NEW YORK -- Dress and suit firms have high hopes that short lengths will mean a bright summer market this week.
Makers expect buyers to be placing additional orders for spring, looking and buying summer and previewing early fall. While there is optimism in the market, few are counting on big gains, and most firms will be happy with slight increases. The heavy dose of caution that marked most of the past two years still lingers on.
For example, Tom Burns, general merchandise manager at The Doneger Group, said: "I think that based upon the holiday season, people will be cautious going forward into the first quarter. Last year, many people were refinancing and reinvesting in their homes. There were double-digit increases in home furnishings, which took away from women's apparel.
"But I believe consumers will be coming back to shop for clothes, as long as we give them value from the start of the season."
The spring winners -- short dresses and skirts, which range from thigh-high minis to just above the knee -- are expected to give summer a lift as well, manufacturers say. Fitted suit jackets and dresses with waist interest are important elements in the spring-summer design scheme.
"We have tons of appointments for market week, and we're cautiously optimistic about the new year," said Morris Marmalstein, president of The Warren Group. "There's a lot of newness in pantsuits and wedge dresses and two-piece dresses. There are also some promotional groups that are becoming important parts of our business."
Marmalstein noted that although it's a summer market, seasons are backed up and "there's a lot of spring still to be sold." He's planning on being ahead for spring, although no huge gains are anticipated.
Gregg Marks, president of the Kasper division of The Leslie Fay Cos., said that while fall goods saw heavy markdowns in December, early spring goods are selling well at regular price. Marks said soft suits in polyester microfiber and triacetate are performing strongly for spring. "Classic silhouettes are important in colors such as blue, sage, red, royal, and taupe," Marks said. "Overall, we're planning on 25 to 30 percent increases for spring and summer."Sally Krieger, vice president of Augustus Clothiers, said with stores buying closer to the season, a lot of spring buying will be happening in the showroom along with summer and early fall. Krieger expects buyer interest in a summer group of pale blue and indigo suits and separates in softly tailored linens, silk georgettes
"People are becoming more optimistic and things are picking up a bit," Krieger said. "Our bookings for spring are slightly ahead, but because we produce in New York, our customers come to us as late as May looking for spring merchandise."
Jeannene Booher, owner and designer of the bridge-price dress and suit firm bearing her name, said she's doing a separate 25-piece collection for summer, but also expects a lot of spring buying to be done.
"That's been the pattern the last few years," said Booher, who started the firm for this past fall season after designing for Maggy London for many years. "We started slow for fall, but resort has really picked up, and we have significant bookings for spring."
Booher said she went short in many dresses because it looks "younger and snappier," but that there are some long print dresses that are selling as well.
George Furlan, president of Kathyrn Dianos Inc., said, "Things are definitely looking up. In the fall, we got carried away with the ecclesiastic and monastic look. Now there is a clearer look, and business is responding accordingly."
That look, for designer Kathyrn Dianos, means lightweight fabrics, understated detail and short flip dresses with fuller hems.
Marjorie Cohen, vice president of Helen Hsu, said the suit end of the business is leading the way for spring-summer, mostly in short skirts with long fitted jackets. Short coatdresses continue to be hot sellers in the firm's wool and rayon knit mainstay fabric.
Cohen projected an increase of about 15 percent for spring-summer, thanks to a "much more positive attitude" in the stores, although she noted a lot of business will be booked by traveling to out-of-town stores that don't come to New York as much as before.
Steven Stolman, who opened his own firm bearing his name in November, said spring bookings are double what he originally planned, and he's well on his way to his volume projection of $2 million for 1994.He said summer market week means later deliveries on lighter-weight pieces and a chance to preview early fall with some stores.
Mary Ann Casale, divisional merchandise manager of suits and dresses at Certified Fashion Guild, said two-piece dressing like jackets over dresses or rompers with vests should be important, plus short fit-and-flare dresses.
"One problem I see is that a lot of stores are coming in just looking for promos, and that frightens me," Casale said. "Stores have to be careful to keep a balance of merchandise in their stores."
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