By and  on May 16, 1994

NEW YORK -- Activity at two major trade shows held here last week reflected the general sense in the market that accessories are in for a smoother ride after a bumpy year.

Here's a look at the action at both events.

Fashion Accessories Expo

Many vendors at the Fashion Accessories Expo cited less price resistance and more enthusiasm among retailers as the keys to the best business they've seen recently.

The three-day show, which took place at Piers 90 and 92 and ended last Thursday, brought in 7,000 people, 100 more than one year ago, according to Conference Management Co., which runs the show. Exhibitors numbered 704, down from 720.

Hats and jewelry were among the classifications stores were zooming in on for both fall and immediate orders. According to many exhibitors, stores seemed to know exactly what they were looking for and weren't splitting hairs over price, a previously touchy issue.

"In all the transactions I've made, no one has even asked the price before writing the order," said milliner Debbie Cohen, whose firm of the same name is based in Los Angeles.

In Cohen's line, with wholesale prices going up to $75, cloches, fedoras and other classic silhouettes as well as softer, more casual shapes were bestsellers.

"This show has been much better for us than it was last May," she noted. "And I've been picking up new accounts, which hasn't happened for me at this show in quite a while."

Maya Evangelista, an accessories designer whose line bears her first name, also said that price was not an issue on her line of fashion jewelry, belts and pouch bags.

"Our most expensive pieces go up to about $90 wholesale, but for fall everyone's going after big, dramatic pieces and the prices don't seem to be a problem," Evangelista said. She noted that her best-selling items included large, long necklaces done in silverplated metal and stone-like resin chunks, as well as pouch bags with straps that can be converted into belts or necklaces.

Evangelista, who said her orders were up 30 percent from a year ago, noted that "buyers seem more upbeat at this market than they have in a while."Some, particularly those in the jewelry area, said they had taken hits over the last year or so as a result of the minimalist trend. The designer known simply as Rage, who designs for the Rage Metalworks division of the jewelry firm Athra Trading, was among those who said this show marked a return to healthy business for him.

"Between the minimalist look and the horrible weather, our year got off to a very slow start," he noted. "But in the first day here, we did more business than we did at the whole January edition, and accounts we hadn't seen since November have finally been coming back to order more."

The more positive outlook on the fall was also apparent among retailers such as Richard Auer, president of Auer's, a specialty store in Denver.

"Accessories as a whole definitely suffered as a result of the minimal look," Auer said. "But we feel strongly about them for fall, and we're looking for merchandise at the show that will supplement the core accessories lines we currently carry."

Sterling silver jewelry and casual hats were among the buys he made at the show, Auer said, noting that his open-to-buy was up, primarily because his store had just expanded its accessories area.

Jennifer Randak, owner of Classical Rags, two specialty stores in Key West, Fla., and Essex, Conn., said her open-to-buy was up dramatically "because business has been way up."

Randak cited jewelry as an area of strength for her stores and a key classification for her at the show. She said she also ordered some millinery, although she said her sales in that area had been cooling off after a major growth boom.

Accessorie Circuit

Vendors exhibiting at the Accessorie Circuit, which finished its three-day run at the Plaza Hotel last Wednesday, were generally positive about fall, looking to an upswing in business.

ENK Productions, which organizes the Accessorie Circuit, reported an exhibitor total of 186, compared to 147 last May. For the first time, the show included a fourth floor of space to house the added exhibitors. Attendance for the show was 2,500, off slightly from last May's tally of 2,700.In terms of classifications, hats and scarves, as well as jewelry, an area that has suffered recently, emerged as leaders.

Dayne DuVall, designer and owner of the jewelry firm bearing his name, was one of the many exhibitors enthused over the pace of orders.

"We ended up doing about 45 percent more business than we had planned for at the show, and now estimate we'll finish out market week about 50 percent ahead of plan," DuVall noted. He also indicated that many stores requested deliveries be completed by Aug. 30, earlier than usual. Some stores credited their requests to the early timing of the Jewish High Holidays, which begin the day after Labor Day this year.

He added that key areas that contributed to the increase were his semi-precious line, a Gothic-looking oxidized metal group called Imperial Court and a variety of darker, treated silver looks.

DuVall said he also judged the show a success because of the number of new accounts that he opened, including some retailers in the Far East.

Jewelry designer Gerard Yosca, who switched from the FAE to the Circuit this time around, said he was pleased with buyer reactions to his line. He also had requests to ship goods earlier than usual -- June 1-15.

He felt the collection's "seasonless" look accounted for the push for early deliveries.

"Even though this has been the most unpredictable year in my 14 years in business, I'm very optimistic about this fall," Yosca said, "There aren't any real specific trends in ready-to-wear now, and I think this will be very liberating for the consumer. She can now choose what suits her, rather than just following fashion."

Fern Devlin, designer and owner of the scarf firm carrying her name, said she was encouraged by the strong focus of retailers at the show this time.

"The buyers I've seen have been seriously shopping," Devlin said. "They know what they are looking for and are willing to pay the price for the most part."

Chenille, in earthy muted tweeds or novel color combinations, was the most popular in Devlin's line for fall, she said, adding that stores showed a renewed interest in color, which offered a change from the saturation of naturals in the market lately.Tully Rector, vice president of Hunt Country Trading, which produces a collection of saddle leather handbags and luggage that bear his name, was exhibiting at the Circuit, and in New York, for the first time.

"In the Circuit's first day alone, we doubled our sales compared to any other show we've ever participated in," Rector said.

The line wholesales from $65 to $240 and is manufactured in Argentina. Rector added that the attendance of international buyers, particularly several from Germany, helped bolster his sales.

David Lopez, vice president and divisional merchandise manager for accessories at Neiman Marcus, summed up the feelings for trends expressed by many retailers at the Circuit.

Treated metals, as opposed to the shiny sterling silver looks that have been popular for spring, will lead the way for fall, he forecast, with the main interest at the neck, especially "bib effect" pieces. He added that long, dangling earrings and soft, subtle looks with texture and color, like garnets and topaz, also looked good.

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