By  on October 25, 2006

LOS ANGELES — Loose and easy may best describe the looks and mood that prevailed at the five-day contemporary fashion market that ended here on Tuesday.

Encouraged by lower gas prices and the popularity of dresses, retailers wrote orders at a brisk pace.

Buyers appeared to be enticed by Sixties-era styles as evoked by Jackie O-style shift dresses, widened pant legs and lengthened waists.

"Dresses are still the thing," said Nevena Borissova, owner of Los Angeles specialty store Curve.

"Wider-legged pants will be really important for us," added Jaye Hersh, owner of the Los Angeles specialty store Intuition. For spring, Intuition reordered wide-legged looks from Lotta and GoldSign.

Reduced gas costs may leave extra cash in the pockets of young shoppers who are the prime market for the contemporary clothing featured at Brighte Companies and Designers & Agents, two New York-based trade shows that ran in conjunction with the Los Angeles market at New Mart, Cooper Design Space, California Market Center and the Gerry Building.

"When the cost of living goes down, you go on a little trip to Fred Segal, [and] you have fun," said Jake Campbell, a representative for J & Company. The Los Angeles jeans maker unveiled a pricier line called Select, which wholesales from $85 to $95 and is being scouted by better department stores.

Prices are also rising in the accessories market. "It used to be that $300 was the magic retail [price for purses]," said Richard Luna, owner of the handbag showroom Richard Luna + Associates Inc. "Now, $400 is the new $300. I am sure a year from now I will tell you $500 is the new $400."

The Sixties permeated the 300-plus booths at Designers & Agents. Cap-sleeved shift dresses in knits, silks, prints and solids were seen at Voeu, Crispin & Basilio, Anna Sui and Mel en Stel. France's April, May showed versions in solid-white organza and in silk Pop Art prints.

"It's all a mix between Sixties' ‘Dolce Vita' and French pop star Mareva Galanter," said Diane Sitbon, the designer for April, May, which received orders from Los Angeles specialty retailers Fred Segal, Madison and Lisa Kline, among others.Curve's Borissova ended her search for a Twiggy dress by writing an order for variations on it at England's Boudoir. She acknowledged that dresses are easy to wear for customers but might not be a financial boon for all stores. "It's not great for all the retailers, because it's a one-piece sale," she said.

Still, retail buyers scooped up dresses, which began their reign on runways and sidewalks last spring.

Los Angeles' Crispin & Basilio, which wrote orders with Madison and Diavolina, showed shiny silk tunic tops in lavender and cream, in addition to chic waistless dresses in metallic champagne and taupe. "People want everything easy-fitting," said sales representative Jackie Yi. "They like the shapeless pieces more, as opposed to the super-body-conscious."

Some buyers were turning away from leggings, yet Joyce Boutique in Hong Kong ordered 500 units of 10 legging styles, including navy, brown and gold Lurex, from Los Angeles' Romeo and Juliet, said Showroom Seven cofounder Karen Erickson.

Dresses maintained their momentum at ENK International's Brighte expo. They were big hits for companies ranging from Los Angeles' Voom by Joy Han to Barcelona's Sita Murt/Esteve and New York's Joolay, which produces its entire silk line in India.

Benefiting from positive reviews of her Oct. 19 fashion show, Han estimated that she booked $600,000 in orders, making it one of the best trade shows ever for her. Buyers placed orders for immediate deliveries and the spring collection of colorful silk prints that she had shown on the runway, she said.

Joolay fashioned light, billowing dresses out of a variety of textiles. One knee-length trapeze dress — which, at $135 wholesale, was among the most expensive and popular pieces — combined panels of chiffon with a neckline made of satin eyelet and tiny gold beads that took the form of a peacock. "It can go over jeans or leggings," said Anis Rawji, Joolay's sales representative in Los Angeles.

Another testament to the popularity of all things Mod was the ubiquity of boxy jackets that appeared to have stepped out of Jackie O's closet. The versatility of crop jackets — they can be paired with pants, shorts, skirts and dresses — created demand for a draped collar number in charcoal and moss at the showroom of designer Robert Rodriguez.Manoush and Wilster showed versions with dramatic bubble sleeves, while Borne and Anna Sui opted for metallic fabrications. SO, a new label from 20-year-old British brand bgn, featured a jacket cut from ombré-dyed leather.

No single color ruled the market. The trend was a move away from bold tones to a more subdued palette, however. Olive was the best-selling color at Sita Murt. Handbag designer Rebecca Ciccio found an audience for an off-white hue in which she sold a shoulder bag for $270 wholesale.

Lounge lifestyle maven Trina Turk infused her eye-catching patterns with bronze and slate. One standout item was a silk cotton dress wholesaling for $122 in soft brown slate.

While the skinny jean continued to sell well for Los Angeles-based denim companies such as Blue Cult, 575 Denim, James Jeans and Denim of Virtue, orders for straight and boot-cut styles outpaced those for the slimmer silhouette.

"Straight is the hottest cut right now," said Hallie Chan, West Coast sales representative for James Jeans, which narrowed its boot-cut slightly for spring. "Everyone's been ordering the skinny and straight cuts in a [solid black] wash."

A jean with a 13-inch leg opening also sold well at Blue Cult, as did a cropped skinny silhouette with zippered ankles. The five-year-old brand still sells twice as many boot and straight styles as skinnies, said sales manager Jill Kissel.

In reaction to two seasons of slim fits, a handful of companies debuted wide-legged and baggy-cut pants, some of which featured artfully high waistlines. Los Angeles' Tag offered high-waisted, wide-legged dungarees, while San Francisco's Hengst cut pinstriped Italian poplin into baggy trousers whose wide waistband could be folded down.

—with contributions from Emili Vesilind.

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