By and  on September 6, 2006

LAS VEGAS — The carpeted aisles still overflowed and the famous faces were as numerous, but buyers and vendors at WWDMAGIC and its offshoots had value on their minds.

High gas and energy costs, instability in the Middle East, a chill in the housing market and the lingering impact of Hurricane Katrina were among the macroeconomic elements that led to cautious buying at the shows, held here from Aug. 28 to 31.

"People are coming in and looking at it, and the first question they ask is, ‘How much?'" said Claudette Debarros, product developer at Los Angeles-based handbag maker Junior Drake.

Shenica Weir, buyer for Citi Trends, a 263-unit urban retailer based in Savannnah, Ga., said price trumped trends. "I'm looking for new resources, but the price has to be right." On Weir's wish list were long-sleeved satin tops priced between $3.99 and $9.99, well-priced denim lines and logo pieces from Rocawear and Baby Phat.

"The Louisiana and Mississippi customer has dwindled since Katrina," said Joyce Kaplan, sales representative for Chagall International, a misses' brand based in Montreal that maintains a showroom in Atlanta. "But lots of our retailers moved to other towns and continued."

Among those who have benefited from that migration is Gail Dotson, owner of Gail's Accessories in Baton Rouge, La., where thousands of people who fled New Orleans and Mississippi's Gulf Coast have settled. "We have an influx of new people with new money.…I have worries, but the customer spends money like they don't," she said.

"Everything has slowed down a little due to gas prices," said Sharon Kim, sales representative for Los Angeles-based young contemporary line Ya. "Buyers are definitely being more cautious. Before it was ‘Send whatever pieces you want.' Now they want to know which pieces are really selling."

A handful of lines emphasizing fashion-forward design at moderate price points launched at the shows, a trend many vendors said derived from the growing popularity of fast-fashion retailers such as H&M, Forever 21 and Zara.

Beyoncé and Tina Knowles launched their moderate-price junior line Deréon, through licensee Check Group LLC. The hip collection of denim, dresses and knits costs less than the Knowles' contemporary House of Deréon brand, with prices ranging from $16 for logo T-shirts to around $40 for knit hoodie dresses."Price is really important here," said Dan Nesmith, a Deréon spokesman. "There are lots of girls out there that want to look like Beyoncé but can't afford it." Nordstrom, Marshall Field's and d.e.m.o are among the retailers that ordered looks for spring.

Denim brand Jordache also offered high style for less, launching a fashion-forward line of jeans that revives the brand's lean fit and pocket embroidery — the white-stitched swoop known as the Omega — from the early Eighties. Prices for slim-fitting dark blue and gray models ranged from $25 to around $50.

"Sales have exceeded expectations," said Lissa Cole, vice president of sales. The line will bow this spring in 100 Macy's doors, Urban Outfitters and Nordstrom, among other retailers.

January Jeans, a new Los Angeles-based company, launched with broken-in black, gray and blue colors in boot-cut and skinny styles that wholesale for $40 to $44.

Pool Show
Amid the T-shirts spilling from the booths at the Pool Show in the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, exhibitors who displayed versatile fashion that may be worn from day to night — as well as moderately priced jeans — scored with retail buyers.

While concentrating on emerging streetwear labels sold at independent specialty shops, Pool also included Brazilian label Tereza Santos, whose average wholesale price was $250, and accessories giant LeSportsac, which displayed the nylon bags it made in collaboration with Tokidoki, the Japanese anime-inspired company from Los Angeles.

The trends at Pool mirrored other shows: loose silhouettes, novel fabrics such as lyocel, allover prints, feminine dresses, bright colors and shorts that either had 3-inch inseams or fell to the knee.

Jak & Rae, the contemporary brand from Los Angeles' Hot Kiss, did brisk business with satin tap pants and walking shorts in tapestry or plaid fabric with leather piping.

Tokidoki, which expanded from T-shirts to hoodies, sundresses and woven shirts under a licensing deal with Jerry Leigh Inc., said every order included a sheer military-style shirt trimmed in gold Lurex thread and adorned with patches of cactus kids, smiling peaches and other characters created by Tokidoki's creative director, Simone Legno. "No one is going for basic," said Joanne Abellera, who designs the Tokidoki line for Jerry Leigh in Van Nuys, Calif.Off-Price Apparel Show and WWIN
More than 400 discount vendors unveiled merchandise at the Off-Price Apparel Show at the Sands Expo & Convention Center in the Venetian Resort Hotel Casino, which ran Aug. 25 to 29.

