By  on June 22, 2007

CHICAGO — Dresses showed staying power as a go-to item at this month's apparel market, along with shimmering classic-cut pieces adorned with sequins, jewels and metallic thread.

"I think dresses are still a commodity," said Bernice Burg, principal of Bernice Burg Associates. "They appeal to a broad customer base."

In her Chicago showroom, sparkling bubble-skirt dresses by Betsey Johnson were a top seller, along with Johnson's polkadot taffeta duster and whimsical bustier, and one-shoulder tops in bright pink, jade, red and lavender for holiday.

Late fall and holiday looks were the focal points of the market that ended its four-day run on June 6 at the Apparel Center here.

Buyers also responded to the shimmer sweaters by new better cashmere line b.chyll, a division of Sweater.com, and styles such as long vests, kimono-look sweaters and hooded, deep V-neck sweaters, Burg said.

Retailers scooped up shimmer swing jackets and bolero styles from Fashionista and washed taffeta and velvet swing jackets from Drama, she said.

Karin Berger, owner of Karin Berger Ltd., also noted the movement toward eye-catching pieces with a dash of flash. Her bestsellers included an Urchin two-tone bronze-and-black striped sequin minidress that may be worn with or without jeans or leggings, and a Wilster dress in solid black, black with metallic silver or gold thread with jeweled bodices.

Overall, the market, which tends to attract fewer retailers than Chicago's larger StyleMax shows at the Merchandise Mart, proved fruitful for Burg, who reported 25 percent more sales than last year's June market.

"There are a lot of people doing a good business out there; it was a very up market," she said.

"People were looking for more glitz and more shine for holiday as opposed to your traditional black or red," said Kim Knudten, a showroom assistant with Karin Berger. "Designers did a lot of classic designs with a little embellishment or used a more interesting fabric to dress up the standard cut, so it didn't scare people off."

Dresses continued to perform well, as hems moved a bit shorter. Tunic-length pieces worked well for younger clients who chose to wear them as dresses or with leggings and for older customers who would wear them as tops with jeans, Knudten said. In particular, buyers opted for silk georgette dresses in abstract prints from For Love and Liberty and modern A-line cotton and nylon dresses with a cutout back from Wilster.Retailers also ordered patterned tights in brown, gray, navy and black by Spanx.

"Dresses are just huge," said Brenda Cycholl, in the showroom bearing her name and her daughter's, Angela Hill.

Hot items included maxi dresses and bias-cut dresses by Sue Wong and printed dresses with lace trim from XS Clothing. Buyers also liked the attention to the waist given by Rinascimento, an Italian line featuring high-rise pants, high-waisted skirts, cotton stretch blouses and a black princess coat with leopard belt, Cycholl said.

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