By  on April 12, 1994

LAS VEGAS, Nev. -- Diversification into leather and cloth was on the minds of many retail furriers as they shopped the premier edition of the American International Outerwear Show here last week.

Held at the Sands Expo and Convention Center, the four-day event, which ended Saturday, featured 138 exhibitors, mostly leather outerwear and fur makers. The show was sponsored by the Leather Apparel Association and the American Fur Industry.

Many buyers reported solid fur and other outerwear action in the past year thanks to harsh winter weather, and they said they expected the momentum to continue, even as they sought additional categories to fortify their business. Also, open-to-buys still reflected caution, with hikes in budgets often below last year's sales increases.

The leading look, according to vendors and merchants, was the fur-trim coat, especially swing styles and often in leather. The outerwear show was highlighted by separate fashion shows Thursday for leather, fur and cloth outerwear. Exhibitors from Italy, Germany, Canada, Finland and Hong Kong added an international element.

Although there was some men's merchandise, women's outerwear accounted for about 75 percent of the selection. The event attracted between 2,000 and 3,000 buyers, said Gilles Martin, president of show producer GroupExpo of Montreal. Final figures were not available.

Lili Kasdan, managing director of the LAA, said "For a first show, traffic wasn't bad. There were a lot of independent stores shopping for better merchandise. The leading look seemed to be leather coats with fur trim."

"When we started planning last October, we were expecting only 70 to 75 exhibitors," Martin said. "So we are very pleased."

Martin said he hopes to make the show an annual event. GroupExpo produces trade shows in Montreal, including the Canadian International Women's Wear Show, Mode Masculine and the North American Fur Fair.

Exhibitors took buyer caution in stride, acknowledging that furriers needed time to warm up to the notion of carrying other types of outerwear.

"If I get one or two furriers who don't understand shearlings and turn them on to shearlings at this show, I'll be happy," said Guy De Vincezo, president of Shearling Selection Ltd. of New York.Erwin L. Berman, buyer for Javurek Furs in Berwyn, Ill., said, "We are furriers, but in the last few years, the leather and cloth outerwear business has been incredible. This show gives us the opportunity to see what we might never have found walking around in New York."

Berman looked for microfiber and leather coats with fur-trimmed hoods. He sought light colors as well as black at $100 to $195 wholesale.

"Swing styles lend themselves to various figures," he said, adding that he preferred the 36-inch length.

Gary Ickowicz, buyer for J.Ickowicz Fur and Leather Salon in South Euclid, Ohio, said he was buying fabric raincoats for the first time, as well as leather jackets in an array of colors by Red Kid Leather. In furs, he liked mink and sheared beaver offerings by Kaitery Furs and CPL Furs. Swing coats, parkas and fur-trimmed jackets were all on his list.

"Diversification is key today," he said, adding that his price range started at $50 wholesale for a denim jacket and went up to $4,500 for fur.

Ickowicz's 1993 sales were up 40 percent, but he said his open-to-buy will not be accordingly increased.

"It will be up, but I'm going to be judicious," he said. "This show is a good preview but I'm going to place orders as late as possible, maybe after I go to New York in June."

Larry Burtrum, president of Furs by Clyde Burtrum in Flint, Mich., said he was looking to expand his customer base by expanding his selection.

"I want to offer them more, things such as leather and cashmere reversible coats," he said. "And they will want to buy from me because they associate furriers with quality and service. We are prepared to shorten a leather jacket for them, as we would a fur coat."

Shopping price points of up to $3,500 wholesale, he preferred full and soft silhouettes and was especially interested in plus and petite sizes. His open-to-buy was up 20 percent over a year ago.

Ed Meisel, a buying consultant for Burlington Coat Factory, a chain of over 200 U.S. stores based in New York, said he was attending the show "to see if we are missing something."Leather sales at Burlington are off, he said, because the bomber jacket's popularity is on the wane and no other silhouette has been strong enough to take its place.

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