Prices for T-shirts started at around $2 and merchandise rarely topped $20 per piece.

Best-selling trends were a year or two behind those at WWDMAGIC, and included heavily embellished denim and peasant skirts.

Ernesto Rincon, sales representative for Los Angeles-based Benny's Wholesale, which displayed embellished party dresses and basic suiting priced between $15 and $18, said traffic was heavier than in seasons past. However, he wrote fewer orders.

Kathy Del Calvo, owner of Fashion Surplus, a Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based vendor specializing in store seconds from brands such as Hot Kiss and Big Flirt, agreed. "We've written 25 to 30 orders," said Del Calvo on the show's final day. "Traffic is a little light."

Conversely, vendors at WomensWear in Nevada, a misses'-focused trade show that ran Aug. 28 to 31 at the Rio Hotel, said they were pleased both with the traffic and sales.

"The show has been very strong," said Ken Goodman, owner of Chagall. "People understand what we're doing here more than at [other shows]."

Retailers said they liked the breadth and quality of merchandise displayed by the 900-plus vendors.

Bright colors and easy-fitting tops and pants dominated the show, with unstructured day-to-night jackets seen at Bleu Bayou, Khangura and Jaskar, among many others.

Accessories at WWDMAGIC
WWDMAGIC's Accessories show at the Las Vegas Hilton was filled with vendors' latest baubles and bags, but belts got the most attention. Vendors said this was because of the popularity of easy-fitting dresses and billowy shirts that call for high-waisted cinching.

Melanie Williams, owner of The Black Market, a boutique in Lexington, Ky., said, "belts are playing a major role because clothes are loose-fitting."

Taking a cue from Williams and other buyers, accessories vendors were beefing up their belt selections. Handbag companies Ellington and Hobo International both recently launched belt lines, with prices from $14 to $19 and from $17 to $47.50, respectively.Natalie Allen, owner of Nattie Bleu, an accessories store set to open in Tulsa, Okla., in October, said she was looking for handbags. "We are going for clutches all the way up to satchels," said Allen, who placed orders with Lorren Bell for tortoise shell, jade and coral purses.

Buyers like Allen left handbag makers perplexed about the sizes that would capture the market. "Six months ago, there were all these publications saying it was going to be small bags, so we added small bags, but people still bought the big bags," said Claudette Debarros of Junior Drake, which wholesales purses for $80 to $250.

Although roomier offerings were moving at The Sak, based in San Francisco, Jamie Wing, a specialty assistant account executive, predicted demand for voluminous bags would ebb. "People will be going smaller," she said.

Swimwear at WWDMAGIC
For the first time since the International Swimwear/Activewear Market sealed a partnership with WWDMAGIC in 2005, swim brands departed from the Las Vegas Convention Center and were grouped together in the Hilton.

Despite the variety, vendors worried that the move dampened traffic. "A lot of our buyers get upset when they park at the convention center and find out we are at the Hilton," said Erich Ehrlich, national sales manager for Vernon, Calif.-based Fortune Swimwear LLC.

Bright colors were seen in all manner of swimwear, with red popping out as a key hue. Stripes and solids also made a strong showing, and swimsuit makers reported they brought back striped looks that performed well in new colors.

"Stripes have been amazing for me," said Amber Delecce-Forge, vice president at San Diego-based Vix Swimwear Inc., singling out a green-and-white striped bikini with a leather trim that wholesales for $30.

Swimsuit makers such as Karla Colletto and Ocean Pacific cautiously expanded their offerings of atypical silhouettes, including cutout one-pieces. "I don't know how well it will be at retail, but there has been interest," said Marci Thornsberry, OP's national sales manager for junior swim.

Vendors reached beyond the basic cover-up to test fashionable swimsuit-related items. OP brought back a cord short that had been out of its repertoire for five years. Heather Fish, owner of Pearl Swimwear, based in Laguna Beach, Calif., said buyers were flocking to a long black dress cover-up they favored for its versatility.

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