By  on February 20, 2008

LAS VEGAS — Economic reality took some of the luster from MAGIC Marketplace and the satellite trade shows here, as buyers factored in price first and vendors tweaked their strategies to appeal to cost-conscious consumers.

Merchants were attracted to brands that combined good style at a reasonable price during the shows from Feb. 10 to 16. Consider Priorities, a North Bergen, N.J.-based contemporary brand that channeled the mixing of prints that evoked designer labels such as Thakoon and L.A.M.B., including a red plaid ruffled blouse wholesaling for $48 and a leopard-print trenchcoat costing $120.

"My prices — people are liking," said Stefani Toonkel-Greenspan, president of Priorities, which showed at Project at the Sands Expo & Convention Center. "It looks more expensive than it is."

Even at contemporary boutiques in California, a bellwether for trends in apparel and retail, price was a major consideration. "There's no way to avoid as a Southern California retailer [the fact that] the economy was hit here," said Jaye Hersh, owner of the Los Angeles specialty shop Intuition.

Diana Schmidt, owner of K-Lane's in Anthony, Kan., was weary of the recession headlines and their impact on shoppers, while acknowledging she was cautious in making purchases. Seeking to appeal to customers who want dressier apparel, she ordered a black-and-white floral print crop jacket from New York-based Clara S. with a wholesale price of $39 at the Women's Wear in Nevada show.

In the premium denim sector, where jeans can easily wholesale for as much as $175, jean makers began emphasizing prices over trends. For the first time, Frankie B. and Evisu introduced styles that wholesale for less than $90, while Yanuk recast itself as a moderately priced line with jeans wholesaling from $40 to $50. "We've been getting a lot of demand for lower-priced items," said Frankie B. designer Daniella Clarke.

Chloe Dao, a buyer for Lot 8 in Houston, shopped for fresh women's lines at the Pool show. "Our numbers were down last year and the year before," said Dao, who won the second season of reality TV series "Project Runway" as a designer. "But you still got to buy clothes."The young contemporary sector was a bright spot. Buyers liked how vendors adapted styling from the contemporary category to prices that weren't much higher than what junior vendors charged. BB Dakota, a young contemporary label based in Irvine, Calif., met with retail buyers on the last day of WWDMAGIC in the Las Vegas Convention Center as its competitors packed to go home. Peggy Cooper, a buyer for Details in Littleton, Colo., checked out BB Dakota's rainbow buffalo plaid jumper and bomber jacket, with wholesale prices of $18 and $30, respectively. Cooper said it's "pretty much business as usual" at her women's boutique, though she has to keep price points reasonable.

Morgan Gilman, national sales manager for New York's Free People, the young contemporary brand owned by Philadelphia-based Urban Outfitters, was bullish that Free People will prevail despite the weak retail environment because of "the perceived value of our product," which retails, on average, from $35 to $168. Moreover, Free People updated bestsellers from last year's strong sweater season, such as exaggerating the lantern sleeves on a chunky wool-angora sweater coat that retails for $168. The sweater category poses "a huge opportunity in general for retail going into late fall, and it's a higher price point," Gilman said.

ACCESSORIES

AccessoriesTheShow and WWDMAGIC, held at The Venetian and the Las Vegas Convention Center, respectively, cultivated buyers with bags and baubles that spanned the price spectrum, but moderate-price merchandise gained the most traction.

"They [buyers] don't want to do over $250 to $300 retail," said Stephanie Mahseredjian, a merchandiser for Toronto-based High Fashion Handbags, where oversize clutches wholesaling from $75 to $98 were key items.

Patricia Willging, who is looking to open an accessories store in Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, said, "I would spend up to $100 for a bag that is not leather. If you buy an $800 bag, you feel guilty throwing it in the closet."

Fabiola Hunter, who owns jewelry and purse party firm Jewelry Divas with Ebony Phillips, searched for handbags that retail for as much as $80 but resemble Juicy Couture purses favored by teen customers. "They love the look, but they can't pay the prices," Hunter said.Buyers were giving silver jewelry a second glance because of gold's climbing price. Gary and Carmen Michell, who own jewelry and apparel store Exclusive Designs in Waikoloa, Hawaii, weren't buying any gold jewelry. "I am waiting for it to come down," said Carmen Michell, referring to the price of gold.

With some buyers avoiding gold, Ben Morice, designer for Verlu, a silver jewelry line produced in Indonesia that launched last fall in the U.S. with wholesale prices of $10 to $400, believed they would roll the dice on high-end silver lines. "It is still cheaper than gold jewelry," he said.

