MIAMI — Buyers got quite a workout by the end of the mammoth Miami swim week.
They covered three trade shows, the largest being SwimShow & Lingerie Show at the Miami Beach Convention Center, from July 19 to 22, followed by a flood of nightly runway presentations centered around the five-day Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim.
The mood was only slightly dampened by Mother Nature and her even more erratic foe, climate change.
“We’re like farmers, beholden to the weather,” said Lori Bacon, owner of Swimco, a specialty chain in Calgary with 22 doors. “The terrible winter helped business because Canadians won’t let anything stand in the way of their tropical holidays, but then we get killed by a bad summer.”
All sectors of apparel tend to make an easy target of the weather, but it has an especially profound impact on swimwear and outerwear. From Santa Monica, Calif.-based Canyon Beachwear’s branch in New York to the Crescent Coast boutique in St. Louis, weather affected sales more than any other factor. The former didn’t see its normal winter traffic due to freezing temperatures that kept shoppers housebound, while the latter’s summer started six weeks late. Nonetheless, all three retailers reported their budgets were flat or up slightly, compared to a year ago.
Gabi Amato-Heape, buyer for Absolutely Suitable at the Breakers Palm Beach in Florida, also had more dollars to spend on suits with sophisticated mesh accents from Karla Colletto and Jets, as well as tunics by Natural Impressions and Skemo within her booming cover-ups business.
“We were fortunate to have a dry winter, and summer hotel occupancy has reached 80 percent, so sales are year-round,” she said.
Despite the unusually harsh winter, some Southwestern stores are thriving on oil and gas money. A year ago, Megan Barnes bought the existing L.A. Sun & Sport in Oklahoma City, for its flush clientele that owns nearby lake houses and travels the world.
“Their only shopping options were going to Dallas or online,” she said, as she ordered rash guards with sun protection, underwire bikini tops and suits with tassels, multiple straps and corset lacing. “I’m happy high-waisted bottoms are everywhere this year, too, because they blew out, and I couldn’t get reorders.” Theresa Brunner, owner of H2O Swimwear pop-up shops throughout Texas, caters to an equally active boating community and stay-at-home moms.
“Women come in and drop $1,000 without trying on anything,” she said, citing high-neck latticework as a key 2015 style compared to other trends like flutter tops (too young) and bra tops (too suggestive). “I’m in the Bible Belt, so I need a balance between sexy and covered-up.”
It’s also smooth sailing at multibrand manufacturer and licensee Amerex Group’s five-year-old swimwear division, according to president and chief executive officer Ira Ganger. The firm had grown through a multitude of facets — acquiring Bleu|Rod Beattie, hiring a social media coordinator and opening a sample room in Asia, to name a few.
“I’ve heard swim’s challenging, but a major retailer that carries our Jessica Simpson brand said that we’re not getting a margin report this year, something I haven’t heard in 41 years,” he said. “Jessica Simpson met or exceeded the store’s profitability goals. So it’s not just that they had a strong sell-through, but it sold at minimum discount.”
He attributed its success to design director Red Carter, who previewed Simpson’s inaugural plus-size collection of approximately 70 stockkeeping units with placement prints and bustiers.
“We want to give this young customer the same styling as her smaller sister,” said Carter.
Placement prints — generally large-scale designs digitally printed — were a key trend throughout the market. Since digital printing allows for unlimited color without accruing extra costs the way screen-printing would, multiple prints and colorways, arranged in engineered panels, can all be printed at once.
If they didn’t expand swim, vendors added new categories. Frankie’s Bikinis launched canvas beach bags with rope handles, and rayon sarongs in striped, floral and ikat prints, while 6 Shore Road and Boys + Arrows introduced beach towels and ready-to-wear like a loose jumper with drawstring waist, respectively. Colombia-made OndadeMar’s foray into knits for 2015 retails from $150 to $220.
“We’re especially looking for ways to generate sales during slower seasons at our freestanding stores in colder climates,” said OndadeMar ceo José Santos, of his focus on rtw. “Swimsuits have declined from 65 to 55 percent of our business.”
Whether trending jumpsuits or mainstay maxidresses, versatile versus sheer cover-ups topped buyers’ lists. Designers have attuned to this demand of what Beattie dubbed “no-shower happy hour” pieces like his matching, sailor-inspired swim crop top and pants with white piping and gold buttons. Advancing swim shirts, edgy Aussie brand Suboo showed bomber jackets that work with swim suits.
