Mart executives in the Windy City are giving market week a facelift, from highlighting denim to bringing in buyers from untapped areas of the country.With a new year fast approaching, Chicago’s Merchandise Mart and Apparel Center are gearing up for a handful of improvements aimed at catering to buyers’ finicky fashion needs.For the March edition of StyleMax, the area’s largest women’s apparel event, organizers are restructuring the show format by expanding the popular accessories section and creating a separate area for denim lines."We’re trying to group denim and young contemporary together," said Susan McCullough, vice president of apparel for Merchandise Mart Properties Inc.Additionally, organizers are increasing marketing efforts to attract more retailers and vendors. "We’re trying to reach out more nationally into the Southeast and West," McCullough said. "It’s a very easy market to shop. I don’t know if it makes sense for someone from California but there’s a whole area in between."StyleMax, slated for March 22 to 25, includes 100,000 square feet of exhibition space showcasing 3,000 to 5,000 different labels on the Mart’s eighth floor. "We’re moving the cafe to make more room," McCullough said, "but we’re running out of space. We usually sell out very quickly."On March 22, retailers may attend the "Montreal Collections Fashion Presentation," an all-Canadian fashion show featuring designs from Louben, Buffalo Jeans, French Dressing Jeans, Ikeda Jeans and Daymor Couture, among other resources based north of the border. The event, sponsored by the Quebec Delegation Chicago, is set for 6 p.m. on March 22 on the first-floor north lobby of the Merchandise Mart.The following day, "The StyleMakers" fashion show of accessories, contemporary and lingerie resources will be staged. Scheduled for 8:45 a.m. in the Mart’s south lobby, the show follows a continental breakfast at 8:15 a.m."The Collections" fashion show highlighting women’s better, bridge and designer lines will be held at 6:30 p.m on March 23 following cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at 6 p.m., also in the Mart’s south lobby. Lastly, champagne and light appetizers are available at 5 p.m. on March 24 on the show floor.Prior to StyleMax, buyers can check out the Women’s and Children’s Market Jan. 24 to 28 at the Apparel Center. The scheduling of the market is ideal for buyers on the hunt for nonapparel items, since it coincides with the Chicago Gift & Home Market, slated for Jan. 22 to 29.Not surprisingly, retailers and reps enjoy the pairing, McCullough said. "The showrooms get more traffic," she said. "The stores may end up picking up a little of this, a little of that."The gift show includes decorative items such as framed prints, silk flowers and collectibles. "It’s enormous," McCullough said of the gift market. "It’s one of our biggest shows, attracting tens of thousands of people."Fashion showrooms on floors six, 11, 12 and 13 of the Apparel Center will be open for business in addition to floors 12 through 15 in the Merchandise Mart for the gift show.From a fashion standpoint, "January’s an important market," she said. "It’s traditionally been for summer or fall [fashions]. It’s transitional for some people."The women’s and children’s market also features "The Collections" fashion show on Jan. 26 at 6:30 p.m., following 6 p.m. cocktails in the 14th-floor ballroom of the Holiday Inn Mart Plaza Ballroom. The show will highlight summer and fall 2003 fashions by 600 West, a collection of casual, urban sportswear.In April, the Mart will house the largest national market in the country, the National Bridal Market, slated for April 5 to 8. In addition to visiting Apparel Center floors 10, 12 and 13, at the Mart’s eighth-floor market suites, buyers will have the opportunity to shop in the designer studio, introduced at the September 2002 bridal market."We’ve had a nice response to it," McCullough said of the enclosed section, which featured Vera Wang and St. Pucchi at the last edition. "It’s private. [Designers] want to control who views the collections. They don’t want to be out in an open booth format."Nominees for the DEBI awards, which honor the best manufacturers of bridal gowns, bridesmaid dresses, headpieces, prom gowns, bridal footwear and other categories, also will be announced. Winners, which also include outstanding retailers by region, will be honored during an awards ceremony in September.The election process involves retailers voting in January for nominees, who are announced at the April market. A second round of voting occurs in June, prior to the awards ceremony in September, McCullough said.Other market highlights include the "Romancing Bridal" fashion show on April 5 at 6:30 p.m., following 6 p.m. cocktails at the Holiday Inn Mart Plaza Ballroom, 14th floor. A complimentary brunch is offered to registered buyers on April 6 at 9 a.m. in the cafe on the Mart’s eighth floor. That evening a "Retailer Appreciation Party" is slated for 5:30 p.m. in the south lobby of the Mart’s 1st floor.Another Women’s & Children’s Market is then set for Apparel Center showrooms during June 6 to 9. Retailers also can attend a fall-holiday trend watch on June 8 at 8:30 a.m., when Susan Glick, the Mart’s fashion director, will cover the New York and European collections with local models and slides from the Fashion Group International.

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