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Stores Getting a Jump On Spring

NEW YORK -- Spring has already taken root in the accessories departments of several major retailers, and early season readings show sterling silver jewelry, hats, scarves, sunglasses and handbags emerging as winners.<BR><BR>Many stores have had resort...

NEW YORK — Spring has already taken root in the accessories departments of several major retailers, and early season readings show sterling silver jewelry, hats, scarves, sunglasses and handbags emerging as winners.

Many stores have had resort and introductory spring merchandise out since before Christmas in order to get a jump on the season and catch the attention of holiday shoppers. For some, the strategy has proven successful.

Here’s how the action shapes up in the departments of four major organizations.

SAKS FIFTH AVENUE

Jewelry, neckwear and millinery are showing early strength, according to Helen Welsh, vice president and divisional merchandise manager for accessories. Within these classifications, she said, the natural trend — lightweight strands, crinkled fabrics and straw hats, all in neutral palettes — is driving a lot of the business.

“The natural trend is one that a lot of women can relate to,” Welsh said. “It’s soft and simple. I think this spring will be better for accessories than last spring because last spring was the beginning of the whole Sixties look, which not as many people were comfortable with.”

In addition, Welsh said Saks focused on making the transition into resort and early spring merchandise smoother and more gradual this year than it has in the past. In some locations, such as those in Florida, it started bringing out resort accessories in October, and it also mailed out a resort catalog in mid-November.

After a strong Christmas season, during which luxury items performed well, Welsh said she expects to see categories such as fine jewelry continuing to sell for spring.

“The intrinsic-value issue is still very important,” she noted. “The consumer has come to realize that she can buy a nice piece of fine jewelry at the same price she pays for a jacket.”

Saks’ gold jewelry sales have been solid since before Christmas, Welsh said, adding, “But I think silver’s going to be the hottest metal for spring.”

HENRI BENDEL

The best checkouts so far on spring goods, introduced to stores last month, have been sterling silver jewelry, hair accessories and handbags, according to Rob Goldfarb, merchandise manager for fashion accessories.

Sales in the jewelry classification have been dominated by silver pieces set with semiprecious stones or designed in ethnic motifs.

“Customers are really responding to silver, and I think they’ll continue to do so,” Goldfarb said. “We’re selling silver lines from vendors such as Jay Strongwater, which we don’t usually carry, but it’s been an extremely successful strategy for us.”

One of the top hair accessories lines has been a handcarved cherry wood group from Colette Malouf.

“These pieces retail from $30 to $70, so they’re not inexpensive,” Goldfarb said. “But as we saw during Christmas, the business is still very item-intense and the customer is not so much price-sensitive as interested in finding goods that combine fashion and quality.”

This has also been true, he noted, with a private label line of calfskin Kelly bags that retails for $265 to $350. In handbags, he added, “I believe we’ll be seeing a return to the structured look this spring, because it works with a lot of the ready-to-wear.”

Bendel’s is coming off a “terrific” Christmas season, with substantial gains in accessories, Goldfarb said.

“I definitely think we’ll see the momentum continue for spring, particularly since there are some good-looking trends coming along,” he noted. “For the first quarter, we’ll capitalize on ethnic and natural looks, but in the second quarter I see bright colors being very important.”

NEIMAN MARCUS

Neiman’s is doing its best spring business so far in sunglasses, with small oval and metallic frames by Oliver Peoples and Giorgio Armani leading the way. Scarves, handbags and jewelry are also moving well.

An increase of about 5 percent is planned for the season, according to Jake Einhorn, senior vice president and general merchandise manager. But that figure may be increased as the season progresses, he said.

“We’re coming off a very successful double-digit gain for Christmas,” he noted. “So we will respond to opportunities as they surface. That’s what we did for fall, and it worked out quite well.”

Other key resort and early spring collections include: belts in natural colors by Cipriani and DKNY; scarves in chiffon, lace and plisse fabrics and oblong shapes by Echo; woven fabric handbags, including openwork styles by Donna Karan; gold and raffia private label bags, and woven gold silk bags by Sharif.

Leading jewelry lines have been Jay Strongwater’s gold and natural stone beaded pieces, ethnic mosaic looks by Roxanne Assoulin, and diminutive jewelry, which Neiman’s calls “whisper jewelry,” by Erickson Beamon. In addition, sterling by David Yurman, oxidized silver by John Hardy and natural turquoise styles by Stephen Dweck and Celia Sebiri have done well.

Sandra Wilson, Neiman’s accessories fashion director, predicted that oblong and crinkled scarves would continue as a key trend of the season, along with ethnic jewelry in tarnished silver and gold finishes, as well as clean and sculptured looks in silver, Lucite and crystal.

“I do think we’ll need a splash of color to offset a sea of beige, silver and white,” Wilson observed. “It’ll be in summer with orange, fuchsia and tropical-colored scarves and pareos.”

MACY’S EAST

In its early spring lineup, Macy’s East has been showing jewelry, hats and scarves for the last month. Benny Lin, fashion director, said the strongest merchandise has been novelty ethnic jewelry from Ben Amun and Catherine Stein, natural motif hats from Eric Javits and crinkled and textured scarves from DKNY.

In February, Lin said, Macy’s will add trend stories in silvers and blues as well as pale colors and will also reinforce its range of natural trend merchandise.