By  on June 27, 1994

NEW YORK -- Thanks to the fast pace of fall and holiday orders, dress and suit manufacturers are looking for a big turnaround in the second half, following a generally disappointing first half of the year.

Whether they sell national chains or upscale stores, ready-to-wear makers feel strong early ordering for the third and fourth quarters is a result of several factors, including:

  • Low inventory levels at many stores, resulting from a combination of strong late-season spring selling and tighter inventory controls.
  • The rise in importance of day-into-evening looks as a versatile and pragmatic way of dressing.
  • Hot trends such as A-line, Empire and slip shapes in both categories, and the increasing acceptance of pantsuits.
"The stores are very aggressive about fall buying. They're placing orders much earlier than the last few seasons, which is a very positive sign," said David Mercer, a principal in Expo Inc.

In the moderate-priced Expo line, A-lines and slipdresses are leading the way in short and long lengths. Day-to-dinner looks are important in the firm's better-priced Beau David line, while in the Expo Night line, holiday gown business, which was considered the "whipped cream on top of the cake, has become the cake," Mercer said.

Despite the overall problems at The Leslie Fay Cos., in Chapter 11 since April 1993 and hit by an ILGWU strike on June 1, fall bookings at its Kasper Suits division, a leading resource in the suit business, are 40 percent ahead of a year ago, said Greg Marks, president of the division. The fastest-growing area of the division, which had a volume of $350 million last year, is the Le Suit moderate-price line, which had 50 percent gains last year and continues at that pace.

Marks said fall orders have come in earlier than ever, and is looking at an overall gain of 20 percent this year.

For better and bridge firms, keeping a lid on prices and capitalizing on hot trends are key for second-half selling.

At Liz Claiborne's dress and suit division, a sharp refocusing of product that reflects an emphasis on "versatile clothes with a special twist" has begun to pay off in late spring and early fall business, said Harriet Mosson, president of the division.

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