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Retailers Strive to Fill Holes in the Market

NEW YORK — What are buyers to do when their customers request something they can’t find?<br><br>As merchants pay close attention to the needs of their customers, they are often one step ahead of their clients, knowing in advance what is...

NEW YORK — What are buyers to do when their customers request something they can’t find?

As merchants pay close attention to the needs of their customers, they are often one step ahead of their clients, knowing in advance what is needed at their stores. But when they encounter an item the consumer wants that is unavailable in the market, there are few options.

According to a sampling of retailers, the solution is to voice their needs to fashion companies, which only sometimes influences vendors, hire a buying office with hopes that it will turn up results, or dig deeper in foreign markets.

Even then, it doesn’t always heed results.

“Every season on your shopping list, you can usually complete 85 or 90 percent,” said Jeffrey New York owner Jeffrey Kalinsky. “But you never get everything.”

It’s easy to find the $12,000 dresses, according to Fran Stamper, designer, bridal and couture buyer at Denver-based specialty store Auer’s. But something nice for an evening at $1,000 is tough, she said, adding that her options increase at the $2,000 price range and continue from there.

“We always have a gap between the lower and the higher price range,” Stamper said. “Oscar de la Renta and Bill Blass sell for $10,000 and $12,000 and it’s easy to find a $400 dress, but something around a $1,000 would be nice.”

When she’s stumped, Auer said she asks colleagues in the market, looks at catalogs from Saks Fifth Avenue and Neiman Marcus and at magazines.

“Magazines are great because the stylists will trod to unheard of places to find things,” Stamper said. “I could make time to do that, I just don’t know where to go sometimes.”

Joseph Boitano, senior vice president and general merchandise manager at Saks, agreed there’s a lack of sexy cocktail dresses, interesting coats and fashion-forward pantsuits near the $1,000 mark.

Boitano said Saks recently created a designer coat department, but that he thinks coats starting at $1,000 would also sell well.

“It could be anything for a fun weekend jacket or a longer coat,” Boitano said. “But it’s hard to find a [fashion-forward] coat between the coat department and the designer price point. But we obviously explore domestic and European markets for opportunities to develop.”

Allison Krowitz, merchandise manager at Henri Bendel, also said eveningwear under $1,000 that isn’t mainstream in feeling is a difficult feat. For women in their 20s and 30s that are invited to social events, finding a dress that doesn’t break their bank accounts, she said, should be easy to find.

“When you come to a specialty store like Bendel’s, you want to find something that not everyone is going to have,” Krowitz said. “It’s hard to find resources that just do great eveningwear [at that price point].”

Like Saks’ Boitano, Krowitz also cited fitted wool coats with a little edge as a void. They’re either bridge looking or designer priced, she said.

Robert Burke, vice president, senior fashion director at Bergdorf Goodman, said the bridge department — what the store considers brands with jackets for $600 and pants for $200 — has become more fashionable in recent years, whereas it was more career-driven when the concept originated, he said.

“It’s the price range right above that where there are opportunities,” Burke said. “There isn’t a lot of clothing that’s appropriate for someone a little older than [the contemporary] customer.”

According to Burke, this means a consumer that does not want to spend $1,800 on a suit, but still wants a high-style look with good construction — a look similar to a high-end Italian line without the high price.

Kalinsky said it’s difficult to find a line that retains its fashion aesthetic above a size 8. He said once a line gets a little bigger, it often loses its fit and that Jil Sander is one of the few lines he feels confident buying up to a size 14.

“You want that client to get in the dressing room and have success, not feel bad because it doesn’t fit,” Kalinsky said. “You could walk into Bergdorf’s and Barneys and you’re not going to find a 12 to 16 in most clothing. There are a lot of women who are that size, with disposable income like anyone else. There is a belief by a lot of people that if you’re a certain size, you’re not going to buy [designer clothes].”

Mother-of-the-bride and clothes to wear to a bar mitzvah are in demand at Mario’s, a specialty retailer in Seattle. Women’s department director Lynwood Holmberg said she has clients looking for it almost every day.

“If they’re buying two pieces, it easily runs $1,500,” Holmberg said. “But most people would rather spend the money on sportswear, since those nicer items are only worn a few times per year.”

Holmberg said she is constantly on the lookout for new lines that offer diversity in her store and recently started carrying a line called Fashion Active Lab. She also said she’s offering more Prada Sport than in the past.

Like Bergdorf’s and Auer’s, Marsha Posner cited the $1,000 price range and clothes for an older customer as her biggest void. Posner, who runs JP Associates, a New York-based buying office, said the majority of her stores request eveningwear and mother-of-the-bride looks that are high quality in construction and fabrics, but not overly expensive.

Like Auer’s Stamper, Posner said there is typically a gap between eveningwear firms that retail around $2,000 and higher, and lines that stay under $600 retail.

“That’s the toughest,” Posner said. “Every one of my stores wants eveningwear that is not too expensive, but not inexpensive. Chetta B is doing it, Ricki Freeman at Teri Jon is doing it and Carmen Marc Valvo is doing it, but otherwise it’s the hardest thing to find.”

While Stamper also cited Valvo as one of the few eveningwear designers that caters to the $1,000 price range, she said his presence in department stores deters her from buying it.

Meanwhile, Neiman’s said it’s trying to find novelty knitwear à la Balenciaga and Helmut Lang, but at a contemporary price point. Senior vice president and fashion director Joan Kaner said there is a lot of knitwear out there, but wants something with an edge for the store’s contemporary department.

When she’s stumped, Kaner said she knows it’s time to explore new markets.

“Europe may be the answer for us,” Kaner said. “It’s a market that we haven’t covered in depth. We’re sending a contemporary market buyer to London to try to find something new.”

Mother-of-the-bride and clothes to wear to a bar mitzvah are in demand at Mario’s, a specialty retailer in Seattle. Women’s department director Lynwood Holmberg said she has clients looking for it almost every day.

“If they’re buying two pieces, it easily runs $1,500,” Holmberg said. “But most people would rather spend the money on sportswear, since those nicer items are only worn a few times per year.”

Holmberg said she is constantly on the lookout for new lines that offer diversity in her store and recently started carrying a line called Fashion Active Lab. She also said she’s offering more Prada Sport than in the past.

Like Bergdorf’s and Auer’s, Marsha Posner cited the $1,000 price range and clothes for an older customer as her biggest void. Posner, who runs JP Associates, a New York-based buying office, said the majority of her stores request eveningwear and mother-of-the-bride looks that are high quality in construction and fabrics, but not overly expensive.

Like Auer’s Stamper, Posner said there is typically a gap between eveningwear firms that retail around $2,000 and higher, and lines that stay under $600 retail.

“That’s the toughest,” Posner said. “Every one of my stores wants eveningwear that is not too expensive, but not inexpensive. Chetta B is doing it, Ricki Freeman at Teri Jon is doing it and Carmen Marc Valvo is doing it, but otherwise it’s the hardest thing to find.”

While Stamper also cited Valvo as one of the few eveningwear designers that caters to the $1,000 price range, she said his presence in department stores deters her from buying it.

Meanwhile, Neiman’s said it’s trying to find novelty knitwear à la Balenciaga and Helmut Lang, but at a contemporary price point. Senior vice president and fashion director Joan Kaner said there is a lot of knitwear out there, but wants something with an edge for the store’s contemporary department.

When she’s stumped, Kaner said she knows it’s time to explore new markets.

“Europe may be the answer for us,” Kaner said. “It’s a market that we haven’t covered in depth. We’re sending a contemporary market buyer to London to try to find something new.”