NEW YORK — As the economy continues to show signs of a pickup, exhibitors planning to attend The Designers & Agents show here next month are feeling bullish about prospects for fall.
“We think it will be a good year,” said John Ross, co-founder of accessories firm Patch NYC. “A lot of stores are looking for smaller designers and items that aren’t sold everywhere.”
The seven-year-old show caters to fashion-forward stores, and exhibitors need to be selected by a special committee in order to be accepted.
“We have a very edited show focused on the contemporary and young designer market,” said Designers & Agents co-founder Ed Mandelbaum. “We offer a cross section of sportswear, jewelry, accessories and shoes.”
Barbara Kramer, the other co-founder, said, “As we go on, we become clearer about what our objectives are, who our audience is and what we need to deliver to keep our stand as a fresh, provocative marketplace.”
She noted that Designers & Agents now has a large selection of stores that attend, including department stores, upscale boutiques and fashion-forward regional chains. The tightly edited show will have about 195 exhibitors this time around, including 40 newcomers, according to Mandelbaum, and it is scheduled to run March 1-3 at the Starrett-Lehigh Center on West 26th Street.
In addition to two annual shows in New York, Designers & Agents also has two shows in Los Angeles and one in Tokyo each year.
Among the top trends firms plan to show are ponchos and cashmere sweaters, as well as activewear-inspired offerings made of stretch fabrics. Color will still be strong for fall; however, hues will be somewhat more muted than in seasons past. In lieu of bright pinks and greens, firms are opting for more traditional fall palettes, such as olive green, violet and grayish blue.
Calypso by Christian Celle, the contemporary wholesale line that was born out of the retail chain of the same name, will show ponchos, as well as items with Lurex designed to give shine. Many pieces have embellishments, including sequins or novelty trims such as velvet taping. Among the colors used this season are rich hues such as plum, cranberry and violet.“Fabrics include featherweight cashmere and mohair, as well as silk,” said Susan Eisenberg, director of wholesale sales. “Many pieces have feminine touches.”
The Calypso wholesale division was started about two years ago and it has grown quickly, she said. The line is now sold in about 100 stores, primarily upscale boutiques, although Henri Bendel sells a few items, Eisenberg noted. In addition to apparel, the company sells a selection of accessories, such as cashmere scarves and hats.
While spring was somewhat slow, Eisenberg said she is optimistic about business conditions for fall.
“We expect to double our business for fall over last fall,” she said, but declined to give specific sales projections.
Beth Frank, an accessories designer based in Los Angeles, is best known for redesigned vintage belts, but the designer is steadily building up her offerings in other categories, including watches, leather jackets and handbags.
“Watches are a big focus for me now,” said the designer, who takes vintage watches off their original bands, changes the bands, and sometimes replaces the movements.
Her other pieces are primarily made from vintage buckles and other items that she refashions and sometimes adorns with crystals.
Frank is also in the midst of segmenting her belt business so that there are three price points, a new strategy for the firm. There is a higher-end signature collection that wholesales in the range of $200 to $250, a limited-edition lower-end line that wholesales for about $85 to $100 and the core line that wholesales for $150 to $165.
“This strategy will allow our company to branch out more and reach a wider selection of stores,” Frank said.
Frank, who started her business about three years ago, now sells to stores including Barneys New York. She also has a representative in Japan who is helping build the business there.
At Patch NYC, a firm best known for its crocheted accessories, looks for fall include ponchos, as well as larger scarves and a selection of knit home accessories such as pillows and blankets.
“We are really expanding our knit group,” said Ross, who also designs the line.Another growth area is jewelry, a relatively new category for the firm. The costume jewelry line is made of vintage beads in really bright colors and includes earrings, bracelets and necklaces.
The firm now sells to about 60 stores domestically, and is also building its international business in markets in Japan and throughout Europe. Ross said the last few years have been challenging, since many of the stores it sells have had difficulties, but he is feeling positive about business conditions for the coming months.
“Fall is always a good season for us,” Ross said. “We do well with heavier materials such as velvet.”
Henry Lehr, a designer who sells sportswear under the label American Colors by Henry Lehr, said he is focused on T-shirts and trousers for fall.
“We buy all of our garments in white and then either dye them or put prints on them,” he said. “This season, we are showing a lot of neutral colors such as brown and gray, as well as olive and red.”
Lehr’s daughter, Christina, now sells T-shirts and other items under her own name, which are skewed toward a younger customer and wholesale at around $16 to $22.
“There is still room to grow in this market,” he said. “Many companies have gotten really trendy, but we really focus on comfortable, casual sportswear that has classic appeal.”
Ponchos are also on the agenda at Brooklyn Handknit, a seven-year-old firm based in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn.
“We now have a large selection of ponchos in different weights,” said founder and designer Janis Stemmermann. “Some have fringe, and other styles are oversized and have hoods.”
In addition to ponchos, the company sells hats, scarves and mittens. Among the materials used are alpaca and boiled wool, and it is expanding more into other luxury fibers such as cashmere. About half the products are made in New York, but some are made by knitters in Nepal and Tibet, she noted.
Although Stemmermann is feeling upbeat about business, she noted that her company recently brought down prices in some of its offerings as a way to spur sales. For example, a hat that was $32 wholesale is now $24. The company is also starting to dabble in sportswear, she noted.Among the show newcomers is Queue, which was started recently by twin sisters Lucky and Sarada Ravindra, who are based in Miami. The line includes activewear-inspired offerings, such as fitted sweatshirts, and dresses.
The sisters, both of whom are in law school now, don’t have a fashion background, but both used to play competitive tennis, which helped them hone in on ideas for their line. With prices ranging from about $37.50 to $90, the twins expect to see sales this year of about $250,000.
Mandelbaum also noted that the organizers of Designers & Agents now sponsor what they call the Protégé Project, which is designed to foster new design talent.
“Each season, we pick a designer we think people haven’t heard about and we give them an introduction to stores and the press,” Mandelbaum said. “It’s our way of giving back to the industry.”
This year’s winner is Frederique Dessemond, a designer based in Brooklyn who makes jewelry, handbags, silk loungewear and knit accessories under the label Ginette.
“I focus more on items,” said Dessemond. “I like to present a little world.”
Mandelbaum noted that Dessemond will have a small room that will be in the front of the show, which designates her as this year’s winner.
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