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WITH THE ARRIVAL OF THE PREMIERE SHOW, BUYERS FROM OUTSIDE THE SOUTHEAST ARE HEADING TO ATLANTA, AND LOCAL BUYERS ARE NO LONGER DEPENDENT ON NEW YORK SHOWS.

This story first appeared in the June 5, 2002 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The inaugural edition of the Premiere show landed in April at the AmericasMart with great fanfare. According to AmericasMart founder and chairman John Portman, the show will “launch AmericasMart apparel to a national focus,” due in part to the increased attendance of buyers from outside of the Southeast.

The juried show, initially called A-Line, ran April 12-14 and coincided with the women’s and children’s markets, which ran April 11-15. Premiere will run twice yearly, in April and October.

Buyer attendance at the combined shows was up 25 percent from last April’s 7,700 buyers, almost reaching the goal of 10,000 buyers.

Over 225 lines, most of which had never been shown in Atlanta, were at Premiere. The lines spanned the fashion spectrum, hailing from, for example, the contemporary, denim, accessories and bridge worlds. Exhibiting companies included denim resources Mavi, Silver, and Parasuco, as well as bridge-priced collections Peter Nygard and Nanette Keller. Accessories ranged from John Medeiros’ classic jewelry to novelty pieces by Manuel Canovas to funky handbags of vintage Seventies album covers and T-shirts by Atlanta designer Michele Marcombe.

The Premiere show was a major initiative for AmericasMart. Marketing budgets for the April apparel show, including Premiere, were up 20 percent over last year.

“We’re taking an aggressive stance, spending more money this year than [others] in the history of the company,” said Jeff Portman, president and chief operating officer of AMC Inc., corporate parent of the AmericasMart. “When times are slow, that’s the time to work harder to grab market share.”

Most Premiere exhibitors were pleased with business and plan to come back in October. Many buyers WWD spoke with enjoyed working with lines they usually see only in New York, in a less hectic environment, but added they would also like to see more lines and more variety in categories.

Exhibitor Jeffrey Schwager, principal of an eponymous, 10-line showroom in New York, brought three contemporary lines. He said he opened 19 specialty store accounts and met with buyers from Dillard’s, Rich’s and Parisian department stores during the show.

“It was an incredible first show,” he said, adding that Southeast business, now at 10 percent of total, could grow to 15 to 20 percent.

AmericasMart sponsored networking parties for existing tenants and new Premiere lines, hoping new lines would seek permanent representation. Lines in Premiere were not permitted to be shown elsewhere at the Mart.

“This is a positive opportunity for permanent showrooms,” said Victoria Ward, principal at Ward & Ward, a multiline junior and contemporary showroom. With sales at this show up 25 percent over last year, she estimated 15 percent more traffic in her showroom, mostly juniors and contemporary buyers shopping close to season.

Not all permanent tenants, however, reaped the benefits of Premiere.

Mark Garland, principal of an eponymous multiline bridge showroom, said traffic and sales were down from last year.

“We had a strong January show, with misses’ and bridge stores buying early,” he said, “but this show was definitely down.”

While many buyers WWD spoke with said there were several looks competing against each other during April market, romantic, feminine looks were dominant. Vintage-inspired lace and ruffled Edwardian blouses, velvet and silk brocade jackets and new prints in tops and bottoms caught buyers’ interest. Dramatic fall fabrics included velour, leather, suede and fur. Accessories were ornate and eclectic, with natural materials and colored semiprecious stones in jewelry, and handbags were ornamented with fringe, jewels and beading.

Contemporary and junior retailers, including Need Supply Co. in Richmond, Va., found plenty of denim and bohemian styles at Premiere. Owner Chris Bossola shopped Atlanta for the first time. At Premiere, he placed a first order with Haly Bob and Sage for embroidered peasant blouses. He also placed orders for tops from Juicy Couture.

“Premiere helped me accomplish the same thing as the Coterie and Intermezzo shows, but was much easier to work,” Bossola said. “I also liked seeing some lines in the building that I don’t see in New York.”

Leigh Anne Gibson, owner of Greensboro, N.C., specialty store Paparazzi, placed orders with contemporary lines Russ Berens, Forwear, Body Action Design and Johnny Was. She also ordered novelty tops by Charlotte Tarantola, Glima and Three Dots.

Picking up a new jewelry line from the Premiere show, she applauded the show, but added a caveat:

“We don’t want to see all the same lines as the Coterie here in Atlanta because we don’t want our competitors to have access to those hard-to-find lines.”