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Fashion Steps Forward at ASR

Revved-up fashion, consolidation and hints of seasonal confusion highlighted the ASR trade show at the San Diego Convention Center.

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LOS ANGELES — Revved-up fashion, consolidation talk and hints of seasonal confusion highlighted the ASR trade show at the San Diego Convention Center that ended Jan. 16.

Juniors and young contemporary brands were focused on making a splash with heightened style. Oakley, Matix and Cult Industries defied the active lifestyle convention with offerings such as Asian embroidered tops, short trench jackets and palazzo pants. Oakley even plans to join in the catwalks of New York Fashion Week for the first time next month. A spokeswoman for 7th on Sixth, producers of the event, confirmed Oakley’s show on Feb. 5.

At the same time, there was buzz about the consolidation trend in the industry on the vendor and retailer front. Last fall, Billabong purchased the Southern California Beach Access five-store chain. Most recently, Quiksilver made a bid for ski behemoth Rossignol, which hasn’t been finalized. Joel Cooper, chief executive officer of Lost International, said he purchased stock in Quiksilver when he heard the news.

“It’s great for the company in terms of diversification and would double its presence in Europe,” he said, adding that it’s also a positive sign for the industry. “It shows that there are strong, sought-after brands in this category.”

Executives of smaller specialty stores said they’re talking among themselves in hopes of creating a unified retail front.

“It’s a sexy concept — getting the top 20 independent retailers together who may have two to four stores each and combining forces into one entity,” said Dave Hollander, president of Becker Surf & Sport, a five-store, $15 million chain based in Torrance, Calif. “That could mean a $120 million company right off the bat with economies of scale. Nobody’s pulling the trigger yet, but it’s a thought that’s out there.”

Still under consideration is when ASR vendors should show their fall lines. About one-third of the vendors were breaking fall this past weekend. Many showcased late spring and summer looks, holding off for MAGIC International and WWDMAGIC in February where they stake out hotel rooms and private suites for their fall showing.

“Our show times are still in transition,” said ASR show director Kevin Flanagan, noting even the unsteady future of ASR’s fall event in March. “That show has served a purpose and it’s not completely decided if that purpose continues.”

For their part, buyers were looking to fill in summer orders with mid-length and longer skirts sparkling with sequins or given a bohemian flair in gauzy embroidered styles by Roxy and Lost, Bermuda shorts in solids and pastel plaids at O’Neill, tube and jersey dresses with an Eighties vibe at Rusty and distressed denim at Billabong. Fall trends and must-haves included the comeback of camouflage in ripstop cargos by Split, enzyme-washed Western shirts at Fox and open-weave shrugs at Volcom.

“The fall offerings showed a lot of strength in bottoms,” said Carol Nielsen, women’s buyer at Becker, who picked up Cult corduroy pants with multicolored pockets and Volcom’s fleece bottoms.

Turning up the fashion volume was Oakley, offering mottled turtlenecks with multicolored back buttons, herringbone moto jackets with contrast zipper panels and worn-looking leather jackets with pink stitching, mesh leather pockets and a wholesale price of $180.

Such looks were hard to ignore. said buyers seeking fashion-infused items.

“ASR used to be dumb-dumb surfwear and now everyone has stepped up to the plate,” said Alex Stricker, a buyer for Gone Surfing, who was picking up distressed denim and item pieces from companies such as Split, Ezekiel and Volcom.

The 2J Group, the licensing company behind the Aaron Chang junior line, also ramped up the offerings with animal print bombers, heavily ribbed zip-up sweaters and cuffed gauchos. The company plans to open its first store at the Atlantis resort in the Bahamas later this year, said president Jeff Turpin.

“It’s an ideal place to launch our lifestyle brand,” Turpin said.

Etnies Girl, a division of Sole Technologies Inc., saw strong bookings of Members Only-inspired jackets in plaid with peach lining, Peter Pan shirts and off-the-shoulder sweaters with a Seventies glam vibe.

In just two years, juniors represents 30 percent of the business and projections are that it would represent 50 percent by another two years, according to founder and ceo Pierre Andre Senizergues, who plans to open a permanent New York showroom by fall occupying 4,000 square feet.

“There’s a migration of girls shopping the action sports industry that’s not stopping,” he said.

One notable absence from the juniors line-up was Ocean Pacific Apparel Corp., which only showcased men’s wear. The company, now a division of Warnaco Group, plans to relaunch its juniors label in 60 days for spring 2006.

Swimwear had a minimal presence at the show, since the summer selling season is just two months long and most local swim retailers finished their buys in September, while others replenished at last week’s Surf Expo in Florida.

“It’s a quieter show, we only have five appointments booked for the whole time, but we’re here to support the industry,” said veteran Apparel Ventures rep Ron Razzano, who showed the company’s OP, Playa by La Blanca and Ralph Lauren lines.

Brands exhibiting tended to be surf-oriented, such as Roxy, O’Neill, Rusty, Billabong and OP Swim. Few lines had suits that differed from their September ASR offerings, but Roxy rolled out a few more suits in popular colors such as olive and tangerine, as did O’Neill with greens and blues.

Silhouettes that looked to be strong for summer included the triangle top, belted, low-rise bikini bottoms and boy shorts.

“I’m just here to freshen up my store,” said Lindsey Schultz of K-5 in San Diego and Encinitas, Calif., as she earmarked bikinis at the L Space, the Santa Ana line she was buying for the first time this year.

Jen Herrick of L77 in Spokane Valley, Wash., was doing last-minute buys before her store’s grand opening in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, the Agenda show held four blocks away was a showcase of smaller labels such as Ellwood, RVCA, Tokidoki and Soundgirl. Ellwood attracted buyer interest for its shrunken wool blazers and pumpkin-colored corduroy mini skirts.

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