CHICAGO — While some retailers are cutting costs and reducing travel expenses, organizers of Chicago’s largest women’s apparel event, StyleMax, are predicting record-breaking attendance and expanded selection for its Oct. 18-21 spring market.

“We’ve had a tremendous re-sign rate from the last StyleMax,” said Susan McCullough, vice president of apparel for the Merchandise Mart Properties. “We continue to grow beyond our 13- state area. We see it being a national show within the next few years.”

McCullough said the number of retailers and buyers continues to increase, along with the number of vendors.

After expanding its denim offerings to include Guess, Girbaud and Z. Cavaricci, among other labels last year, McCullough said the market will further boost its denim section with Jill Stuart Jeans and its young contemporary selection with Itsus and Rarity. In addition, buyers will encounter new dress lines such as Shoshanna, Citrine, Helen Wang and Fiori di Zucca, and new accessories vendors including handbag designers Isabella Fiore and Debbie Brooks, McCullough said.

Typically, the market features 100,000 square feet of exhibitors showing 3,000 to 5,000 different labels. Fashions are organized on the eighth floor of the Merchandise Mart around price point, lifestyle and attitude, McCullough explained. Accessories are grouped together and some fashions are presented by category, but definitions of categories vary.

By offering numerous and diverse lines on one floor in one building, the market receives high marks from buyers for convenience, as does the complimentary breakfast and lunch, McCullough said.

Prior to StyleMax, buyers can attend the Women’s and Children’s Apparel Market at the Apparel Center, Aug. 22-26, for holiday, resort and early spring shopping on floors six, 11, 12 and 13. Highlights include a Sunday evening fashion presentation and rooftop party, all at the East Bank Club across the street from the Apparel Center.

In early October, bridal buyers, retailers and manufacturers gather for the largest national market in the country. The National Bridal Market, running Oct. 11-14, provides a strong selection of gowns, gifts and accessories in 60 permanent showrooms on the 10th, 11th, and 13th floors of the Chicago Apparel Center and also includes 200 temporary vendors set up in the market suites of the Merchandise Mart’s eighth floor.The market also provides a private area called the designer studio for viewing made-to-order gowns from the likes Vera Wang, Paul Varcelona, St. Pucchi and Krysia.

Organizers also have expanded and restructured the DEBI awards to create more categories and streamline others. For example, the bridal gowns division is now separated by price point, with awards going to both moderate and designer manufacturers, McCullough said.

The 2003 DEBI award nominees include Casablanca, Maggie Sottero, Mori Lee and Paloma Blanca for moderate bridal gowns, and Amsale, Eve of Milady, Reem Acra and Vera Wang for couture bridal gowns.

Dessy Creations, Jim Hjelm Occasions, Mori Lee and Watters & Watters are all nominees in the bridesmaid category, as are Allin Ray Bridal Accessories, Bel Aire Bridal, Edward E. Berger and Malis-Henderson Inc. for headpieces.

Nominees for prom include Alyce Designs, which won last year; Mori Lee; Precious Formals, and Tiffany Designs, and finalists for special-occasion eveningwear include Daymor; Jovani; Montage by Mon Cheri, and Stephen Yearick. Flowergirl fashion nominees are Little Maidens by Venus, Joan Calabrese, Mon Cheri Flowergirls and Us Angels, which won last year, and those finalists for accessories include Coloriffics, Dyeables Salon Shoes and Touch Ups by Benjamin Walk.

Meanwhile, Amy Michelson, Anjolique Bridal Collection, Rivini and Romona Keveza are up for Distinctive Newcomer.

Actress Jasmine Guy, who is scheduled to perform during the ceremony, will present the DEBI awards Oct. 13 at The Field Museum.

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