DALLAS — Buyers shopping the International Apparel Mart in Dallas last week seemed tuned in to a single thought: The best way to lure hesitant women to shop is to offer them something so enticing they just can’t resist it.

Retailers were intent on finding fanciful and unusual items to liven up fall and holiday assortments. They also reordered such fast-checking fall styles as suede, fur-trimmed and distressed-leather jackets. Some scouted January and February deliveries of spring looks.

"Everyone is extremely careful about what they pick, but they’re all looking for that special piece," observed Randa Allen, who last September launched Notice, an edgy sportswear label, after designing contemporary dresses at Tessuto for six years.

A lot of the action revolved around flowing and feminine skirts, including bias-cut patchwork styles with jagged hemlines, long skirts with tulle overlays and chiffon layered looks. Structured denim skirts with leather or suede trim also were popular.

"We are definitely selling skirts and dresses and a return to femininity," said Jamin Ekelman Whitaker, vice president of GeNe Sales, which shows better and bridge collections.

Buyers also responded to airy tunics, intended to be layered over pants, and embellished jeans with embroidery, studs or insets of Battenburg lace. Responding to the consumers’ desire to express individuality, lines including Beau & Eros showed T-shirts with embroidered initials, and Shih offered Ultrasuede handbags that were customized with names written out in crystals.

Several sales representatives complained about sparse traffic, but it seemed to outpace the poor turnout in June. The Dallas Market Center said that attendance for the market was up over the August market in the previous three years but declined to reveal actual registration figures.

The five-day market, which ended Aug. 19, was marked by an infusion of sportswear lines from abroad, including Brazilroxx embellished denim from Brazil; Modee casual sportswear from Germany; Sortie des Classes and Simorra novelty tops from Spain, and Gerard Darel sportswear from France

Several retailers said business was slow this summer and that the stock market’s vagaries had pinched spending. So buyers were extremely watchful about what they ordered, how much they spent and what prices they paid."There is no question it’s tough out there, and they have to work so much harder than they ever did before just to get people in the door," said Laura Young, national sales manager of Brighton accessories, which introduced a line of baby-gear bags in one of its four showrooms.

To give 400 of its customers a mental and educational boost, Brighton hosted a seminar and luncheon during market at the nearby Wyndham Anatole Hotel. The company staged a whimsical fashion show that depicted six Brighton customer lifestyles and served an elaborate luncheon of six different menus and table settings themed to match the profiles. Almost all the food — from cheese to chicken breasts — was cut into heart shapes to mimic the company’s logo.

"The difference between retailers feeling they had a good year versus a bad year is not that much," Young said. "They say flat or better is a good year."

She said Brighton is on track for a record year. The company will be honored with a unique Accessory Achievement Award to be presented by the Dallas Market Center during the Dallas Fashion Awards gala on Oct. 26. The company has earned seven Dallas Fashion Award accessories trophies since 1993. To celebrate the year, Brighton plans to treat its entire sales force to a Hawaiian vacation in January.

Summer Pailet was also working to raise the energy level among her customers — she staged mini runway shows three times a day in her contemporary and better showroom.

"I felt we needed to excite people about the industry," she said. "I’ve had people write new lines because they saw it in the show."

For the first time in years, Jay Stein, chairman of Stein Mart, walked the halls of the Mart scouting for new looks.

"I wanted to come here," he said, noting he had swung up to Dallas after shepherding his daughter to the University of Texas in Austin. "All the trends are in one building, and that makes a big difference to me. It’s a great place to get a view of what’s going on in the fashion world. In October, we’ll bring 20 buyers."Bettin Dreyer, owner of Primrose in Dallas, which specializes in vintage feminine looks, said she was pleased by the abundance of romantic styles, ruffles and lace.

Among her finds were long skirts featuring tiers of tulle by Marika Näkk, as well as Flora Nikrooz’s black embroidered mesh top with a ruffled sleeve and a long black skirt with rows of tightly stitched ruffles.

Melissa Zuniga, casual and contemporary sportswear buyer for Julian Gold, said she was on the hunt for holiday items and "something that would just knock me out."

She found it in Brazilroxx jeans embellished with lace, leather, studs or prints and Silverado’s denim jackets with fake red fox or mink trim.

Phyllis Walker, owner of Del-Ann’s bridge and designer store in Dallas, said she had shaved her budget and was being careful not to duplicate spring looks because business has been soft.

"I’m not buying stone, black, beige or white over and over," she pointed out.

Walker was enthusiastic about Vakko’s suede, leather and fabric sportswear, especially a geometric patchwork leather pant in aqua, olive and white, and Isabella Co.’s introduction of misses sportswear by Gerard Darel.

"Vakko is very well engineered for the money," she said, "And Gerard Darel is cute with great novel items — the pantsuit with topstitching, wrap linen dress and cute flippy skirt."

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