By  on April 9, 2007

CHICAGO — Midwestern retailers placed bigger buys at StyleMax this season, buoyed by fresh fall fashions and strong spring business.

Linda Jonkman, owner of L.Marie & Co. in East Grand Rapids, Mich., estimated that she ordered 30 percent more fall apparel than last year during the four-day StyleMax at the Merchandise Mart in March, attributing the increase to a new dynamic location.

The clothing, accessories and home furnishings store did business for eight years as a destination shop in a residential area, but a move to an affluent, bustling street with a high concentration of professionals and young mothers, as well as million-dollar condos under construction, has boosted volume.

"Practically everyone who comes in buys clothes," she said, noting consistent demand for denim from FDJ French Dressing.

"We sell a lot of jeans," Jonkman said, adding that she placed orders from French Dressing in low- and mid-rise styles and petites.

Jonkman also loaded up on skirts, pants, leather jackets, longer cardigans and tunic sweaters in chocolate brown and pumpkin from Tribal Sportswear, as well as stretch-knit print tops from Libra, washable suede jackets from Ingenuity, and solid and striped tailored blouses from Nara Camicie.

Vickie Raven, owner of 6,000-square-foot Raven's Men's, Women's & Shoes in Ludington, Mich., also placed an order of about 30 percent more than last year. She shopped with another local business owner, Lauri Brown, who plans to open her own 1,800-square-foot store, La Belle Vie, this month.

Raven picked up jackets with velvet and fur trim from Papillion and patchwork jackets with appliqué and wool wraps from Parsley & Sage, as well as skirts, sweaters and camisoles in burgundy, champagne and black from Karen Kane.

Looking for distinctive pieces, Raven observed that "everything was ruched, textured, appliquéd or paneled."

Overall, business is up about 10 percent, she said, attributing the jump to strong customer service, a varied inventory and a strong downtown location.

Susan McCullough, senior vice president of apparel for Merchandise Mart Properties, which operated StyleMax, said, "Everybody is really cranking. It's been the busiest show we've had in a while."There were about 100 new lines, including Liquid, Z-Brand, Silver and Lucky Brand, she said.

A Sunday morning fashion show called "Montreal Collections," featuring Canadian lines such as Louben, Marc Aurel, Daymor and Mitchie's Matchings, attracted a standing-room only crowd of about 500.

Nancy Leonard, a sales associate with the Hans Behr Enterprises showroom, said she was impressed with the turnout and the reaction to one of the Canadian lines it carries, Tribal Sportswear.

"As a whole, retail is tough in our territory," Leonard said, pointing to difficult times for the auto industry in Michigan. "But we seem to be holding our own."

Bestsellers for Tribal included shearling jackets and vests, leather and ultrasuede jackets, colored denim jackets and boot-cut contoured-waist corduroys and lined, wool tweed pants.

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