DALLAS — Retailers transcended the seasons and shopped the International Apparel Mart here for back-to-school and fall immediates, as well as holiday and early spring styles, during the women’s market that ran Aug. 14-18.

The multiseason approach helped buyers beef up b-t-s and fall inventories while previewing upcoming holiday and spring trends. Many buyers left paper for later deliveries of popular styles that might book up and not offer second cuttings.

Trends included embellished sportswear, denim items like jeans jackets with fur trim, and dresses updated with halter necklines and tropical prints. Bright colors — turquoise, lime and orange — were among the favorites.

Retailer budgets ranged from flat to up 20 percent. While the economy continues to flounder, some stores reported strong July and b-t-s business. And though an economic turnaround has yet to materialize fully, some retailers are hopeful for improved fourth-quarter results.

Showrooms reported mostly flat traffic and small sales gains compared with a year ago.

“Stores are hungry for new merchandise,” said multiline sales representative Brad Hughes, adding that traffic was even and that sales were up slightly. “Because of the economy, many stores had been very cautious with their budgets, but now their inventories are low.”

Denise Berman, co-owner of multiline showroom Berman & Associates, also reported flat traffic and sales. “Buyers responded positively to the lines that had spring ready — they loved all the bright colors and clean styling. We also noticed an increase in traffic from outside the Southwest, including stores from Kentucky and Florida.”

Bill Winsor, president and chief executive officer of the Dallas Market Center, parent of the International Apparel Mart, said the show drew an optimistic crowd and showrooms reported steady traffic. “Overall, attendance was in line with expectations, considering current economic conditions. Meanwhile, the DMC team worked overtime with FashionCenterDallas tenants planning individual showrooms and hosting tours of the new facility. We are ahead of schedule on construction and look forward to March 2004.”

As reported, the International Apparel Mart is relocating in March to the top floors of the nearby World Trade Center, also part of the DMC family.

Nat Ekelman, who owns the GeNe multiline showroom at the mart, gave a hard-hat tour of GeNe’s new space that’s under construction at the WTC. “The showroom is going to have a Moroccan theme,” explained Ekelman of his new 7,500-square-foot space. “The DMC is really to be applauded for the vision to move to the World Trade Center.”In addition to lots of buzz about the mart’s impending move, there was plenty of hoopla about the upcoming Dallas Fashion Awards, which will be announced during ceremonies on Oct. 25, during the next market. Ballots were available all over market, and buyers voted for their choices in 11 categories. Several showrooms did a bit of marketing and staged parties for the nominees.

Meanwhile, buyers praised the market’s salable trends.

“I love all the color, and women are going to love it, too, when it arrives in my store — it’s a reason to buy,” said Ricki O’Brien, owner of Ricki’s in New Iberia, La. “In the South, color is very important and all the citrus brights are great, especially the tropical tones like kiwi, orange and turquoise.”

For holiday and early spring, O’Brien bought colorful cotton items such as halters, capri pants, embellished jackets, knee-grazing skirts and sundresses from Bentley Arbuckle, Central Falls, Maggy London, Lynn Ritchie, Muse and Essendi.

“I wish there had been more wearable dresses,” lamented O’Brien, whose budget was even. “Most of the ones I’m seeing are too misses’ or too skimpy. My customers are mainly age 30 and over.”

Tinka Hairgrove, owner of Tinka’s Boutique in Plano, Tex., shopped for ways to make her store a destination.

“I’m looking for fashions that will make my store different and stand out in the minds of shoppers,” she explained. “I bought Jean Crisan’s colorful embellished capes, which can be dressed up or down, and Christopher Fischer’s cashmere tops, which are luxurious. The pastels and muted brights are very sophisticated.”

Hairgrove’s budget was up at least 10 percent. “I’m expecting the economy to get a lot better by yearend and I want to be ready.”

Timmy Woods, owner of an eponymous boutique in Los Angeles in the trendy Robertson Boulevard neighborhood, said her budget was up 15 percent, which she spent on fall, holiday and early spring styles.

“I loved Tracy and Michael’s ultra-feminine halter dresses, the colorful and plush capes and shawls from Jean Crisan, especially the ones with rabbit trim, and Christopher Fischer’s lightweight cashmere items,” Woods said. “They will be so perfect for California weather.”Besides running her store, Woods designs an eponymous accessories collection that includes whimsical handbags.

Marybeth Johnston, owner of Marybeth’s here, also spanned the seasons and left orders for fall, holiday and early spring styles.

With an even budget, she bought Europa’s pastel jeans jackets; Byron Lars’ leather and chiffon sportswear; From the Hip’s contemporary sportswear; Love Amour’s colorful and wildly printed tops, and sophisticated sportswear, including black looks from Zanella, body-conscious styles from Beth Bowley and a range of silhouettes from Lafayette 148.

Kelli Shulz, owner of K. Renee in Des Moines, Iowa, said her budget was up 20 percent, which she spent on fall immediates, holiday and early spring trends including Lafayette 148’s embellished sportswear, Perry Ellis’ colorful and casual sportswear and Liliu’s neutral-tone dresses and sportswear.

“It’s been our best year in business since we opened 12 years ago — but we’ve worked harder than ever to grow,” said Shulz. “We’re doing lots of in-store events, focusing on value and stocking fresh styles that aren’t all over the city.”

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