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The Lure of Creativity

NEW YORK — When fashion competes with iPods and flat-screen TVs for the consumer’s attention, it takes a little more creativity than usual to emerge a winner. <BR><BR>Several exhibitors at the Atelier Designers, Pacific Designer Collection...

NEW YORK — When fashion competes with iPods and flat-screen TVs for the consumer’s attention, it takes a little more creativity than usual to emerge a winner.

Several exhibitors at the Atelier Designers, Pacific Designer Collection and Nouveau Collective hotel trade shows this week seem to have taken this point to heart and added creative touches to their designs with hopes to beat the competition, come fall.

“The trends are going increasingly architectural and the shapes are becoming more important, more refined,” said Jill Heppenheimer, co-owner of Santa Fe Weaving Gallery in Santa Fe, N.M., who shopped the Atelier, Designer Pacific and Coterie shows. “Asia and Europe are having more of an influence, which I am happy to see, because it is a more sophisticated look to a lot of what we have seen in the past.”

Trends on tap included boiled-wool coats cut in unusual angles to pleats in unexpected places, tie-dyes, colorful embroidered skirts and textured metallic coats. Retailers and vendors are hopeful that, come fall, these looks will convince consumers to spend more on apparel.

“If it hadn’t been for the week after New Year’s, I would have said it was a miserable fourth quarter, but in the end, the consumers showed up and spent money,” Heppenheimer said. “I read that people are buying electronics and not apparel, and if they are buying apparel, it’s much more disposable. They are not wardrobe building.”

Stacy Esser, vice president of sales at Bill Burns, an exhibitor at Nouveau Collective, agreed. “I am consistently told that the fourth quarter was tough,” she said. “There just wasn’t enough traffic and people were spending more on iPods and flat screens, which hurt apparel.”

For the most part, many of the smaller labels at these shows catered to niche retailers, which ranged from mom-and-pop boutiques to arts-and-crafts specialty stores nationwide.

“There were some new stores, and a lot of the regular stores came,” said designer Ann McKenna, whose knitwear company is based in Larkspur, Calif. “It’s not like it was before Sept. 11, but I feel it’s coming back. Florida stores seem to be doing really well, and that’s a good sign of things coming back.”

This story first appeared in the March 3, 2005 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

McKenna noted that stores are usually looking for immediate deliveries, but not so this time when the lion’s share of her orders were for fall.

“In the past, half of my orders were reorders, but now I see my stores are stocking more,” McKenna said. “It seems they have more open-to-buy for fall, and I didn’t see any price resistance.”

Merch Mashiah, owner of Berlin-based Mashiah Arrive, said that the strength of the euro prompted him to increase U.S. dollar prices by 5 percent. “Stores may notice the change in price, but they will still buy it if they like it,” he said.

In the U.S. for the first time, French label Moloko showcased knit pieces in a brown, black and burgundy palette at Atelier. Looks included Victorian-inspired suits with gathered shoulders and deconstructed boiled-wool skirts. Moloko has four stores in Paris, and it is now being launched in the U.S. through Global Apparel Management. Moloko’s wholesale prices range from $60 for blouses to $450 for coats, with fall distribution aimed at about 30 specialty boutiques. Fall sales projections are between $300,000 and $400,000, according to Emanuel Fresko, chief executive officer at Global Apparel Management, which also showed Crea Concept, Renato Nucci and Blanc Nature at Nouveau Collective.

Brigitte Conti, designer at Manouche, Old Greenwich, Conn.-based designer line, showed shirts in distorted jersey fabrics with wholesale prices ranging from $60 for an apron to $150 for a kimono. Conti said she had lowered prices from last season. “I worked on my prices, knowing that I will have more quantity so I can get better prices,” Conti said.

The Atelier Designers and Pacific Designer Collection were held at the Rihga Royal Hotel Saturday through Monday. The Nouveau Collective wrapped up its four-day run at The Park Central Hotel on Tuesday.