NEW YORK -- Driven by a host of hot trends this year, and buoyed by strong sales this past season, retailers from Sears, Roebuck and J.C. Penney to Bloomingdale's and Neiman Marcus have high hopes for the upcoming fall outerwear season.

Among the trends being counted on for big business this year, according to merchants, are:

  • Dressy cashmere coats with fake-fur or real-fur trims.
  • Casual and rugged wools in bodies such as peacoats, swings, car coats and hunter jackets.
  • Fake fur coats and trims, in prints and highly-textured looks, as well as lightweight real and fake soft shearlings.
  • Silky polyester microfiber raincoats in a rainbow of colors.
Many agree with Kal Ruttenstein, senior vice president for fashion direction at Bloomingdale's, New York, who said: "It's going to be a great year for outerwear because there is so much variety."

Among the key looks in wool are short swing coats, fit-and-flairs, princess coats, boy coats and peacoats, Ruttenstein said.

"Fake furs will be important from leopard prints to Mongolian lamb," he added. "In addition, active outerwear will have a great part of our stock, especially three-quarter-length anoraks in nylon, microfibers and other high-tech fabrics."

Shearlings will also be very important in new lightweight, soft finishes, he said, while leathers are expected to hold their own, "unless we have a great trend develop in policemen's jackets or motorcycle jackets."

"Precious fiber coats are the most important single trend, and the number one fiber is cashmere," said Ralph Romberg, vice president and divisional merchandise manager for coats and furs at Neiman Marcus, Dallas. "We had a tremendous cashmere year last year, and we think it will be even better this year. Our big thing is 100 percent cashmere, not blends."

This year's cashmere coats are looser and less fitted than in 1993, with new bathrobe and swing styles, Romberg continued.

"We think short coats from just above the knee to knee length will be much more important than last year, when everything was long," he said. "But I don't know if it will be important in Northern stores. If a coat just hits the knee and the wind blows off Lake Michigan in Chicago, they're going to freeze."Romberg also had high expectations for shearlings, furs, fake furs and coats trimmed with real and fake fur.

Half of Neiman's coat business is with its own label, and the rest is dominated by Calvin Klein, Giorgio Armani White Label, Max Mara, Bill Blass and Anne Klein. Romberg declined to reveal his fall plan for coats but said he was very optimistic.

"Traditionally, whenever you come off a cold winter it usually means very good business because [consumers] remember what happened," he noted. "Plus, every designer line has coats in it."

At J.C. Penney Co., outerwear sales are up 10 percent so far this year and that pace is expected to continue for fall.

"Rainwear is going to be phenomenal," said Beth DiSabato, buyer for misses' outerwear. "The classic trench coat and trenches in silk-touch fabrics turned out well for us for spring, so I expect that fabric to become more important."

She also predicted a strong season for multifunction, reversible styles, plaid hunter-style jackets and coats with wool pile trim.

Also expected to excel are casual, rugged styles in denim and denim mixed with twill or suede under the Arizona private label, which is geared for junior customers. Wool coats in spruce, teal and jewel tones under the Hunt Club misses' private label are also projected to do well.

At Minneapolis-based Dayton's, Hudson's and Marshall Field's, casual looks are expected to do well, especially barn jackets and field jackets in denim and canvas, and microfibers with and without fur trims, said Mike Fine, senior coat buyer.

On the dressy side, Fine expects to do well with fake-fur trims on wools and precious fiber coats. Swings and A-lines are key silhouettes, he said.

Jacobson Stores, Jackson, Mich., expects growth in wool coats and precious fibers, especially cashmere, and in short, casual coats, said Linda Maynard, vice president and divisional merchandise manager.

"Women need casual coats for weekend wear, but a lot of them can also go to the office," she said. "With the trend toward dressing down, they need coats that go with pants."Maynard expects a variety of silhouettes to be important, including anoraks, peacoats and swings, with more short than long.

"Fake fur and microfibers will combine to make [the season] exciting, new and fresh looking," she said.

Fake-fur trims will also be big at Sears, Roebuck, said Jane Fischer, outerwear buyer. Sears is also putting a lot of emphasis on leather as a category, with pig napa and shearlings being key fabrics, and clip closures a top detail.

Other key fabrics are printed polar fleece and wool, especially in combination with better fabrics, she said. In casual wear, "it's the year of the functional jacket," Fischer said, noting that jackets with zip-out pieces or that are reversible would be strong looks.

At Macy's East, New York, shearlings and fake furs are expected to anchor a second straight top-notch coat season, said Benny Lin, fashion director.

"We had a very strong coat season last year, and the new categories and a variety of looks coming out of the market are sending a message that should lead to another great season," Lin said. "Women are going to remember the harsh fall and winter weather we had and are going to be looking for a new, warm coat."

Wools should be good in short novelty shapes and colors to long, sweeping princess coats, Lin said, and some great looks in down and polyester fiberfill outerwear should make that category a top performer. Leather, on the other hand, should remain highly promotional, he added.

In Washington, D.C., Woodward & Lothrop is stocking fun leather and casual fabric coats for fall.

Leather has taken an upscale direction from the bomber jackets of yesteryear, with swing coats expected to be hot, said Elaine Hough Bauer, senior vice president and general merchandise manager for ready-to-wear and accessories. Gold buttons and other details will lend a look that is "fun and flirty," Bauer said.

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