Here, a rundown of goings-on as the Southeast fashion industry shifts into high gear.PREMIERE REDUXBuyers who didn’t catch the Premiere show debut last April will see a bigger, more accessible version in October. Approximately 135 to 150 booths will feature around 300 lines, up from 98 booths and 200 lines in April, with at least half of last April’s exhibitors returning. The show, held Oct. 18-20 during the Oct. 17-21 market in exhibition space on the fifth floor, includes apparel and accessories. The show typically focuses on forward, youthful lines, such as Seven, Mavi and Juicy Couture, as well as bridge resources such as Peter Nygard and Nanette Keller. Accessories lines include Manuel Canovas, Hervé Chapellier handbags and Michelle Marcombe, an Atlanta designer that uses vintage album covers in T-shirts and handbags. "Atlanta has been known for misses’ categories in the past," said Kaye Davis, Premiere’s executive director. "Now that we’re targeting national retailers, our focus is changing. We have the customers to support contemporary and bridge."Many of her lines were scouted during trips to New York, Los Angeles and Miami. Next she’ll hit Europe, targeting up-and-coming designers with small followings.One returning vendor, Atlanta-based T-shirt vendor Project E, will return to Premiere after snagging 15 new accounts at the April Premiere."We’re using Premiere as our sole growth avenue for Southeast territory," said Michael Hecht, Project E’s president. Currently, the Southeast tallies 15 percent of sales, outpaced by the East and West Coasts, but Hecht hopes to double the percentage in 2003. "Premiere has a who’s who of vendors," he added. "There’s a similar feeling to the Fashion Coterie show in New York."This year’s show will feature the same sophisticated ambience with fixtures, fresh flowers, complimentary breakfast and lunch. The snazzy amenities reflect a marketing budget up 20 percent over last year, for Premiere and apparel in general. The show space, enclosed last year, will now open up to the atrium to draw more traffic.Premiere is designed to attract resources that don’t currently show in AmericasMart. After the April show, 20 resources signed on at the mart, and two took permanent space."We hope this is an incubator for lines that will become permanent fixtures here," said Davis.SPRING FORWARDIt may be October, but spring is in the air at AmericasMart, with looks tailor-made for Southern buyers. The key season brings color, lightweight fabrics — always in demand — along with feminine "pretty" looks Southern women love. Spring fabrics are sheer, flowing and breezy. Vivid colors are back, with texture, shading and grading. Ruffles, lace and romantic silhouettes are everywhere. As for trends, the peasant/prairie trend has drawn mixed reviews, and, according to buyers, should be over by spring. Cropped pants have become a staple, although little skirts, shorts and skorts are new options.Embellishment, asymmetrical sleeves and hems and Asian influences are also prevalent.Southern retailers in hot climates may question the viability of spring suede and leather, no matter how lightweight, but it’s out there, in stand-alone fabrics or mixed with denim or other materials. Midwestern and Northeastern retailers, increasingly showing up as part of AmericasMart’s national push, appreciated the variety in fabrics shown in early spring collections during the August show. With nearly 10,000 buyers in August, attendance has been greatly helped by out-of-territory buyers, which increase their numbers by about a dozen every market.FALL BACK Fall sales picked up somewhat after a dismal summer for many retailers. Consumer confidence is still shaky, according to buyers, due to stock market uncertainties and war threats. Price has become more of an issue, as cautious buyers focus on items, rather than sinking big dollars in one collection. Michael Day, owner of the Buena Vista Shop, a 4,000-square-foot Winston/Salem, N.C. specialty store, buys with a shotgun approach, sampling a wide variety of lines, from Cambridge Dry Goods and Staples to Telluride. Day is partial to AmericasMart’s sportswear offerings."We quit shopping New York because of the ‘youth movement’ in New York shows, he said. "Everything is too tight, bare and young."Business has been tough this year, but customers bought fall early, Day said. He continues to cut back inventory, and focuses on finding deals for price-conscious consumers. Day sees shorts and skorts as a refreshing alternative to capri pants."With so many capri pants in discounters, shorts will seem more exclusive, and customers have asked for them," he said. Items and newness were key for Rachel Gottfried, the president of No Time to Shop, a Fort Lauderdale-based by-appointment retail operation serving customers in a 27-foot RV full of $500,000 in merchandise. Shopping with specific customers in mind, Gottfried hasa 30-to-80-year-old clientele of socialites, snowbirds and executives."Customers want something different," she said. "There’s a void in unique items. Customers want casual, less expensive looks for every day."Lynette Perlis, co-owner of