By and and  on February 23, 2011

LAS VEGAS — The recession mentality has turned into a permanent reality at WWDMAGIC, Project, ENK Vegas and the ancillary trade shows held here.

Luxury shopping may have rebounded, but the majority of retailers who attended the Feb. 14 to 16 edition of WWDMAGIC at the Las Vegas Convention Center said consumers’ spending patterns have been radically altered by the recent economic struggles. To survive and even thrive in the changed retail environment, buyers largely stuck to a strict price range that was exceeded only for extra-special items; searched for merchandise as close to in-season as possible; sought to keep inventory low, and added just splashes of riskier fashions while predominantly relying on variations on classic pieces.

“Three years ago, I couldn’t sell at the lower price point,” said Debbie Andress, owner of The Pink Box, which has two stores in Cincinnati. “[Shoppers] wouldn’t touch it, but now there is a Forever 21 mentality, and in order for my women to buy [an item,] it better be fresh, young, and they must feel like they are getting a deal.”

Retailers at WWDMAGIC seem to have adjusted to the transformational consumer shift toward affordability and perceived value, saying business has improved and believing it would continue to do so for the remainder of the year. As a result, they forecast their budgets for fall merchandise would increase modestly, although most were scouting vendors for spring and summer deliveries.

Amber Willson, owner of Bags That Fit, a women’s handbag and apparel retailer in American Fork, Utah, described business as “going great. It’s our best January-February ever. I’m happy. I just think the economy is getting better. Women are looking to spend.”

Susie Ward, buyer for Maverick Fine Western Wear in Fort Worth, Tex., called herself “optimistic” about the outlook for the rest of 2011. “We will probably order more than last year. We just have a lot of traffic in the store,” she said.

Andress said sales in January roughly equaled those in the same month a year ago. However, she added, “Our average ticket is about the same, but we are selling more items a ticket…At Christmas time in ’09, we couldn’t get $85 scarves in fast enough. This year, we sold $19 to $20 scarves, and we beat our [’09] overall sales, and I put a lot less money in inventory because I am doing a 300 to 400-percent markup.”

Taking place right after the Grammy Awards on Feb. 13 and held at the same time as New York Fashion Week, WWDMAGIC and other trade shows in Las Vegas last week failed to draw the same caliber of celebrities as they had in the past. The biggest name hyped on the trade show circuit was Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, the pint-size party girl from the reality TV show “Jersey Shore,” who was promoting her slippers made by Happy Feet at FN Platform. While “Twilight” star Kellan Lutz and tattoo vixen Kat Von D made last-minute appearances to plug their clothing lines at Project and ENK Vegas, respectively, they flew mostly under the radar for casual meet-and-greets with buyers.

Price-sensitive buyers attempted to hold their ground on price hikes when they could, but there was widespread understanding that increases are inevitable.

As global issues made pricing volatile, Ruth Ann Lockhart, divisional vice president of women’s wear at Holt Renfrew, said the Canadian department store’s customers are beginning to recognize that there will be an impact. “Believe me, we are not going to shift our prices up any higher than we have to, but I believe that there is an understanding as a citizen of the world that there has to be responsibility taken for it,” she said.

“Everyone realizes they need to raise their retail prices,” said Mary Shawn DeGaetano, sales representative for New York-based contemporary line Latte Black, which pushed prices higher by 10 percent from a year ago. “It’s something you can’t control.”

Despite their optimism for the gradually improving economy, apparel executives acknowledged the challenges they face at retail.

“There’s such a lack of consumer confidence,” said Joyce Christensen, sales representative for Karen Kane, a women’s label in Vernon, Calif.

As for trends, the palette remained drenched in neutral tones such as chocolate brown, tan, olive and cream, with less emphasis on black and charcoal gray as in past seasons. Teal evolved into a richer, deeper shade and burnt orange caught buyers’ eyes.

Inspiration ran the gamut. The Wild West and Native American culture inspired the Navajo-style pattern in Los Angeles-based Theme’s $48 wool-blend wrap cardigan in sienna.

The oversize sweaters that grunge rocker Kurt Cobain wore in the Nineties gave birth to Free People’s $48 baggy V-neck sweaters integrating two types of open weaves.

There were also wide-leg pants, loose blouses and flowing dresses from the bohemian Seventies. Desigual by Christian Lacroix printed $103 silk dresses with elaborate patterns for its fall inaugural collection, while at the Premium section, Lucky Brand promoted flare jeans in a faded wash.

Some designers turned to ballerinas following the success of the movie “Black Swan.” Michelle Kim layered tulle over a $52 polyester minidress with a sweetheart neckline for her young contemporary line 213 by Michelle Kim, and Tribal, a women’s label from Montreal, spiced up $44.50 jersey dresses with lace sleeves.

Fur will continue to be big for fall. In an effort to keep prices low, some designers resorted to using fake fur given the spiraling cost of the real material.

Latte Black wholesaled open-front jackets in fake ivory shearling for $45. BB Dakota, a young contemporary line from Costa Mesa, Calif., added rows of fake fur on $55 open-weave wool-angora vests. Karen Kane trimmed $88 nubby polyester-wool jackets with fake fur.

But at WWDMAGIC, many buyers were seeking spring apparel to enliven their assortments after the cold winter rather than looking to purchase fall merchandise. For example, Krystal McAnaw, owner of a five-month-old women’s clothing store called Haute Pink Boutique, in Rogers, Ark., was searching for cheery spring wear befitting warmer weather following weeks of snow. “Everybody is ready for bright colors,” she said. “We are on the color hunt, [as well as] fun patterns, floral [and] lace.”

