By  on November 21, 2005

NEW YORK — Major retailers turned out in force at this month's market, with a goal of finding innovative product for back-to-school selling.

At the same time, there was a push for top-performing items and immediate merchandise for holiday, which is expected to be affected by negative variables, including soaring home heating costs. Another factor that has gained momentum over the past several seasons and was again evident this buying period is the way retailers have waited until the last minute to confirm orders. It gives them an opportunity to manage lean inventories, as well as plot trend and merchandise strategies.

There is continuing retail consolidation, particularly the merger of Federated Department Stores and May Department Stores, which is likely to have long-term implications on an industry that's been downsizing in the last decade.

Sizing up the mood of the market, Helen McCluskey, president of the Intimate Apparel Division of Warnaco Inc., said, "The market was spread out over two weeks. It was calm, no overload. I think we got to spend quality time with our accounts."

However, one thing is certain: There remains a demand for fashion lingerie, especially luxe merchandise and designer brands. At the moderate- and popular-price level, makers generally said the demand is high for products that offer function and fashion, as well as feel-good items that are warm and snuggly, or simply offer comic relief during difficult times.

David Martino, president and chief executive officer of Denton, Tex.-based Russell Newman Inc., said, "There's a lot of positive attitude out there. New fabrics and anything soft feeling is selling. Soft fleece robes by Cypress have been extremely strong for us at retail."

Martino said supersoft fleece robes are generating weekly sell-throughs of 10 to 12 percent, while other feel-good items such as snuggly, lightweight fleece pants by WillowWear are doing 9 to 10 percent weekly sell rates.

Marcia Leeds, ceo of Richard Leeds International, said reaction was strong to a new breed of licensed characters that are sophisticated and funny.

"Tinkerbell is very Goth-looking, with sayings like 'Spread Your Wings,' and Tweety is looking hip in a new way with an 'Up To No Good' saying," Leeds said. "And we've had really good reaction to a line featuring Johnny Depp and a 'Pirates of the Caribbean' movie sequel, 'Dead Man's Chest,' which breaks June 7."

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