LOS ANGELES — Like anxious party hosts, show organizers and exhibitors of the holiday-resort market that ended Tuesday revved up the marketing machine, even serving beefcake with hunky bartenders at no fewer than three “happy hour” areas.
This story first appeared in the August 13, 2003 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
A few shifts in the hot trends were apparent, such as a softening of denim and cargoes, so buyers were on the hunt for new items. But retailers weren’t parting with their dollars so easily.
“With two weeks before MAGIC, it’s tough,” acknowledged Loretta Kendrick, a partner in the LKW Sales showroom at the California Market Center. “Retailers have less disposable income to go to all the shows.”
Citing the cyclical nature of the business, however, industry veterans said a strong June market helped offset business.
“June was great, so it’s typical that August is a little soft,” said Michael Cohen, who owns a New Mart showroom bearing his name. Cohen remained optimistic, citing business up 40 percent year-to-date. “I feel good. Buyers were cautious, taking a second look at their orders, but they were buying.”
Squandered time it wasn’t for the vendors and retailers who said the cargo’s gradual exit from the fashion sphere has opened up floor space for women to think a little harder about wardrobe building with strapless, jeune fille dresses, updated tweeds and cashmeres, skirts with swing and asymmetry, and furs dyed to make a splash, like Shine’s hot pink rabbit fur bomber.
Among the notable frocks were Gigi’s “Wonder Bread” sateen dress and pink silk charmeuse camis and dresses with black lace overlays, Ana Capri’s tulle skirts and scoop neck, empire waist dresses by Adrienne Bui.
The touch of the season could have pirouetted straight off the ballet stage. Ballerina trims included lace-up corsets, sash belts, satin ribbon belts — including Poppie’s ribbon tank with handmade, dip-dyed silk flowers and Allen B.’s nylon colorblock tube tops with satin ribbon accents. Even asymmetric skirts, borrowing from the effortless craze of denim and cargo dressing, abounded with Christina Cord’s layered tunics over miniskirts and Tiffany Alana’s broached wrap skirts in a riot of stripes.
“I think shock treatment is doing well” in clothes that offer drama, said Barbara James, who runs the Barbara James & Co. showroom in the New Mart. “[The customer] wants to mix hard and soft, sophisticated and girlie.”
A top draw in her showroom was True Meaning, a collection from Bisou Bisou that bowed in New York, featuring tweed, fitted blazers with raw edges and ribbon trims, silk halters and tanks embossed to resemble lace blocking and tuxedo slacks detailed with pink satin-lined back pockets.
Vendors brought cashmere’s price points down to earth. Shine’s satin-lined hand-beaded sweaters and QI Cashmere’s Johnny collar cashmere sweaters in sherbet striping offered wholesale price points from $41 to $48.
The New Mart’s Designers & Agents Annex staged its biggest August show yet in terms of exhibitors and attendees, according to vice president Barbara Kramer, drawing Barneys Japan and international buyers from Germany, Italy and France. Traffic bustled on Saturday.
“It’s unusual for August, and it shows that more and more people think L.A. is the place to see what’s to come,” Kramer said.
Shauna Stein, owner of On Beverly Boulevard in Los Angeles, stopped in for tunics to match the tapered, ruched FRX jeans she had picked up. “Bottoms are getting narrower as tops get longer and proportions change,” she said.
Clique’s cashmere shells and Lemon’s Asian print skirts, and tube tops were top finds for Edna Hart, who owns a boutique in the edgy eastside Los Angeles neighborhood Silver Lake. “We’re looking for pieces — things to dress up or down — because we don’t think people are getting too dressy this season,” she said.
By and large, most of the market’s retailers hailed from the West Coast, and in an encouraging sign, a number of new specialty stores also attended.
“We found the right location and knew we had no choice, despite the economy,” said Casey Rosen, owner of Blush, a boutique opening in November in Denver. Rosen’s purchases included Sanctuary cargoes, Notice’s dresses accented with bows and White + Warren’s cable knit cashmere sweaters.
Denim wasn’t on most shopping lists.
“We’re not doing denim,” Rosen stressed. “There’s enough out there.”
Notably, those selling denim were mostly denim veterans and not the me-toos. Blue Cult was pushing its trouser jeans with angled pockets and its holiday skirt with split layered pleats. Clean, whiskerless jeans from Mavi Jeans, rhinestone-loop jeans at Allen B. and lightweight denim jeans minus the rivets from AG were also top sellers.
The contemporary designer areas On 5 — the name given to the CMC’s fifth floor showrooms — and the Focus collection in the building’s Fashion Theater weren’t as busy as hoped, but Ana Capri and Pomelo Studio were among the dozen vendors who said buyers shopping were serious.
“I met with boutiques from northern California and they were placing orders,” said Cindy Hau, whose six-month-old line, Pomelo Studio, featured black-and-white pieces including bias-cut polyester crinkle skirts with satin trim and bamboo print mesh shirts with stretch knit overlays.
In moderate, buyers were receptive to basics with a twist. Sherpa tracksuits with leg buckles were draws at XCVI from hotel and resort buyers while heat-transfer floral sweaters by Victor Carlini and monogrammed sweaters and expanded tanks with sheer polkadot trim and flower details by Banzai were top sellers, Kendrick reported. “Banzai is more form-fitting and younger in look, and that’s what buyers are looking for in the misses’ market,” she said.
Edgy eveningwear at Mandalay, like the silk chiffon “bondage” dress with a leather corset overlay, and stretch satin and silk chiffon blocked skirt sets dazzling with paillete clusters were top sellers, according to owner Glenn Kay, whose showroom is in the CMC. His diffusion line, Julian Joyce, which began shipping last month to Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s and wholesales for about 40 percent less, also was on display with one-piece, embroidered dresses.
“Mandalay has strong ornamentation and this line could be more palatable to a broader audience,” said Kay, who hopes to open it more to department stores nationwide.