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Fresh Faces Draw Crowds in Atlanta

ATLANTA — AmericasMart’s push to attract new lines, and as a result, new retailers, paid off with a successful spring market here that included the second annual Premiere Show and the seventh annual DIVA awards.<br><br>Attendance at the...

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ATLANTA — AmericasMart’s push to attract new lines, and as a result, new retailers, paid off with a successful spring market here that included the second annual Premiere Show and the seventh annual DIVA awards.

Attendance at the women’s and children’s apparel and accessories market that ran Oct. 17-21 was up about 22 percent, according to officials.

“Adding additional product has drawn more people,” said Peg Canter, vice president and general manager of AmericasMart Apparel. “And targeting out-of-territory buyers over the past year has helped.”

Premiere, a temporary format show launched last spring, is held during spring and fall markets. October’s show featured 90 booths, with around 68 companies, often offering multiple divisions or categories. Held in an upscale setting on the mart’s fifth floor, the show features amenities such as fresh flowers, food and espresso, along with many of the same lines.

“We’d been losing open-to-buy because we didn’t have the really unusual product, so this show spices up the mix,” said Canter.

Around 1,000 buyers attended the DIVA awards Oct. 18, which honored a dozen or so women’s, children’s and men’s wear designers. For the first time, the event was held in the mart’s atrium, free and open to all buyers rather than an off-site location at around $60 a ticket.

“We felt this year it was time to bring this event home, so that everyone who wanted to could see it,” Canter said.

Buyers generally shopped with budgets even with last year, buying close to need and approaching spring cautiously. Many described business as erratic, with customers concerned about the flagging stock market and economy. Buyers described consumers as buying less and looking for impulse items to spruce up existing wardrobes.

While some exhibitors reported steady traffic and increased sales, others thought traffic was down, although orders were good.

Ambrosia & Co., a sales firm with around 30 updated misses’ and contemporary lines, posted an 18 percent increase over last year, after increased telemarketing efforts, according to Linda Ambrosia, principal. Other contemporary sportswear reps, including Randy Leib of Leib Associates and Ty Cobb of Castles & Cobb, questioned attendance increases, although they did say orders were strong due to intensive premarket calls to draw in buyers.

Spring trends continued the bohemian and romantic direction, though sometimes with a more Gothic influence, with angel sleeves, asymmetrical hems and lace-up details in blouses, pants and dresses. Embellishment was prevalent in prints, lace, ruffles, beading and fringe, often combined or layered in one garment. Pastel shades mixed with black or chocolate brown. Fifties-inspired dressing, with fuller skirts and wider necklines offered cleaner lines, often with contrasting piping and ribbon belts.

Many buyers expressed a backlash against all the embellishment, longing for a return to simpler, more tailored clothing, especially for older customers.

Penny Vaigneur, owner of Copper Penny, a two-store chain based in Charleston, S.C., shopped with a flat budget for casual and special-occasion spring dresses.

“We find younger looks for college-age customers all day long, but there’s a void in dresses for older customers,” she said.

For younger looks, she bought Nanette Lepore, Laundry and ABS. For more mature customers, she ordered from Chetta B, Kay Unger and Teri Jon. At Premiere, she picked up Kathlin Argiro and Siri, new lines for her.

“People may no longer shop just as a fun activity, but everybody shops for special occasions,” she said. Vaigneur bought strapless, halter and tube dresses, with scattered beading on prints or layered fabrics such as tulle and organza.

In sportswear, she sought out pencil skirts with contrast stitching, soft fabrics paired with underpinnings and brown mixed with blue from resources including Trina Turk, Polici and Laundry. In jeans, she bought Seven and Andiano Goldschmied, as well as T-shirts from James Perse and Michael Stars.

The Premiere Show enticed Susan Kaplan and Chip Bruton, co-owners of Teen Heaven, a North Palm Beach juniors boutique, to Atlanta, where the couple concentrated on immediate deliveries, prom and Easter dresses.

“We’re not in the mood to buy summer clothes, before Halloween,” she said, adding that October had been a “tough month,” with consumers uneasy over the economy, threats of war and other news events. Back-to-school business has also eroded in the South, she said.

For prom, Kaplan bought two-piece dresses, halters and light colors for her warm climate, with details such as ruffles, prints and sleeve or waist interest. She bought Jovani for both prom and special occasion.

At Premiere, she bought vintage-inspired clothing and jewelry by Miss Vintage and Mei Fa. Kaplan said her young customers were tired of peasant looks, although manufacturers had “bombarded kids with it the past year.”

“They don’t like poufy, covered up clothing, or anything they think makes them look fat,” she said. “We see a return to more simplicity, with cleaner, less sloppy looks. They still want to be naked, with bare crop tops, in good colors, patterns and texture.”

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