The Big Store, a 10,000-square-foot specialty department store in Tifton, Ga., felt spring trends relied too heavily on what was hot for fall."We see trends at high prices and lower price knock-offs, but not enough direction in the middle price points," she said. "It’s probably too early for a complete look at spring. We’re hoping for better direction in October." She added that many early spring fabrics were too heavy for her south Georgia climate.With a budget equal to last year, Perlis bought holiday sweaters by several resources, including Sigrid Olsen, but held off on buying core resources such as Liz Claiborne and Rafaella, which weren’t ready with complete spring groups, she said.Summer business was slow, according to Perlis, with consumers taking a cautious approach to buying. Early school openings in mid-August also hurt back-to-school business, she added, but fall sales picked up.SUCCESS STORYSpecial events can be a boon, a bust, or a major pain for retailers. But B. J. Thomas, owner of an eponymous specialty store in Myrtle Beach, has found a formula that attracts her most affluent customers: free publicity and instant sales increases.Having held fall fashion shows each of her 19 years as a retailer, Thomas teamed up three years ago with the Coastal Medical Alliance of Myrtle Beach to co-sponsor her annual event.The alliance consists of doctors and doctor’s families, who are mostly regular customers at B.J.’s. Called "Couture 2002," this year’s luncheon/fashion show was held Sept. 17 at the Dunes Golf and Beach Club in Myrtle Beach. With 300 attendees, many were participants on the runway. Twelve models, all customers, showcased three outfits each. With over 50 percent of inventory in special occasion, Thomas also carries day dressing, sportswear and cocktail, mostly targeting the country club set. Resources include Jennifer Roberts, Teri Jon, and Adrianna Papell.Sales typically jump 40 percent for September and October following the event."Models almost always buy the outfits they wear," said Thomas, who hosted the show. "And the publicity brings in their friends."The event included a raffle for a fur coat from Douglas Fur Company, a Charlotte, N.C. resource, and a necklace by Starfire, an Asheville, N.C. jewelry designer. Thomas recruits local entertainment, such as chamber orchestras or vocalists from the local symphony orchestra. The event is a media magnet, with previews and event coverage plastered all over fashion sections of local papers and alternative magazines. The community access channel, BEACH TV, broadcasted the event live this year.Over $15,000 was raised to benefit SOS, (Surviving Our System), a local charity that provides free medical services to the needy. Last year’s event raised $11,000.STAR LIGHT, STAR BRIGHTThe Atlanta chapter of The Fashion Group International of Atlanta and Atlanta Magazine will honor the retail industry for the first time this fall with the "Night of Stars" awards ceremony. Scheduled for Nov. 12, the black-tie reception will honor companies and individuals that have left their mark on the local fashion scene. Proceeds from the reception will benefit the FGI Atlanta Scholarship fund for local students majoring in fashion and retail-related programs. "There are so many people in Atlanta’s fashion scene that need to be acknowledged for their work," said Kevin Knaus, the event’s co-chair. "There’s so much going on here and the time for an event like this is definitely now." "Night of Stars" events are also held in Chicago, Dallas and New York. Included among the evening’s seven honorees will be Mitchell Barnes, Carey Carter and Perri Lindner, the owners of Carter-Barnes Salon in Atlanta, and Mysty McLelland, vice president and general manager of The Atlanta Decorative Arts Center. Special awards will also be given to Neiman Marcus for its 30 years in Atlanta and retailer Jeffrey Kalinsky for his work with Fashion Cares. A corporate fashion award will be given to Rich’s department store, honoring its 135 years in Atlanta. Michele Aquino, the former general manager of Saks Fifth Avenue at Phipps Plaza, will receive a lifetime achievement award honoring his 48 years of service with Saks.The event will feature a seated dinner and cocktail reception as well as dancing before and after the awards ceremony. Over 400 guests are expected to attend the inaugural event at the Atlanta History Center’s newly completed Grand Overlook Ballroom. For ticket information, contact (404) 266-0191. Tickets are $150.DON’S NEW DIGSDon Overcast & Associates, a multi-line betterwear showroom, is moving from 10E112, a 2,000-square-foot space to two showrooms — 9E332 and 9S333 — for a total space of 5,000 square feet.The new space will allow Overcast, who has specialized in social occasion, to branch out into sportswear, testing lines at market for future representation. Overcast will still represent Bob Mackie, Kay Unger, David Warren, Rimini, Oblique and Albert Nipon suits, and is in negotiations for new lines. As of press time, it was unknown what tenant would replace Overcast in his old showroom.
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