By  on February 14, 1994

NEW YORK -- As they get ready to start showing early fall merchandise, bridge dress manufacturers are buoyed by solid spring-summer bookings, some good early spring checkouts at retail -- considering the weather and other natural calamities -- and a general feeling that the economy has turned the corner.

Soft, easy silhouettes are shaping up as important elements for early fall, in fabrics such as silk, textured wovens and lightweight knits.

While short lengths remain important, hemlines are a little more conservative for fall, and some longer looks are expected to make a comeback.

Cynthia Rowley, designer and owner of the firm carrying her name, said there is strong reorder business on early spring merchandise like slipdresses, sleeveless sheaths and two-piece knit dresses.

"If that continues, it bodes well for fall," Rowley said. "For fall, I'm polishing everything up, looking for a sleek, pared-down look, with a little shine to the fabrics."

Among fall items Rowley is working on are "short and flirty dresses;" long is represented by pantsuits. Lightweight wool knits, tweeds, lace and polished rayon twill are important fabrics.

Bud Konheim, president of Nicole Miller, said 1994 seems to be "frozen in time" because of the California earthquake and weather conditions, but he's "very bullish, even though its based on seat-of-my-pants bullishness."

"What business we've gotten for spring is in all-new silhouettes," Konheim said. "There is a feeling that women are interested in shopping again and packing their closets with new things."

For fall, Konheim said close-to-the-body stretch looks will continue to be important, as well as illusion looks and a general styling that's "soft, subtle and classic." A concentration on new fabric developments will continue for fall, particularly in lightweight cloths and textured novelties.

Short lengths will still prevail for Nicole Miller, but not as short as the micro-lengths of spring, Konheim said..

Tom & Linda Platt will continue refocusing on "very simple, clean and modern clothes" for fall, said Tom Platt, co-owner and co-designer.

"The concept of a dress as just a product category is out," Platt said. "The walls have been torn down. Dresses are part of an overall design concept. We produce a line with a specific design theme that happens to have a lot of dresses in it."

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