NEW YORK -- After a difficult fall season, the sun is once again shining on rainwear.
Manufacturers are reporting sales gains in the high teens for spring and expecting even stronger business for fall, projecting gains of at least 30 percent over last year's results.
They noted that consumers, who have held off purchasing raincoats, are now buying again, with a demand for fashion and newness. Two major fashion trends that are behind the momentum are the utilitarian look, with metallic silver or gold finishes, and the feminine drapy look in microfibers. Other fabrics getting attention include water-repellent silks and velvets.
While long trenchcoats are still important staples, the short swing coat at about 32-38 inches has become a key novelty item. Executives pointed out that the short look is also playing into the casual trend in career dressing.
Deep colors, like raisin, hunter green and plum, have become popular, although lighter colors like pale banana are also doing well. Fake fur trims and gingham linings are also strong.
Jane Lipman, creative director of Drizzle Inc., said the company's spring season was up by about 20 percent. Company officials expect to see even heftier gains of at least 25 percent for fall.
Lipman said there's a big demand for short coats, from 30-inch belted trenchcoats to 36-inch swing coats. One of the firm's bestsellers so far for fall are water-repellent velvet raincoats.
"I think what is really happening in rainwear is that the styles are easier and not necessarily constructed," said Steve Haber, executive vice president of Fleet Street. "We are seeing a lot of fabric interest and colors like greens and khakis have been important as well."
Sarah Morris, fashion director of London Fog Corp., Eldersburg, Md., concurred that the company "did a lot of simple and fluid looks," in microfibers for fall. One of the best looks for fall is a short, classic 35-inch swing coat with a persian lamb collar, she noted. Steve Blatt, president of Searle Blatt Ltd., said short rainwear is selling better than long, with an average length about 32 to 38 inches."For fall, we are adding some bright colors, like some purples and bright greens, but we are also expecting to sell some basic colors," he said. He's planning business to be up by 20 percent.
"We are going forward with gold and silver and a lot of coated waxy finishes," said Patrisha Hyman, owner of Coverups Rainwear, which is also using fake fur trims. She said spring business was up 15 percent.
For fall, a key style is expected to be water-repellent polyester pinstripe trenchcoats.
"We are definitely seeing more fashion now in raincoats," said the fashion director at Herman Kay Coats, who is known professionally only as Bebe. "There is so much going on, especially with fabrications. Spring was good, but we expect fall to be a bonanza season for us."
She said hot colors include raisin, honey, redwood, thyme and forest. Among the key looks are a short, hooded swing coat, hooded anoraks, trenches, and balmacaans with back-button details.
At retail, the broadened interest in fabrics was confirmed by Karen Purtzer, better rainwear buyer for Nordstrom's Washington State stores, which reported that microfibers as well as polyester blends have been important, as raincoat sales this spring push ahead 10 percent so far.
Purtzer said some of spring's best looks include white trenchcoats and silver and other iridescent looks, which she expects will continue for fall. She added that hooded looks will also be important.
"Anything that has a shine or a silver color is selling well," said Benny Lin, fashion director of Macy's East.
As for silhouettes, he noted, "The short trench right above the knee is also an important novelty look."
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