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.

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