By  on December 22, 2004

NEW YORK — They might not pass for chic at an Upper East Side holiday soiree, but novelty tops emblazoned with snowmen or Santa Claus are still a popular way of showing off the spirit of the season.

“It’s a big business and it’s all novel and it’s fun,” said Burt Damsky, vice president of sales at Spex, which produces the moderate-priced and at times holiday-themed Lemon Grass line.

That clothes able to connect with consumers on an emotional level are bestsellers is just about a fashion truism. It is a concept, however, that cheery reindeer with Christmas lights in their antlers and winter wonderland penguins naturally master.

“This stuff in particular has an edge in triggering that emotional response,” said Damsky. “If it can put a smile on your face, odds are you’re halfway to buying it.”

Most of Lemon Grass’ motifs, such as polar bears, penguins and snowmen, are geared toward winter for a longer selling season than strictly Christmas themes, as Santa would offer.

Society mavens can say what they will, but there is a demand for whimsical takes on fashion for the holidays.

“The traditional customer is still out there,” said Joy Martin, general merchandise manager for feminine apparel at Von Maur, a 22-door chain based in Davenport, Iowa. “We want to make our core customer happy and a lot of the time it’s our core customer who buys [holiday-themed fashions].”

Von Maur sells embellished holiday T-shirts that start at $30 and sweaters that go up to $68 to $75 at full price.

“Snowmen and snowflakes are pretty big,” she said, adding that the looks are rolled out to the stores early in the season.

“The stores get decorated and you have your little holiday items just to get everybody in the spirit,” said Martin. “There is that customer out there who would really miss it if it weren’t in the store. It’s fun, it’s not for everybody, but it certainly is a fun look if that’s of interest to you.”

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