“I sell a 1-to-1 ratio of cover-ups to swim and would sell more if I had them. I don’t think people even go to the pool anymore, and just wear them out on the town,” said Cynthia Owens Thompson, buyer for MGM Resorts.
Rash guards, which caught on last season, have exploded in an array of looks, from Nanette Lepore’s photorealism prints to Indah’s supercropped Neoprene with sleeves fully lined in long fringe. Cover, a Dallas swim collection specializing in UPF 50-plus fabrics, presented them in a lace print with scalloped edges, black and white houndstooth and Gray Malin’s photos. Sabra Krock, owner and creative director for Everything But Water, a nationwide specialty chain based in Orlando, plans to go bigger with the item as more fashion players enter the arena.
“It’s a vibrant time for swimwear in general since the conversation is turning from fit and function to runway trends. Swim’s become a fashion category in its own right,” she said.
That freshness and reason to buy resulted in real sales, which aren’t typical at Miami’s preview-oriented event. Mai Dalle Cort, owner of Aila Blue in Los Angeles was impressed by the amount of orders being written at Salon Allure, which drew 346 buyers to its intimate, all-suite setup at W South Beach hotel, where it showcased 40 brands.
“International stores in particular wrote and paid their deposits,” she said, expecting to secure 15 to 20 stores.
Though repeat participant Cort is satisfied with the Salon Allure trade show’s ocean views and intimacy, some exhibitors switched trade shows this year in search of the right fit. Cabana’s small size and open format appealed to emerging lines like Flagpole and bigger firms that are represented by department stores but are looking to increase their boutique business, like 6 Shore Road. Established companies that prebook appointments, such as Spanx, could relocate to the suites at Salon Allure.
Cabana founder Janet Wong plans to grow from this year’s 100 vendors in two tents. She had room to add a few resortwear-only lines like Banjanan and Su but not enough for the amount of accessories and swim lines she would have liked.
“Our vendors are on board as long as we stick to the same aesthetic and point of view,” said Wong. Cabana buyer attendance was up 35 percent, said Wong, with a number of stores attending for the first time, including Revolve, Barneys New York, Bergdorf Goodman, Fred Segal, Planet Blue, TNT and Matchesfashion.
SwimShow organizer Judy Stein would entertain the idea of a bigger push in activewear after testing it for 2015. She confirmed the next show will remain at the convention center, which is undergoing a major expansion and renovation soon that will take a few years to complete.
“We’re in the process of evaluating our options for the coming years, however, it’s our intention to keep the show in Miami Beach,” said Stein. Attendance at the show grew by 15 percent from last year.
MBFWS is at a crossroads, too, with the sale of its venue, the Raleigh Hotel, to Tommy Hilfiger for a private club. The decade-old event drew a record number of press and buyers — 700 — among more than 10,000 attendees, with every show at or near full capacity, according to Jarrad Clark, vice president and global creative director for IMG Fashion Events and Properties.
In a collaboration between IMG and Lycra spandex, Cia.Maritima received the first “Lycra Celebrates Design: 10 Years of Swim” award for a free fashion show next July and fabric with Lycra Xtra Life fiber. “Miami Beach and the Raleigh have been amazing hosts,” Clark said. “We’re currently exploring all of our other options.”
Colors Yellow from citron to primary Red Pink and coral tones Shades of green
Details Mesh, lace and crochet accents Multiple straps along full sides of one-pieces and separates Latticework and ladder backs Knotting and braiding Cutouts and burn-outs Tassels
Prints Placement Photorealism, including mixed and trompe-l’oeil fabric patterns Tropical florals Fruits, especially pineapples
Silhouettes High necks Unitard-style one-pieces Scuba-inspired one-pieces with long sleeves Crop tops as part of the new tankini Flutter tops Underwires, bustiers and bralettes Racerbacks High-waisted bottoms including with high-cut leg (aka “the Miley”) Men’s trunks with shorter inseams of 6 to 8 inches Materials Neoprene Metallic
Cover-ups Fashion-forward rash guards in every length and sleeve style Jumpsuits and swim pants with a variety of leg widths Nonsheer, versatile fabrics Rompers Knits as part of full ready-to-wear collections
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