Many vendors indicated buyers were hesitant to write spring orders before getting a reading on fall and holiday sales. "This is one of the slower markets. Some people are looking into spring, but mostly it is holiday," said Michelle Liebman, a sales representative for knits resource Tee Party. "We are trying to carry a crossover."

Vendors also were concerned retailers exhibited heightened price sensitivity. Pike said buyers considered Inge Christopher bags around $60 wholesale a reasonable investment, but were worried about handbag price tags at $90 or more. "It has to be a spectacular piece for them to go there. [Buyers] don't want to overassort and get stuck with things they can't move," she said. "The climate is tentative, and people are examining price points more than they were before."The price sensitivity is a boon to jewelry and belts company Dillon Rogers, according to co-owner Dori Rogers. She said the brand's layerable leather wrap bracelets, priced at $14 to $28 wholesale, are affordable gift items that stores can easily stock up on without putting themselves at risk. "People are optimistic with us because of our price point," she said. "If people can't buy that snake purse that is [$1,000 or more], they can buy our croc belt at $60 [wholesale]." — With contributions from Rachel Brown

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