By and  on April 13, 2005

LOS ANGELES — Major retailers looking for back-to-school teenage trends at the market here saw Grecian looks, fur-trimmed outerwear such as puffy bomber jackets and utility styles like camouflage pants and bandleader jackets.

J.C. Penney Co. Inc., Wet Seal Inc. and Kohl’s Inc. absorbed the trend direction provided at the Barbara Fields Buying Office seminar, which coincided with the fashion market serving misses’ and contemporary buyers at the California Market Center, the New Mart, the Cooper Design Space and the Gerry Building.

“We come to this market to reinforce what our trend direction is and we think through what we will buy more or less of,” said Liz Sweney, Penney’s executive vice president and general merchandise manager of women’s apparel.

Sweney was seen conferring with members of her team — Penney’s brought more than 40 representatives — nodding in agreement over buys they felt were spot-on and discussing the trends. Other looks included high-waisted flowing tunics covered in beads and twofer (corduroy and fleece) jackets by Fang, liberty-print corduroy jackets with ladylike skirts at Lunachix and velveteen double-breasted jackets and herringbone trousers at Zinc.

Wet Seal, the Foothill Ranch, Calif.-based retailer, also was represented at market, led by consultant Michael Gold, who was hired in November to help turn around the company. Gold also runs Stitches, a privately owned low-priced juniors’ clothing chain based in Toronto with more than 400 locations in Canada and the U.S.

Gold called the revival strategy — competing for low-priced, fast fashion against rival Forever 21 — a “no-brainer.”

“I feel that we’ve just started with the turnaround,” Gold said. “We’ll be looking at [providing] more fashion at great prices and becoming more keen on the whole image of Wet Seal as a fashion-forward retailer with unbelievable prices.”

Along with major chains, specialty stores shopped the misses’ and contemporary market, the second in three weeks after organizers couldn’t agree on one date to coincide with fashion week and service European sourcing deadlines.

Almost two dozen vendors, including And Cake and Alvin Valley, who participated in Designers & Agents in March, returned for the market and met with buyers who missed the first show. About 50 vendors at the Brighte show, such as A.B.S. by Allen Schwartz, Zoe D and Streets Ahead, made an encore appearance at the Fashion Theater of the California Market Center. They were showing some new products.“About 50 percent of our merchandise is new,” said Lloyd Singer, president of sales for A.B.S., which was showing double-lapel denim jackets, Forties-inspired jacquard circle skirts and men’s wear corsets. It also was selling its modern-day version of the twinset, updated with a sequined shrug instead of a cardigan.

The flashy embroidered looks of contemporary denim were replicated for a fraction of the cost on juniors’ jeans at Tyte Jeans, which showed denim with embroidered flowers on the back yokes and birds and palms trees on the leg. Alden Halpern, chief executive officer of 4Whatitsworth, parent to Tyte, said the extras didn’t inch up the typical moderate price point of the pant since the company overhauled its sourcing.

“We partnered with our mills and factories in China, creating a more vertical operation, which helps us compete,” said Halpern, noting the branding of the company is also essential for growth. He signed licensing deals for Tyte cologne and accessories in the last two weeks.

Though many buyers and vendors had already wrapped up about 50 percent of the b-t-s business, they said there was still a strong buying opportunity. “We’re all chasing the few trends out there, from embellishments to the bling on jeans,” said Brian Kail, vice president of sales at Paris Blues, which is sold at Federated and May department stores. “And, this is the first time in a number of years we’re seeing so many majors attend. It saves us a trip to New York in April.”

Federated Department Stores’ planned acquisition of May Department Stores and the likelihood that May nameplates and stores will be closed had some vendors on edge. Even Forever 21’s acquisition of Gadzooks suggests a more consolidated selling landscape.

“I think we’ll be looking to more specialty stores in the future,” said Mitchell Quaranta, president of Swat-Fame Inc., maker of juniors’ line Speechless and contemporary denim brand See Thru Soul. 

Many of the juniors’ trends mirrored the misses’ market as well. Denim was getting a fashion upgrade with lace-edged denim by Xpect and pinstriped denim skirts with peekaboo linen at Flax. Fur trim — both fake and the real deal in rabbit — and appliqués were accents on coats, jackets and shrugs made of tweed, knits and corduroy. Hallmarks were a knit belted sweater with fake fur and leather trim by La Cite and peacoats with fake fur cuffs and a collar by Dick & Jayne. A Fifties-styled shirtdress in rayon worn with a floral appliqué shrug was also a key seller at Dick & Jayne.Designer Katherine Ryu launched her evening dresswear line at the market, considered an underserved category. She offered sequin-covered flapper-style dresses in deep shades of blue and stretch chiffon dresses with sequined details, wholesaling from $32 to $150.

Even the contemporary showrooms said the market produced steady results, a surprise since they expected the bulk of business in March.

“This feels like a real market,” said Nikki Young, an owner of the Nikki & Lucy Showroom at the Gerry Building, who had worked with retailers such as Nordstrom and Macy’s. Strong sellers at the showroom were her contemporary denim line Odyn, made by Dollhouse, featuring leather appliquéd pockets and crinkled washes and FNA, a capsule collection with goldplated leather vests, leather knickers and oversize brass-buttoned jackets made by designer to the stars, Florice Houde.

Cousin Johnny breathed new life into the poncho with its interchangeable “swancho,” a sweater-wrap-tunic item that wholesales for $35. The 10-year-old knit line played with new shapes, such as the belted pointelle sweater with Lurex and the short fake mohair sweater.

Tech-savvy apparel maker Oakley was exploring the idea of owning a corporate showroom at the California Market Center, joining heavyweight Puma, which opened a temporary showroom earlier this year with plans to open a permanent space later this year.

“We’re feeling out the building to see what we can do,” said Jenny Earnshaw, women’s apparel sales manager for Oakley.

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