In an effort to boost sales, contemporary retailers are taking a walk on the wild side by shopping the edge at MAGIC.

The edge, which began in 1998 and houses a mix of Goth, rock-, street- and fetishwear, has always been considered a fashion incubator for emerging and underground companies that don’t want to risk being seen as “sellouts” by graduating to the more mainstream show areas. But the secret is out among contemporary retailers, which are casting a wider net over the offerings at the edge.

“Retailers are realizing that they have to keep their product mix fresh when they’re struggling for the same consumer dollar,” said a spokeswoman for MAGIC International. “They’re looking for something cool and edgy and funky to add to their contemporary pieces.”

Fraser Ross, owner of Kitson, the Los Angeles “It” boutique, said that he shops the edge in search of unique T-shirts and accessories.

“It helps you put your mixture together and look edgy. It’s like going to the East Village in New York.”

THE CONTEMPORARY CONUNDRUM

But conversely, as more mainstream retailers look to add alternative pieces to their offerings, it becomes harder for those companies to stay true to their roots.

“I think business is just tough out there,” said Drew Vernstein, president and chief executive officer of Lip Service, the Los Angeles-based manufacturer considered to be one of the granddaddies of Goth- and fetishwear. “There’s a lot of players now, and the look that Lip Service pioneered [has become] very mainstream.”

Companies such as Lip Service now cater both to the fashionable fetishists as well as their core lifestyle customers. Vernstein, who sells to 400 specialty retailers, also manufactures for Hot Topic, the City of Industry, Calif.-based trendy teen chain. The chain sells a toned-down version of Lip Service’s designs made just for Hot Topic, and has brought the look into the mainstream. This is both good and bad for Vernstein, who said that increased competition from other companies has kept him on his toes.

Hot Topic is considered by Vernstein to be the sartorial version of training wheels for teens who will eventually graduate into the more hard-core punk- and fetishwear boutiques. “The problem is that Hot Topic grew big and took that look into malls, which eroded the boutique stores,” he said. “The good thing is that Hot Topic’s customer is younger than in the boutiques.”

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