The ides of March have never been exactly bountiful for coat makers, but that doesn’t mean they’re willing to wait for fall for business to get going.

Even though 2001 posted a 14 percent decline in women’s outerwear sales to $4.3 billion, 2002 sales should show an improvement, especially since cold weather came relatively early this fall and spurred sales.

Encouraged by the early chill and women’s renewed interest in outerwear as a fashion accessory instead of just a staple, brands like Cole-Haan, Harvé Benard and Herman Kay Bromley are developing strategies to keep sales clicking as they head into spring. To that end, they’ll offer more lightweight wools and leathers, and plenty of color and striped or patterned linings.

Bubblegum pink, yellow and melon might seem unlikely shades for quilted jackets, but that’s what Harvé Benard is counting on, as well as traditional colors, to drive spring sales.

Bernard Holtzman, president and design director of Harvé Benard, said: "With the spring season, it’s get in, get out and go on with your life."

Searle is counting on January and February sales to generate 45 percent of the brand’s annual outerwear volume, said Steve Blatt, president and chief executive officer. Instead of getting out of the business by February — a strategy embraced by most retailers — Searle will keep making coats for as long as they are needed. He’s also trying to buoy spring sales with styles that appeal to fashion-conscious customers.

And with more stores chasing trends, inventory should be under control early next year, said Donald Levy, president of The Levy Group, which makes the licensed Liz Claiborne, Dana Buchman and Esprit lines and the proprietary Braetan and Donnybrook labels.

Sportswear designers won’t be on the sidelines of the spring outerwear game: They’re set to carry jackets and coats into spring, with Nanette Lapore, Milly and DKNY leading the charge.

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