In handbags and in jewelry stones, bright colors had staying power. Pink, yellow and orange were among the highlighted hues in Santa Cruz, Calif.-based Big Buddha's handbag collections, which were dominated by big bags. Hinting at Prada, many vendors also offered ombré accessories, including High Fashion Handbags, Hawthorne, N.Y.-based Christian Livingston Designs and even Culver City, Calif.-based small accessory goods brand Lodis Corp., where a croc leather collection with an ombré effect was selling from $38.60 to $105.80 at wholesale.

POOL

Pool marked its seventh year with a move inside the Las Vegas Convention Center from a tent outside. Buyers primarily checked out its 70 eco-friendly lines — up from 50 during last August's show — compared with 300 brands in Pool's main area.

Nikol Hafen, manager of Lucky Pirate Denim Bar, a specialty boutique in Salt Lake City, hit the bamboo-floored S(eco)nd area in search of green brands that she likes. Concerns about the economy motivated her to "really eliminate in your buys things you don't need," she said.

Alice Russell, the owner of Post Ranch Mercantile in Big Sur, Calif., said she tried to procure many natural fibers, including bamboo and a fiber made of seaweed and wood-based Lyocell called seacell. She browsed Los Angeles-based Peligrosa's fall collection of organic denim column dresses that wholesale for $135 and a bluish violet A-line boiled wool coat for $185.

Other eco brands included New York's Ryann, which featured an organic wool caftan for $160 at wholesale. San Francisco-based Turk + Taylor showed $134 tweed trapeze dresses made of recycled Italian wool and $71 plaid shirtdresses cut out of organic cotton flannel.In accessories, Tokidoki unveiled its new collaboration with Sanrio, featuring Hello Kitty in a spiny cactus suit adorning monogram bags, wallets and pencil cases that retail from $50 to $200.

LINGERIE

Lingerie Americas and CurveNV squared off again, with CurveNV at The Venetian featuring 145 brands to 60 for Lingerie Americas at the Las Vegas Hilton. Patrice Argain, chief executive officer of Lingerie Americas, said intimates vendors and buyers still have to become accustomed to a deal completed last November that moved the show to WWDMAGIC for two years from The Venetian. "By next time, we will try to double the size," he said.

Size, when it came to bras, remained a chief conversation topic in lingerie booths. Nancy Johnston, a sales representative for Lejaby, which Warnaco said last week it would sell to Palmers Textil AG for $65 million, said Lejaby's Elixir de lingerie brand for cups C to H was a growth driver. And Natori's recently introduced Unique Fit bras meant for women who are not quite standard cup sizes was well received. "A lot of us have that problem; you gain weight, you lose weight," said Desiree Larson, sales director for Natori's owner New York-based Dana-co Apparel Group.

John Bowman, Dana-co's president, pointed out that the rising value of the euro was pushing up retail prices of the company's lingerie made with European fabrics by $2 to $4, although he had yet to meet price resistance from high-end intimates buyers.

Sandy Wirkler, who carries Cosabella at Midland Clothing in Basalt, Colo., near Aspen, and was eyeing Natori, didn't shy away from expensive lingerie with appealing prints. "They don't watch their spending," she said of her wealthy customers.

SWIMWEAR

As WWDMAGIC runs in the middle of the swim industry's traditional selling off-season, the group of swimwear vendors was small. The 10 or so that did attend were mostly cheerful about a boost in foot traffic because of the shift from the Hilton to the comparatively bustling North Hall in the Las Vegas Convention Center and about a high concentration of buyers from resorts.

"With the economy the way it is, people might be going away, but doing family trips close to home," said Ron Razzano, West Coast account executive for Southern California swimwear company Apparel Ventures, explaining why American and Mexican resorts were stocking up on swimsuits. He said there were brisk sales of junior brand Citrus, which wholesales from $16 to $18 for bottoms and $19 to $20 for tops, in a show usually skewing toward swimwear for older shoppers.Cover-ups, now making up about 30 percent of Apparel Ventures Inc.'s business, continued their strength and their sportswear influences were apparent. A top-selling piece was a Ralph Lauren Blue Label halter terry dress wholesaling for $35, while a popular item at Niki Wior, a younger counterpart of the control line Carol Wior, was the versatile Million Dollar Dress wholesaling from $45 to $49.

"What we are trying to do in Niki is incorporate a little bit of the streetwear in the swimwear," said Jeff Bailey, Bell Gardens, Calif.-based Carol Wior's national sales manager.

WOMEN'S WEAR IN NEVADA

Buyers from small boutiques and resorts expected Women's Wear in Nevada, or WWIN, at the Rio Las Vegas to dazzle them with showy special occasion wear and plus-size separates for mature customers. And the February edition of the show didn't disappoint with more on-trend items in its 820 exhibitor booths such as trenchcoats and Empire-waist dresses.

