ATLANTA — The energy level at AmericasMart was high, with busy showrooms, crowded halls and elevators, not only in social-occasion areas that are now a key component of the August show, but also in sportswear and accessories, where exhibitors reported strong sales.
Attendance at the women’s and children’s apparel-accessories market, which ran Aug. 21-25 at AmericasMart Apparel, was up 6 percent over last year, according to Lawton Hall, senior vice president of AmericasMart. Much of the activity concentrated around an entire floor devoted to bridal, prom, pageant and social occasion, called the FirstLOOK show.
“We drew stores that concentrate solely on bridal and special occasion, along with regular specialty stores that do crossover business [in those areas],” he said, adding that attendance also benefitted from ongoing outreach programs to out-of-territory buyers.
Shopping for a mix of immediate deliveries, holiday, resort and early spring, buyers responded to an abundance of fresh color, from neutrals to muted pastels. Big prom trends were dresses with low backs, beading and asymmetric hems and necklines, as well as full-skirted ballgowns in tulle fabrics.
In sportswear, new spring silhouettes, especially skirts and blouson or tunic jackets, also stimulated buying. Fabrics such as cotton twills and technical and athletic-inspired blends were jazzed up with texture and details, from ribbons and oversized buttons to touches of hardware.
While exhibitors didn’t note huge increases in traffic, they were satisfied with the caliber of stores and the size of orders.
Larry Rohrman, principle of Casablanca Bridal, an Anaheim-based bridal manufacturer, said sales were well over plan.
“The mart has brought in more manufacturers, which helps bring in more buyers,” he said.
Sheppard/Tucker Inc., a multiline sportswear sales firm, had a full showroom most of the weekend, with buyers sometimes waiting up to 45 minutes to work a line. Cathy Tucker, principle, described the show as “wonderful,” with sales up 30 percent over last year.
“We had the best buzz ever in this room,” she said. “Manufacturers are offering sharper prices, better design and timely deliveries.”
Leon Zekaria, president of Windsor, a Los Angeles-based specialty store chain with 35 stores in California, the Northeast and Midwest, shopped for special-occasion dressing, a category that represents 28 percent of total sales and up to 50 percent during prom season.“California isn’t as big an area for prom or homecoming, but in more traditional regions, where high school football is big, such as Michigan, the category is huge,” he said.
For prom, he bought beaded dresses with plunging necklines, backs and illusion fabrics, along with more understated sophisticated looks. His favorite resource at AmericasMart was Attitudes by Debra. He also bought a variety of looks from Precious Formals and Tiffany Designs.
While concentrating on prom, Zekaria also looked for vendors who offered suitings with jacket interest, such as splashes of color or unique belts, to appeal to young career customers.
Bridal and special-occasion store Couture Brides and Belles in Fairhope, Ala., shopped for everything from prom to grandmother-of-the-bride. Owners Karen DeKay and Kimmerly Moore, sought lines that would offer some exclusivity for their 3,000-square-foot store.
Seeking young mother-of-the-bride looks, in lightweight, flowing fabrics that offered a bit of coverage, the owners bought dresses and separates by Kay Unger, Gilar and Tadashi. They liked details like Shani’s ribbon and 3-D floral touches and Demetrios’ gowns with sophisticated styling, which also work for Mardi Gras.
They ordered low-back shapes in pastels by their best-selling prom line, Gilar, which also offers special orders and quick turnarounds, they said.
Ruth McManus, owner of Who’s Who in Albany, Ga., shopped for spring and holiday looks. She bought tropical prints for customers with nearby beach homes, from resources including Lilly Pulitzer. She liked all the pale, neutral, and citrus colors for spring, that would give customers a reason to buy.
While Olsen and Isda are two of her most tried-and-true resources, she also shopped for items to mix from a variety of lines, such as BCBG and Ann May. In silhouettes, she liked new 7/8ths-length jackets or tunics, and retro-inspired separates to pair with stretch jeans. She also opted for cargo pants, shirts and jackets in cotton twills and stretch fabrics.
For younger customers, she picked up sweatsuits and T-shirts from Juicy Couture, and items from Allen B. by Allen Schwartz, ABS, Laundry and Lacoste. She found shopping for her over-45-year-old customer more difficult.“There’s plenty for younger customers, but not enough for women who want fashion looks with good fit,” she said.
For holiday and special occasion, she bought asymmetric hemlines and bias-cut silhouettes from Kay Unger and Nicole Miller. Like other buyers, she said her mother-of-the-bride customers want “young-looking fashion, not the typical uptight jacket and skirt looks of the past.” She noted Damianou, Teri Jon and Chetta B as good MOB lines. In accessories, McManus bought versatile jewelry, with semiprecious stones and nature-inspired looks to highlight necklines.
Marigail Mathis, owner of the eponymous women’s specialty store in Florence, Ala., hit the show with a budget even with last year.
“Business in the first half of the year was great, but summer has been slow, so sales overall are even with last year,” she said.
Surveying the market for an early spring overview, she described offerings as “full of energy and fun, giving consumers a reason to buy.” Shopping for must-have items only, she bought skirts with movement, and blouson tops and updated peplum jackets that accent the waistline from Elliott Lauren. She liked color, prints and new embellishment by Alberto Makali.
Eschewing basics in favor of items with a “wow” factor, she bought printed denim jackets by Walking Art Australia and novelty cashmere tops by One Girl Who. She also chose novelty jewelry by Simon Sebbag and Andrea Barnette.
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