NEW YORK -- While the Fashion Coterie at The Plaza is the flagship for the trade shows being held here through today, steady streams of buyers have also been moving through the Le Parker Meridien hotel where three events end their three-day stands today.

The largest show at the Meridien by far is the Showroom, spread over five floors with 80 suites holding about 250 lines, and with contemporary looks the main element. Several retailers noted they were looking in particular for touches of color to mix in with the neutrals and naturals that seem to dominate current fall lines.

"Naturals are going to become less important, but they'll be used as a base for some new colors," such as blue and terra-cotta tones, which will get into deeper tones for fall, said Ellen G. Berlin, owner of Berlin's, Charleston, S.C.

However, in seeking fill-ins for summer, Berlin noted white was significant.

"White dresses are really important where I live," she said.

Gayla Graham, owner of Gayla's, Mobile, Ala., said she was walking Showroom and the Coterie to preview fall and pick up immediate goods.

"I'm really looking for color, because the naturals have been in for so long," she said. "A little brighter for spring, and then for fall more jewel tones."

Graham said she mostly looks for items at Showroom to add to her store's basic sportswear. With a healthy Christmas business behind her, Graham said her open-to-buy would be up slightly.

Sari Asher, owner of Le Grand Trunk, Chicago, Ill., said she was looking for "summer to buy and fall to preview."

"I wouldn't mind seeing some color for summer," she said, adding that it would have to be muted tones rather than brights. While her holiday season was strong, Asher noted that since then her business has been down because of harsh weather.

"But once we had a warm spell, business popped," she said. "Everyone had such cabin fever, they wanted to buy."

Michael and April Levandowski, owners of three Leroux shops on Martha's Vineyard, said they were shopping Showroom looking for a core sportswear line as well as fall goods for July delivery."We're looking for items and newness, and Showroom is always good for new resources," said April Levandowski.

Wendy Wolther, owner of Metromodes, which had eight lines at the show, said Sunday business had been a little off, but that Monday had started out strong. Buyers were responding particularly well to the striped knit separates from the Helios line, loose rayon dresses from Victoria Falls and casual knit separates from Lucie.

"People have said that their January business was down, but that recently business has been terrific," Wolther said.

The two other shows at the hotel -- Pacific Designers Collection and Creative British Knitwear -- spotlight more specialized collections. At Pacific Designers, offbeat and one-of-a-kind looks were featured by many of the 19 designers.

Items getting attention for fall selling included black wool circle coats with striped piping and ethnic jewelry made from glass and horn. Among the more unusual items were the handbags made from Fifties place mats, designed by Patricia Farber.

"I'm looking for fresh, new, exciting clothing, but at a good value. That's what the customer wants," said Joan Shepp, owner of the boutique carrying her name in Elkins Park, Pa.

"We're looking for washed colors and narrow silhouettes, but we definitely come here with an open mind," said Maureen Rader, a buyer at Portantina, a boutique here, who was buying long slender velvet dresses by designer Hanna Hartnell.

"There aren't throngs of people here, but people are really buying," said Anna McKenna, a San Francisco-based knitwear designer, who founded the nine-year-old show."And they're buying deep."

At Creative British Knitwear, some 28 designers showed their better-price merchandise. Both manufacturers and retailers noted that while the high cost of importing British knitwear was a deterrent to mass sales, the show was a good place to find unique merchandise.

"These sweaters are really expensive to bring in," said Esther Fishman, a buyer from the Chicago boutique Art Effect. "They have to be really special to justify a buy for that kind of money."

Fishman said, however, with an open-to-buy up 25 percent from last year, she was still in the market for sweaters, hats and "things that make our store special," she said. "I look for these individual picks wherever I can find them."Among the exhibitors, Keith Duckworth, who was showing the collection of his wife, Susan Duckworth, based in Surrey, said: "There's a lot of interest, but Susan's stuff becomes quite expensive."

For example, he noted, a basic handknit sweater would wholesale for $340.

Jessi Seaton, a partner at J&J Seaton, based in Goetre, Llanfynydd, Carmarthen, Wales, said she has been showing at British Knitwear for the past six seasons.

"We established this show because there wasn't an obvious place for us," she said.

"We felt we needed a select environment where we could see customers in a cost-effective way.

"Traffic has been good this show," she said. "We all have established customers that come by."


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