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Spring Uptick Spurs Fall Orders

The Los Angeles fall II/holiday market saw brisk order writing as retailers spent more after an uptick in spring business.

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Julie Dahms, owner of Scottsdale, Ariz.-based retailer Fire ’N Ice, and Heather Wurst, CMC’s manager of retail relations.

LOS ANGELES — The June gloom blanketing the city with fog and rain didn’t stop retailers shopping the Los Angeles fall II-holiday market from talking of sunnier days ahead.

“I think business is getting better,” offered Samantha Campbell, owner and buyer for Samantha Lee in Walnut Creek, Calif., who picked up cashmere, “versatile” blouses and dresses for her contemporary boutique. “We’ve had a strong spring that has definitely translated to more open dollars. Now, business is really consistent and people have loosened up.”

It was a sentiment echoed by several retailers during market, which was held at the California Market Center, New Mart, the Cooper Building and the Gerry Building, and ended Tuesday. Order writing was brisk and retailers said the difficult issues facing the world finally appear to be lifting — the stock market is up, interest rates remain low and the war is over — and this is nudging consumers back into stores.

“We’re feeling a shift,” said Melanie Shatner, owner and buyer for Dari, a contemporary boutique in Studio City, Calif. Armed with a 30 percent increase in open-to-buy from spring’s uptick, she picked up ponchos and spandex ballerina-inspired items from Los Angeles designers Pegah Anvarian and Rachel Pally, respectively, and “anything that could be layered.”

In fact, layering was a theme heard across all categories. Liz Mikel, buyer, and Michele Varon, owner, of plus-size store Abundance in Sherman Oaks, Calif., said customers are snapping up natural fabrics like cottons and linens that can be piled on top of each other. “The plus sizes want to be as stylish as the little girls,” said Mikel, noting sales jumped 87 percent in April and 82 percent in May due to the look’s popularity.

Another common fashion denominator was fabric blocking, including:

  • Mod-influenced silk halters in striped-polkadot combinations by Alice & Trixie.

  • Asymmetrical skirts with patchwork hues by Hype.
  • Novelty fleece coats in pastel chunks by Love Lies.
  • Tablecloth-patterned dresses with lace trim by Nici.

The only cloud looming appears to be the industry’s confusion over that one trend that will keep customers coming back into stores.

“There is no trend,” said John Eshaya, women’s vice president of Ron Herman Fred Segal Melrose, espousing the store’s cover-all-the-bases philosophy. “Honestly, now is the time for customers to wear favorites. Stuff comes and goes so fast — the miniskirt, cashmeres, cargo pants — wear it all with chandelier earrings. It’s the best-of-the-last-two-years album.”

Showrooms reported buyers’ hunger for less — really less — fuss and more dollar-saving items.

At the Stacy Keyes showroom in the CMC, 525’s cotton cashmere twinsets in candy hues were most popular.

“It’s about preppy and clean,” Keyes said. “Fall should be about dressing up and expensive items like cashmere, but buyers seem to want the basics.”

White T-shirts by Jake’s Dry Goods at the Ginny Wong showroom at the CMC were other hot sellers. The baby-soft looks in long and short sleeves with vintage screens of coffee shops and Italian delis wholesale for $15. “Comfort is superceding glamour,” Wong said.

The line’s fleece, thermal and baby stretch athletic sets also resonated with buyers looking for roomier fits. Other new activewear looks were China Doll’s zip-up, screen-print hoodies, and Alice + Olivia’s new yoga line featuring bouclé crewneck shirts, miniskirts and rollover pants.

In the cargo category, satin looks were on the wane, taken over by cleaned-up silhouettes with flat pockets ornamented with zippers. Wash-and-wear bottoms in drapey trousers and stretch fabrics with pinstripes were selling at Tark ’1.

Buyers at New Mart’s Designers & Agents Annex searched for such looks as Los Angeles-based Goa’s punk-inspired tie-dyed velour and pleated plaid combination miniskirts, flocked one-piece layered shirts and bombers with satin sleeves and embroidered Asian back patches.

“It’s cute and sexy for people who don’t mind attention,” said partner Gerard Medina, who said the nine-month-old line will do $1.5 million in its first year.

Capital Tailors also broke its first collection at D&A. There was buzz about the line, not only because of the industry names behind it — the line is “passively” backed by Lucky Brand Dungarees founders Gene Montesano and Barry Perlman and operated by former Earl Jean president Joe Krafka and former Katayone Adeli sales manager Ellen Kinney — but also because it caught the attention of buyers from American Rag, Tracey Ross and Barneys Japan. The collection, designed by Glenn Williams and Eero Gathers, marries Italian and Japanese denim and twill fabrics with classic tailoring at retail prices from $245 for pants to $325 for a blazer. It’s the newest venture from Los Angeles-based Red Tiger Trading Co. Ltd., the holding company that nearly acquired Tyler, Richard Tyler’s secondary line, in February.

Overall, new trends were not so overt at D&A. There was practical, multipurpose clothing: C. Ronson, in from New York, sold army jackets with removable sherpa lining, while Los Angeles-based Twelfth Street by Cynthia Vincent stocked paisley-print reversible vests.

Back at CMC, 14 apparel lines from New Zealand were scheduled to take a large booth within the Focus collection but were off to a bumpy start on Friday, when the clothing was held up in U.S. Customs over one line’s use of opossum in yarns.

Insidious Fix, an eight-year-old contemporary line from Down Under, was one of the few lines that squeezed by the red tape, only to be hit by another setback: light buyer traffic. “We all want to expand our business in the U.S.,” said the line’s designer, Kylee Davis.

The key to driving traffic for some showrooms was purely getting down to hard work.

“I hired two people simply to phone retailers before market and they faxed all night long and that really made a difference in traffic,” said Theresa Matthew, who owns a showroom at CMC.

Holiday looks popular for her were Fifties-inspired looks such as Dress’ peau de soie, fitted black skirt suits accented with pink ribbons and bows and pink empire-waist dresses with a black ribbon tie. The same held true for Mario Balthazar’s low-waisted pinstripe spaghetti-strap dresses with chiffon pleats.

Lacy corset tops by Papillon Blanc and satin ribbed versions by Tadashi were an easy wardrobe enhancer, according to showroom owners.

Said Cary Lowe, who recently opened a larger showroom at CMC: “There’s a move to lots of evening separates as consumers look for practicality.”

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