PROJECT

Mood:
A new layout placed the women’s brands to the left of the main aisle and the men’s to the right in the cavernous space at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center. Acting as a buffer down the middle was a row of premium denim labels, many of which offer styles for both genders. Exhibitors in the women’s contemporary category, which made up 40 percent of the lineup, said traffic at the Feb. 14 to 16 run was consistently moderate, as rival expo ENK Vegas was held concurrently at the Wynn Hotel. Fall was the focus for the collections on display, although buyers’ emphasis on orders for immediate deliveries made some exhibitors regret not hauling more of their spring and summer pieces to Las Vegas. “In general, we’re feeling optimistic about 2011,” said Susan Kellogg, president of VF Corp.’s contemporary brands coalition, which includes Seven For All Mankind, Splendid and Ella Moss.

Key Trends: Clean, sophisticated denim; wide legs; blouses with novel design details.

Best in Show: Young by Yoyo Yeung offered ivory silk blouses, richly dyed rabbit fur jackets and other sleek sportswear wholesaling from $80 to $250 in its fall debut. AG Adriano Goldschmied spruced up $81 legging jeans in black with velvet tuxedo stripes. Joe’s Jeans infused animal prints in a one-time capsule collection called Joe’s Wild, featuring $77 leopard-print skinny jeans. Brazil’s Cecilia Prado knitted cotton, viscose and acrylic into a striking $194 tank maxidress with a black and white diamond pattern and lace panels on the side. Levi’s Made & Crafted trimmed $118 merino wool and cashmere knit jackets with Italian olivewood buttons. KAS New York embellished a $154 silk poncho with beads and crystals.

Show Buzz: “Twilight” star Kellan Lutz made a surprise visit on Feb. 15 to promote his new endorsement deal with premium denim line Dylan George, which also unveiled his design collaboration, Abbot & Main by Dylan George, launching for fall. After holding numerous calls over Skype with Dylan George while on location in Louisiana to shoot the last two films in the “Twilight” series, Lutz was able to personally inspect Abbot & Main’s sheer T-shirts and raw-edged cashmere sweaters for women, which wholesale for between $35 and $111. “It’s so much fun,” he said of his immersion in the fashion business. “It’s great developing a passion for something new like I did with acting.”


POOL

Mood:
Several vendors were concerned the show was the slowest it had been in a few seasons. The group of buyers who did make it seemed to skew young and foreign as compared with other shows. Price was critical to buyers at Pool and, even though the show’s T-shirt brands are burdened by shifting cotton prices, most did not expect wholesale prices to jump more than $2 an item.

Key Trends: A retro nostalgia gripped Pool. An entire aisle was dedicated to vintage-inspired dresses and swimwear, including Fables by Barrie, Queen of Heartz Pinup Girl Clothing and Heartbreaker Fashion. Amanda Becker, co-owner of and designer for Heartbreaker Fashion, said sales for the San Dimas, Calif.-based brand that replicates Fifties and Sixties styles were doubling annually and reached almost $1 million last year.

Best in Show: Accessory vendors shined both because their booths were crowded and their designs had appeal. St. Louis-based jewelry brand Geranium was finding audiences for its statement resin bead necklaces for $25, as well as for varieties with crystals and pearls for $8.75 to $22.50. Buyers couldn’t help touching Los Angeles brand Love Nail Tree’s long chain necklaces with timepiece, coin and key pendants for $7 to $18. Jeffrey Campbell packed the largest crowds into his booth, where the Lita lace-up platform boots for $72.50 were a number-one seller.

Show Buzz: The vintage trend crept beyond brands that solely recreated classic pieces. Natalie Tischler, designer for the Austin, Tex.-based jewelry brand Ornamental Things, worked a lot with brass because it gave necklaces priced from $17 to $44 an antique feel. Los Angeles-based clothing label Rojas showcased high-waisted shorts for $44.


ENK VEGAS

Mood:
Expanding to two ballrooms in the Wynn Hotel to accommodate roughly 200 exhibitors, the three-year-old trade fair concentrated denim and men’s wear in one room and contemporary women’s in the other.

Key Trends: Fur, shearling and leather, whether real or not; not-so-basic denim.

Best in Show: Plastic Island evoked autumn with a $122 asymmetric suede jacket in a rust tint. Hudson cut $90 parachute pants out of emerized sateen. Citizens of Humanity used raw denim for suit jackets, high-waisted wide-leg trousers and knee-length skirts, wholesaling from $68 to $149. Pendleton channeled chic Western pioneers with black and white wool jacquard dresses trimmed with removable shearling collars. Habitual emulated the leather look on $110 skinny jeans coated with a secret material.

Show Buzz: Kat Von D, the Los Angeles-based tattoo artist who stars in her own reality TV show, made a pit stop at ENK Vegas on Feb. 15 to plug her two new clothing lines produced with Sourcing Solutions Worldwide from Lake Worth, Fla. Her namesake contemporary label, wholesaling from $44 to $170, was military Goth with an artistic touch; chains draped the arms of double-breasted wool coats, and she painted the feather print used on cream jackets. Her young contemporary line KVD was her attempt to respond to fast fashion with printed leggings and tanks accented with braids and feathers, all wholesaling from $19 to $30.

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