NEW YORK — Relieved by what appears to be a victory in Iraq, buyers at last week’s fall II ready-to-wear shows said they hoped the positive news would help ease consumers into their normal shopping habits — which have been plagued by uncertainty in the months leading up to the bombing in Iraq and during the war.

Until there’s equally good news about the economy, however, buyers said they were sticking with tried-and-true resources, especially during secondary markets like last week’s editions of American International Designers at the Waldorf-Astoria and Designers at the Essex House, which took place April 12 to 16 and April 12 to 17, respectively.

"We have a wealthy clientele, so if the market does poorly, they spend less," said Saul Schwait, an owner of Cherry Hill, N.J.-based eveningwear retailer Marcy G. "If her hubby says to hold back, she holds back. The war is over, the weather should get better soon, it’s all going to help —but the stock market has to come back."

Schwait said he and his wife, Marcy, who’s also his business partner, visited the store’s top-selling resources, including Mark Heister and Sansappelle at the Essex House and San Carlin, Michael Casey and Linda Cunningham at the Waldorf.

Similarly, Kari Morrison, the designer, couture and eveningwear buyer at Julian Gold, a four-store Texas retailer, flew to New York for the day and visited her strongest vendors, including San Carlin, Mark Heister and Sansappelle. She also ordered from Lourdes Chavez.

Morrison said she plans to return and finish buying eveningwear at the end of the month with showroom appointments. Recently, Julian Gold picked up Armani Collezione, Ferré Jeans and Versace Jeans.

For some, the timing was inconvenient.

While a Saks Fifth Avenue spokesman said the retailer always sends buyers to both shows to keep an eye on the market, most fall orders have already been placed by the time the fall II shows come around.

"It’s important to see what these designers are doing," said the Saks spokesman. "But specialty stores tend to benefit more from them."

Fran Stamper, designer, couture and bridal buyer for Denver-based Auer’s, said she already spent the first week of April in New York for the bridal market. To avoid two buying trips to New York during the same month, Stamper decided to skip the Essex and Waldorf shows. She may come back next year for fall II, but said it’s easy to spend her open-to-buy in February when the season opens.According to Mark Heister vice president Linda Heister, the April market is not what it once was. Next year, she may push back the Essex House show, which she helps organize, until May or June to sell the cruise and resort collections and bring some fall merchandise for smaller retailers working closer to season.

"Or, maybe going forward, we’ll do more markets with shorter durations," said Heister. "A lot depends on when buyers like to come to New York, whether it’s for the European designers, the Coterie or the Accessories Circuit. If our crystal ball doesn’t tell us to come at the right time, then we miss people. We saw about 22 stores, but [we’re] used to seeing about 50."

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