CHICAGO — Concerns that the war in Iraq would keep buyers away from Chicago’s March StyleMax were unfounded, as organizers reported record-breaking attendance at the market, which ran March 22-25.

"We were very worried because of the events going on in the world that people were going to be afraid to travel," said Susan McCullough, vice president of apparel for the Merchandise Mart Properties Inc., who, in contrast, noted that first-day attendance was up 20 percent.

"I think the show continues to gain momentum," she said. "In the open format, it’s easy to shop and you can spot trends by walking around."

"I used to go to New York a lot," said Dorothy Maynard, owner of Maynard’s in Flushing, Mich. "But I’ve cut down on my buying at the other shows. [StyleMax] fits my needs a lot better. The timing fits in for my deliveries so I don’t have to go to as many shows. It also has more of a Midwest mind-set and that sells well for me."

At StyleMax, Maynard ordered separates including crinkle tops from Lou Nardi, handpainted faux-fleece jackets and coats from Alberto Makali and other outerwear from Linda Richards and Mycra Pac.

For denim, she liked looks from Vitamina, Walking Art, Equestrian Designs and Not Your Daughters Jeans. For separates, Maynard turned to unstructured pants and capris by Kd Spring and more fitted, body-conscious tops with feminine detailing, such as chiffon trim or ruffles by Von Saken and Angelica Val.

Teri Ann Zide of Teri Ann’s specialty shop in Marietta, Ohio, also was impressed with the crowds and offerings at StyleMax.

"There seems to be a lot of business going on, which is very encouraging," she said. "I think that StyleMax is working."

Zide ordered WWW Collection dressy summer separates, including blouses, fly-away pants and special-occasion dresses in mainly black, white and pink. For fall, she bought Louben wool jackets in pink, plum and lavender, Meritage black lace skirts and coordinating black cut-out sweaters with beading, suede sherpa jackets in chocolate brown and caramel from Karen Kane and novelty jackets in patterns, tweeds and tapestry from Conrad C. Collection."I’ve tried to buy some color," she said, noting orders including browns, pinks and plums.

Zide also picked up some more novelty items, such printed rayon and Lycra spandex tops from Cyrus and embellished AZI jeans in different washes with stitching and stones down the side.

"Those were pretty wild for me," she said about the denim, "but it’s our job to add some excitement. There seemed to be a lot of suede and leather pieces. I was pleasantly surprised that we were selling those pieces [leather and suede] in lighter colors through spring. It made it very easy to go forward with them for fall."

Patti Geiger of Geiger’s Pendleton Shoppe in Medina and Rocky River, Ohio, noted the lack of one predominant trend. "I was a little disappointed," she said. "I didn’t find anything that was that unusual or new. I always look for something fun, but you could tell that the manufacturers are being conservative."

Geiger did purchase some mix-and-match separates and silk jackets in paprika, navy and black from Christy Allen, as well as white blouses and cotton sweaters in moss, taupe, paprika, navy and black from Nomadic Traders. She went with the same colors in twill pants from French Dressing.

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