ATLANTA — The AmericasMart’s fall show followed the pattern of recent industry events: The mood was tentative in a climate of multiple challenges — war, terrorism fears and an ailing economy.
Cautious retailers bought close to the season, relying on novelty items and feel-good looks to entice skittish consumers and distinguish stores from price-driven competition.
Attendance at the women’s and children’s apparel and accessories show, which ran April 3-7, was even with last year’s April market.
"We held our own, with lots of promotions, including weekly direct mail and a new branding campaign called "The Next Great Fashion Capital," said Lawton Hall, senior vice president of new business development at AmericasMart. "Buyers shopped for not just fall, but spring, which bodes well for the upcoming June market. Everybody had realistic expectations."
Some exhibitors reported cancellations from buyers hesitant to travel in a time of war and possible terrorism. However, some exhibitors were helped by retailers more willing to drive to Atlanta than fly to New York, given current national events.
Vintage-inspired looks were key, from Fifties-revival circular or pleated skirts in prints and polkadots to Sixties sci-fi and psychedelic prints, miniskirts and Jackie O. suitings and dresses in pink and black. Feminine blouses and tops with angel-wing sleeves and asymmetric hems contrasted with military, cargo and utilitarian bottoms. Asian and ethnic influences still abound in prints and silhouettes.
Contemporary buyers shopped for items, including novelty tops with every embellishment imaginable, paired with jeans in a range of silhouettes, washes and treatments. Dresses and skirts made a comeback in updated silhouettes, including pleated miniskirts. Misses’ buyers looked for updated classic styling in luxury fabrics, including leather, suede, cashmere and fur trimmings.
Frankie Vaccarelli, principal at Vaccarelli & Associates, a multiline contemporary sales firm, reported a good April market, though with slightly less traffic and sales than usual.
"The industry is shifting," Vaccarelli said. "People are buying closer to the season and close to delivery, which shifts the importance of some markets. Many buyers will come to buy fall in June."
Cathy Tucker, principal at Sheppard & Tucker, a bridge and contemporary showroom, said buyers responded to lines that offered fall goods."If it’s novel and item-driven, they bought it," she said. "The basics were the slow sellers."
Janine Owen, bridge buyer at Proffitt’s/McRae’s, a division of Saks Inc., made appointments with core vendors such as Sigrid Olsen and Karen Kane that she usually buys in New York. Shopping also for new resources to test in top doors, she bought Co. & Eddy and Louben.
She sought affordable lines, at opening price points of $200 to $300 for jackets, and product that fits a wide range of sizes and shapes. Forgoing trends such as miniskirts, which don’t work in the Bible Belt, she bought updated classics and luxury fabrics — cashmere, suedes and leathers — in novelty interpretations.
"Business is good, but it’s all about novelty pieces, not basics," she said. "We’re looking to introduce new lines." Owen said many small lines weren’t able to comply with department stores’ technology specifications, such as universal product codes, making them harder to buy.
"We try to find ways to help small vendors get up to speed, but it can be very expensive," she said.
Husband-and-wife team Robby Fromin and Cara Baskin-Fromin, owners of Isabella in Memphis, shopped for immediates and fall goods for two additional stores set to open this summer, also in Memphis.
"We’re seeing a lot of the same trends that are in stores now," said Baskin-Fromin, referring to cargo pants, soft chiffon blouses and asymmetric shapes.
She bought vintage-inspired prints to mix with cargo and military looks, slim skirts and polkadots.
For younger customers, she bought miniskirts in lightweight tweeds, stretch velveteens and novelty prints by Trina Turk for fall, along with vintage-inspired suits and fitted, lace-trimmed jackets by Nanette Lepore, and daytime or cocktail dresses by Nicole Miller.
Baskin-Fromin said the contemporary market, with special items in tops and bottoms, is driving business. "That’s what our customers want, not updated misses’ collections," she said.
Torchy Salter, owner of Torchy in Beaumont, Tex., shopped for transitional goods. "We still believe in Asian and folkloric looks, and cargo pants are huge," she said.For social occasion, she bought more separates than dresses, in novelty looks that can also work with casual pieces, from lines such as Spenser Jeremy, JS Collections and Citrine. For day and social-occasion dresses, she bought David Meister.
In sportswear, she opted for soft fabrics, such as suede by Comf, New Frontier and Co. & Eddy; linens and featherweight leathers by Divita, and jackets and suited looks from Emil Rutenberg and Isabel de Pedro. For an "edgy, but not over-the-top look," she ordered Parameter’s satin-trimmed tops and pleated miniskirts.
"Everything is a challenge now, with people not shopping as much," she said. "If we can get them in the door, we can sell them." To boost traffic, Salter now holds in-store events once a month, and to appeal to impulse shoppers looking for feel-good items, she concentrates on novelty T-shirts and jeans, rather than investing in big collections.
Karen Mangeney, owner of Jordanos, a Charlotte, N.C., contemporary boutique, came to town with a budget and inventory down 15 percent from last year. Shopping Atlanta for the first time in several years, she found many of the same lines she normally buys in New York.
She bought goods for immediate delivery. Neglecting dresses and skirts for some time, she shopped for day dresses by Robin Jordan and Tessuto in halters and strapless styles and novelty prints. In skirts, she bought minis and asymmetric hems and suited looks by Isabel de Pedro.
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