By  on March 3, 2005

NEW YORK — Even women shopping for $3,000 evening gowns are apparently pinching pennies.

At least, that was the consensus among resources at two hotel trade shows — Designers at the Essex House and International American Designers at the Waldorf-Astoria — that closed here Tuesday.

Jeffrey Moss, sales director for the red-carpet-inspired Kevan Hall label, said, “They’re not spending like they used to. They’re not doing the $10,000 gown anymore.”

That said, there was a lot of interest in Kevan Hall’s pale yellow duchess satin dress wholesaling for $690 and a coral-colored satin back crepe gown with jeweled straps at $1,270.

Moss also noted that women are buying their glitzy attire much closer to their big events, and that often warrants a 10 to 20 percent “rush” charge, depending on the designer.

At Tina Di Martina, chief executive officer and designer Lisa Fraum and sales representative Carolee Schecter noticed “people are really watching prices.” With most gowns wholesaling between $650 and $850, the Huntington, N.Y.-based company talked up its pricing.

“We try to keep things at $1,500 at retail,” Fraum said. “There are much more expensive gowns out there. But the customer [who is willing to] spend $2,000 will spend anything.”

Rita Mezrahi, owner and creative director of Claire’s Collections, said business has slipped because of increased competition. “It’s not the economy,’’ she said. “It’s that people have too many choices.”

To try to keep up with the competition and the plethora of options offered to shoppers, the Los Angeles-based special-occasion company offers 20 to 30 different fabrics. Further complicating the equation is that color is coming back, as evidenced by the dresses worn at the Oscars.

Mezrahi noted that women shopping for dresses for a child’s bar mitzvah or wedding “want a dress other people wouldn’t wear.” But even they are getting gun-shy about the expense.  

“When someone says to me they don’t want to spend that much on a dress, I say, ‘What about the flowers or the food? That won’t last. At least the dress you can look at in pictures.’”At the Waldorf, Caroline Eavis, designer of London-based Eavis & Brown, saw price resistance of another kind because of currency exchange rates.

“I could sell an awful lot more, if my prices weren’t 30 percent more,” she said. “The dollar is the problem. When a dress goes from $5,000 to $6,000, that makes people pause.”

Given that, Eavis & Brown’s multicolored beaded floor-length gown at $2,000 was a hit with buyers.

Executives from Charles and Patricia Lester, a Wales-based wearable art label, met with other Waldorf exhibitors to brainstorm about creative ideas since exchange rates are problematic. The company, which outfitted Lauren Bacall for “These Foolish Things,” a movie being released this year, and has designed costumes for Opera Holland Park in the U.K., is thinking more along those lines. 

Georgina Lester, the founders’ daughter, explained the exposure from such endeavors is unmatched: “A two-hour opera is better than any fashion show,” she said.

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