By and  on January 28, 2002

NEW YORK -- Accessories fared better than many other categories this past holiday season, but overall, business was challenging and caution is in the air heading into spring.

Buyers came to January market week with flat open-to-buys and more carefully planned purchasing strategies. That said, many were looking for early spring deliveries, reflecting the extra-lean inventory planning, tighter even after Sept. 11, and the need for new product.

"Everyone was desperate for merchandise," said Karen Ericksen, co-owner of Showroom Seven. "Retailers got too lean, and now they realize they need product in their stores."

Showrooms and trade shows saw different traffic patterns from the usual, due in part to scheduling. Traditionally, the week's two major trade shows -- Accessorie Circuit and AccessoriesTheShow -- are held on the first weekend of market week. This year, however AccessoriesTheShow was held Jan. 6-8, prior to market, while Accessorie Circuit began Jan. 12 and ended Jan. 14.

Some vendors expressed frustration that a number of buyers chose to attend one show or the other. However, most believed the dual-show format didn't affect business too adversely.

The next round of shows will be organized differently, with Accessorie Circuit scheduled for May 5-7 and AccessoriesTheShow planned for May 9-11.

As for trends, color continues to dominate spring across categories and price segments. While no one look appears to be dominant, many companies continued to show popular styles from recent seasons with new twists, such as belts that have been updated with fringes and tassels. Turquoise and coral stones, often strung on leather cords, saw a resurgence in jewelry, and some adorned handbags, with many vendors dabbling in the hippie era. Safari trends also continue to be strong.

At Accessories Circuit, held at Pier 94 and 92 in Manhattan, bohemian items, straw bags and beaded jewelry booked well, vendors said.

"I feel that buyers are definitely buying safer," said Veronica Pesantes, owner and designer for the two-year-old Vero Santes line. "Many people are really merchandising better and are editing their assortments more carefully."

Hair accessories and jewelry designer Gerard Yosca, meanwhile, said the buying mood was "definitely more cautious. My customer is not buying anything that is tricky or trendy."Hair accessories, which have been on the wane in recent years, had a noticeable pickup at his booth, Yosca noted.

Nevertheless, some buyers were feeling a little optimistic.

Shoshana Strohli, an accessories buyer for off-price retailer Century 21, said accessories have been a standout performer, adding that she was mainly looking for hats and belts at the Circuit, and had also picked up some slippers along the way. "Many of our customers buy accessories as an impulse buy," she said. "If the assortment is right, people are willing to spend."

At AccessoriesTheShow, staged at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, many vendors stuck with tried-and-true looks, such as wide belts and straw bags, and color was a big draw.

"Colors are important, especially in watches and belts," said Marion Martignetti, owner of Round Hill Designs, a store in Hingham, Mass., who was also looking to increase her handbag assortment.

Newcomer vendor Shoshana Smith launched a line of quirky, high-heeled handbags made by placing zippers and straps onto shoes. Pointy boots are closed at the top so that items don't fall into the toe area.

"I can't deal with wearing stilettos, and it is much more fun to wear them as a bag," said Smith. Among her styles are denim high-heeled boots, cowboy boots and leopard-skin shoes. The line wholesales for $90 to $275.

While many buyers were clamoring for color, Atsushi Sakai, accessories buyer at trendy store Patricia Field in Manhattan, said he was going against the grain.

"I am into black and spy-inspired accessories," said Sakai.

The store's owner, Patricia Field, is the stylist for the HBO hit show "Sex and the City," and Sakai said many shoppers have come in looking for items they see on the show, such as horseshoe necklaces and "white-trash"-inspired looks.

Roy Kean, owner of handbag showroom Accessories That Matter, said many stores continued to order novelty and embellished handbags because consumers are looking for items that "put a smile on their face." As for trends, Kean said there was no dominant style or shape emerging. "We had two or three years where every season there was a new shape," he said. "Now, there is a lot of tweaking of bodies to make them look new.""The price-value relationship is more important," said Janet Goldman, president of multiline showroom Fragments. "Stores will restock carefully by keeping the cash flow in line."

Goldman said because of early markdowns, many stores have sold merchandise with low margins, prompting buyers to spend more cautiously this January. As a result, many of the designers she represents have lowered their price points by up to 10 percent.

"Stores are buying a lot of Spanish-inspired fringe looks," said Uri Alter, president at Apropo. "We are selling tooled, embossed leather and anything with tassels and embroidery on leather with some turquoise touch to it."

Trend List

Soft and slouchy oversized hobo handbags

Spanish-inspired accessories

Whimsical straw handbags

Colored gemstones

Mother-of-pearl and turquoise jewelry

Dangling earrings

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