Sandee McColm, a buyer for Phoenix-based Delstar Cos. Inc., which operates about 20 shops in resorts and airports, looked for more fashion-forward items in a sea of tunics. She found them at Svetlana, a Toronto-based manufacturer of racier apparel such as black suspender pants that wholesale for $65 and a silver-foil cotton "moon" jacket for $99. "I love it," McColm said, flipping through the racks.

Jennifer Cohen, a sales executive at Obstinée in Los Angeles, said mom-and-pop retailers didn't place orders for immediate delivery at her booth because they still had back stock from previous seasons. "Fall fashions were so tempting they're writing orders," she said, noting that buyers from major retail chains such as Nordstrom and Dillard's previewed the line's turquoise and orange tie-side tunic dresses.

MODA LAS VEGAS

Buyers chose from almost 300 lines of women's ready-to-wear at the sophomore run of Moda Las Vegas at The Venetian. Value was on their minds, said Dana Harrison, president of Dana Emilia Presents, a New York-based marketer of several brands, including Eva Tralala and Lidira. She noted that versatility was an important value indicator and singled out a $193 loose-fitting Eva Tralala jacket that could be worn several ways. "It is mixing practicality with fashion," Harrison said.At Los Angeles-based Tadashi Shoji & Associates, whose gowns average $179 at wholesale, sales representative Rich Benvenuti suggested the trends both in buyers' budgets and in dresses were going in the tighter direction. "The shape is moving closer to the body," he said. Buyers "are a little bit more cautious."

OFF-PRICE SPECIALIST

Anxiety about the economy gave the Off-Price Specialist Show at the Sands Expo & Convention Center a boost. Organizers said 11,200 attendees filled the show with a record 3,156 new buyers hunting for bargains at the 265 women's clothing vendors, where as much as 90 percent of orders were for immediate delivery.

Sandy Piontak, of Seal Beach, Calif.-based Carlen Enterprises, said women's boutique buyers bypassed denim in favor of dresses and novelty tops like those worn by celebrities.

Debra Nespor, a buyer from Bealls Outlet in Bradenton, Fla., said shoppers in the Sunbelt were "affected in a negative way" by economic factors. "We need price points to get customers back," said Nespor, who scouted branded junior bottoms and denim Capri pants for Bealls' more than 560 stores.

GLOBAL E.C.O. TRADE SHOW

With competing expos focusing more attention on environmentally friendly brands, the Global E.C.O. Trade Show at The Venetian shrank to 20 vendors from some 25 in the previous season, said organizer Howard Gabe. Looking ahead, Gabe said he will broaden the trade show to a sustainable focus and include everything from apparel to beauty and home goods in an effort to attract more exhibitors.

E.C.O. drew companies such as Los Angeles' vintage-inspired dress specialist Small Axe Clothing and Raleigh, N.C.-based kids clothing firm happygreenbee. They said they chose the show for its tailored audience of retailers targeting lifestyle customers. "People understand the organics and why they cost more," said Collette McGuire, co-founder of Small Axe, which wholesales its dresses made from organic fabrics from about $70 to $150.

However, buyers demonstrated just how far environmentalism has reached. Elaine Eads, owner of Alaska Furs and Gifts in Delta Junction, Alaska, said she had sold recycled T-shirts that performed well and was scouting other green brands. "We like to examine all aspects of ecology," she said. "More and more people are aware of the environment."UNITED TRADE SHOW

The third installment wasn't the charm for the United Trade Show at the Alexis Park Resort Hotel. "We've scaled back" said show organizer Rama Mayo, citing economic concerns, as the show condensed its layout from two rooms to one. The handful of women's vendors at United included Hysteric Glamour, Beauty Bar Collection and Born Uniqorn.

Buyers at the one-year-old streetwear show were scaling back orders, as well. Matthew Brown, owner of a Denver-based specialty shop called Fancy Tiger, said he was more selective of higher-priced items as he inquired about a royal blue military trench-style dress at Born Uniqorn with a wholesale price of $75. "If we charge a lot for something, it has to be spectacular," Brown said.

— With contributions from Rachel Brown

TRENDS
- Fabrics were delicate in crepe de chine and silk jersey, comforting in cashmere and cotton or novel in velvet, corduroy, tweed and supple leather.
- Silhouettes morphed between the girly girl in dresses and the tomboy in high-waisted trousers with wide legs.
- Designers tried a variety of prints, ranging from floral and polkadots to stripes and plaids.
- The focus was on a neutral palette of gray, brown, teal, purple, nude and black.
- Outerwear was structured, taking the shape of bombers, trenches, capes and peacoats.
- Denim makers continued to churn out Seventies-style wide legs, skinny jeans and dark washes. They also introduced more distressed treatments and alternative fabrics such as lightweight wool and shiny corduroy.

soybu and bb dakota PHOTOS courtesy of advanstar; All others BY TYLER BOYE

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