By  on August 24, 2007

Embracing more flattering silhouettes presented with energetic colors and prints, Midwestern retailers shopped with optimism at Chicago's StyleMax at the Merchandise Mart, Aug. 11 to 14.

"I was really pleased with everything I found," said Susan A. Bakke, owner of the specialty store Chauette in Belleville, Wis. The retailer applauded trends such as three-quarter-length sleeves, bell sleeves and higher-waisted pants.

"They're not so low cut," she said of the market's assortment of trousers. "I think they are a lot more flattering for a lot more women. The styles still look chic and I found a lot of things in that moderate $60 to $70 [retail] range."

She ordered embroidered shirts, sweaters and jackets from DB Sport as well as sweaters with bell sleeves and fake fur collars. She also liked plaid cropped jackets, houndstooth long coats and red double-breasted styles from Luii.

For spring, prints and color appeared in every category of the market from graphic, geometric prints and art-to-wear to exaggerated florals and prints that are blurred, said Susan Glick, vice president for fashion and marketing for Merchandise Mart Properties Inc., which operates StyleMax.

The dress market still remains strong, she said, noting that some vendors that typically do not produce dresses introduced styles at StyleMax.

Glick also noticed knits with such a light touch they almost looked like blouses, including some fused with a bit of shimmer or shine.

Buyers, like Bakke and others, responded to the new trends, said Susan McCullough, senior vice president for apparel for Merchandise Mart Properties Inc.

"It's something stores know they can sell," she said. "There's nothing but positive energy in the market. People get jazzed when there is newness."

Caryn Mead Kelly, owner of the specialty store Melly in Edina, Minn., also noticed the less-trendy trend. "Everyone's being pretty conservative," she said, as she shopped for what she called conservative resortwear, picking up twill Bermuda shorts and capris along with strapless seersucker and eyelet tops from Vineyard Vines.

Sandy Taylor, who plans to open a 3,000-square-foot boutique called CityWear in downtown La Crosse, Wis., this October, looked to stock her new store with higher-waisted, boot-cut stretch denim with contrast stitching from David Kahn and tank tops, short-sleeve, three-quarter-sleeve and turtleneck tops in jewel tone colors as well as white, black and gray from Three Dots.For Love and Liberty stands to become a strong dress resource for the boutique, given that Taylor ordered a variety of styles from the line, including a short black tank dress with sequins, a long-sleeve black silk minidress with beading at the hem, a gray-blue sleeveless burnt-out velvet short dress and a long black satin wrap skirt with buckle details.

Taylor admitted it's an uncertain time to launch a business, but she hopes customers will not be deterred by the rising costs.

"It is a scary time to open with the economy the way it is, but I think the people really affected aren't going to be my shoppers," she said.

Retailers, meanwhile, also encountered emerging talent from the Chicago area during a Sunday afternoon meet-and-greet with a handful of apparel and accessories designers who will be showcased in the annual "Chicago Is...Red Hot!" fashion show in October. The seven designers were grouped together at the market as the Red Hot Chicago! Emerging Designer Incubator presented by Chicago's Apparel Industry Board. One of the incubator participants, Heidi Hess, a knitwear designer located in both Miami and Chicago, picked up five new accounts at the market, showing a soft, twisted strap metallic minidress and matching belted wrap sweater and open lace wrap in silver, gold, raspberry and black, wholesaling for $160 to $230.

Retailers also could move back and forth from StyleMax, held on the Mart's seventh floor, to the men's wear market Chicago Collective held on the eighth floor.

McCullough said retailers and manufacturers appreciate the two market dates coincide given that more vendors make both men's and women's apparel and more men's and women's specialty shops seem to open in Chicago every year.

As a result, market organizers are considering whether to blend some of the men's and women's apparel on the same floor.

"I don't think this trend is going to stop," McCullough noted. "I think it's only going to continue."

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