By  on August 8, 2007

Colors, prints, decorations. As the resort knit market begins this week, a host of trends are emerging to foreshadow a lively spring.

"Instead of a sea of basics, the customer wants something new," said Elan Eliau, founder and chief executive officer of Joseph A., whose knits wholesale from $19 to $39. "We're not trying to play it safe in a tough time for retail."

Going forward, more of Joseph A.'s collection than ever is skewed toward novelty, with more stories and trends than in past seasons. Resort follows a fall full of novelty, and spring adds to that with prints, bright colors, embellishment, feminine styles and Mod looks.

Prints are perhaps the biggest trend of the season. Knit vendors report that black-and-white designs, animal prints, florals and stripes top the pattern list.

"We can sell animal prints anytime of year now — it's not just for fall anymore," said Samantha Browne-Bills, design director for Designers Originals, which wholesales from $9.50 to $16. Zebra prints or other incarnations of black-and-white are the most popular, as they combine two trends.

"Black-and-white always sells well for early spring, and this year there's a whole black-and-white story with pops of color," said Michelle Antonelli, designer for HMS Productions Inc.'s Cable & Gauge, which wholesales from $14 to $29 and is carried at Macy's, Dillard's and Belk.

Bright colored striped tops fall into what John Hoffmann, design director for the Macy's exclusive Mercer Street Studio, a division of Hampshire Group, is calling the "sport chic" trend. "We are using stripes as a status symbol that evoke the Hamptons or Palm Springs," Hoffmann said.

Another trend which, like Mod, hails from the past, is Sixties-inspired ultrafeminine looks. A soft color palette, paired with feminine details like pleating, bows, ruching and smocking, creates looks Hoffmann dubbed the The Marilyn or The Secretary.

Besides prints, vendors contend color may be the biggest trend for spring. The palette is full of brights, like blue, green and tomato. "But it's not Crayola crayon bright," said Ellen Dawson, executive vice president of August Silk, whose sweaters wholesale from $15 to about $25 and are sold at Dillard's, Macy's and specialty stores. "It's more about saturation of color."In addition to solids, color is bowing in the form of Mod-inspired colorblocking or set off by white tipping.

Bright tones are being made even more novel with the help of embellishment. All sorts of decoration, as it's being called this season, are appearing on knits for spring.

"Terrific decoration is back," Antonelli said. "Last year, it took such a backseat, which hurt business because decoration gives people an emotional connection to a garment."

Decoration for spring includes stones, sequins, necklaces and big buttons. Stones — made from Lucite, plastic, metal and wood — top the list. The stones can take the form of attached necklaces, another trend that can also be made of metal chains or even sequins. All of those materials can appear in more traditional neckline treatments. For more subtle adornment, oversize buttons also play into the Mod mood, and can be used as functional buttons and as superficial decoration.

Shapes are changing as well. Last year, when the color palette was more monochromatic and embellishment toned down to clean up apparel, voluminous shapes were the key trend. "But if patterns are getting bolder and colors are getting brighter, that means the silhouette is going to have to lean down a bit," Dawson said. "You can't ask her to wear a bright color and embellishment and a pattern still with so much volume."

In terms of categories, cardigans will continue to ride the success of the dress business as the perfect overpinning. For resort and early spring, the wear-now rule dictates the inclusion of thicker, longer sweater jackets. At Spring + Mercer — a contemporary-inspired, better-priced knit line that wholesales from $22 to $31 and sells at Bloomingdale's, Macy's, Dillard's and Nordstrom — peacoat-shaped "chunky but lightweight sweater coats" are a key category, according to design director May Chui. Dresses continue to be another strong knit category, though for this spring, Chui is emphasizing "less baby dolls and more shifts."

"Regardless of category, it's all about 'decorated,' which of course is just another word for 'embellishment,' though no one wants to use the word 'embellishment' because it doesn't feel new," Dawson explained. "Still, even with all of the focus on adornment, we understand we need balance in the assortment in all of the stores, and we need the basic ribbed tops, too. This is an industry of overreaction, and we have to make sure not to overreact."Key items, "basics with a twist," recently made up just 18 percent of Cable & Gauge's orders, but today that has grown to 28 to 32 percent, according to HMS president Lou Breuning. "It's a top you can buy in two or three colors," Breuning said. "That's where the volume comes from."

But even while the basics business grows, better knit vendors contend newness is more important than ever. With promotions pushing retail prices down and increasing wages pushing costs up, the challenge is for vendors to create a compelling enough product to fetch a higher retail price.

"We're doing everything we can do to get a higher average out-the-store price point," Dawson said. "We have to [be the first] to give her the newest looks to encourage her to spend more money."

Knit Trends
- Prints
- Black and white
- Animal prints
- Sporty stripes
- Bright colors
- Color blocks
- Tipping
- Mod
- Embellishment (aka "decoration")
- Stones
- Metal details
- Necklaces
- Sequins
- Big buttons
- Ultrafeminine
- Leaner silhouettes
- Cardigans
- Sweater coats
- Dresses

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