By and  on February 25, 2010

Traditional vendors hawking everything from Italian luxury to value-driven sportswear cheered retailer traffic and the growing sense of optimism at MRkt, where exhibitors highlighted retro styles, item-driven collections and updated fits for younger consumers.

“There’s lots of good product out there and we have to find something that our customers don’t already have,” said Mike Zack, owner of Circa 2000 in Plano, Tex., who liked the “neat outerwear, great woven shirts” from Haupt and others, and the technical fabrics and details at the show. He also “cherry-picked” pieces, noting: “We’re buying items here and there.”

A number of vendors called the show MRket’s best, approving of the pace and quality of retailers. “We’ve been with them since the beginning and this is their best showing,” said Marco Revah, whose Bugatchi sportswear line continues to expand, this season adding luggage, bags and hosiery.

The show’s owner, Business Journals Inc., said exhibit space was up 12 percent compared with last February’s show. “MRket was able to find a way to accommodate the needs of over 250 collections,” said Britton Jones, president and chief executive officer of Business Journals. In August, the show is slated to start on Monday, Aug. 18, a day before MAGIC, which should cheer retailers who felt stretched with the number of concurrent shows this season.

Trends that have been driving merchandise for a number of seasons — younger fits, increased value, and old-school styles — seemed to crest at MRkt. Peerless Clothing hit the trifecta. Its moderately priced licensed tailored clothing — retailing on average near $500 — is a new favorite among price-conscious specialty stores and the company continues to slim up fits, even in the already trim DKNY line. “We wanted to offer another level of silhouette for this customer,” said brand manager Jim Petrino.

Across Peerless’ offering was evidence of the retro men’s wear trend. Tallia showed a three-piece in gray flannel and a traditional plaid sport coat. The look was cleaned up for DKNY, which offered a tweed Black Watch sport coat that was black instead of green.

Gitman Brothers, an Individualized Apparel Group brand, continued to mine its American heritage for a more contemporary customer. The company showed “vertical” plaid shirts (the warp is heavier than the weft) in bright colors and light oxford pinpoint wovens (both for $145), as well as blanket wool ties for $95.

Joseph Abboud’s return to the trade show market was accompanied by a varied selection of tailored clothing from an Italian chic sport coat with suede under the collar to casual unconstructed corduroy blazers, muted tweed sport coats, plenty of plaid and a double breasted Prince of Wales suit with a decidedly Sixties feel.

Fit and updated classics were also callouts at Ike Behar, which reported strong retailer presence at the show and equal demand for both advanced and immediate goods. “People were so conservative for spring we are getting lots of reorders,” said Steven Behar, head of merchandising for the brand, which is getting solid sell-throughs on the slimmer fitting Ike line, which tops out at $135.

Younger silhouettes and value fueled a solid show for Hawke & Company, which sells its main line coats between $280 and $350. “No one is talking about the recession,” said president Michael Rosenberg. “Outerwear missed the recession anyway. It’s been a good season. People want to talk about selling.”

He did say, however, that business has become very item-driven. “People don’t want a range of goods. They want something specific from you,” added Rosenberg, who said mixed media soft shell fleeces, a nano twill field jacket and the satin quilted coat were on many buys. “Retailers want their brands to stand for something.”

Hawke unveiled a range of active-inspired base layers at the show, highlighting another trend in the market: performance.

Dunning, whose roots are in golfwear, showed some technical pieces. “Our DNA is performance,” said Paul Eastwood, owner, “whether it’s high-performance polyester or polyester blended with wool, which is inherently a high-performance fiber.”

Performance was also a selling point at Rainforest. According to president Jack Wu, the most popular items at the show were jackets that looked like wool but were waterproof and windproof with removable linings, stand-up collars and hoods. Shorter than a traditional overcoat, they were designed to appeal to a younger customer and sell for $250. Wu also said a three-in-one jacket, priced to retail at $295, with a puffer liner, which could be worn alone, also drew retailer attention.

Vineyard Vines showed a darker palette for fall and offered plaid and flannel patterns in shirts to tie in to the Americana trend. Pigment-dyed long-sleeved polos, beat-up rugbys and puffy outerwear were popular with stores, said Jeff Wheeler, vice president of men’s and golf sales. The brand also showed a cardigan for the first time, retail price $98.50, as well as quarter-zip cotton sweaters for $125 and chunky cable sweaters for $175.

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