By  on January 13, 2009

NEW YORK — Buyers shopped cautiously for well-priced and unusual merchandise at the Nouveau Collective at the Hammerstein Ballroom here.

On the hunt for more creatively inspired looks for their women’s specialty stores, retailers said they enjoyed the intimate setting and open-booth nature of the three-day trade event that ended Jan. 6 and featured 80 exhibitors.

“It was slightly up from last January and a good size for us,” said show director Joanne Feinstein. Normally, Nouveau Collective is held at the New Yorker Hotel, which is undergoing a major renovation. The show will return there next month with a similar open venue space, she said. Some 1,196 buyers attended, up 10 percent from January 2008.

“We’re very pleased [with the traffic]; it exceeded our expectations,” Feinstein said. “We thought it would be much quieter. We’re a mirror image of specialty stores in the U.S., and you don’t see these lines in major department stores. We’re a real lifestyle show.”

After a difficult Christmas, buyers said they were being cautious with their dollars, but were finding lines they liked that would distinguish them from department stores.

“It was a good show,” said Dee Moorhead, owner of D.J. Heart, a women’s specialty store in Sag Harbor, N.Y. “People need to be very careful. Buying is very important this year. Women still want to buy clothes and still want choices, and [as retailers] we can deliver products that are hip and current.”

Moorhead was buying the CMC & Click collection. “It’s a great line and has a great combination: the sizing is right and the pricing is really good,” she said.

The looks Moorhead liked included tie-dye prints and chiffon florals. Each of the styles are cut and dyed to order and are offered in 24 colors. The line ranges from $13 for a tank top to $32 for pants to $49 for a dress. “In this economy, it fits the bill. It’s all made in Sun Valley, Calif.,” she said.

Dawn White, owner of Dawn, a women’s specialty store in Onancock, Va., was searching for separates. “Flax is my premiere line,” White said. “It’s a great contemporary line and has utilitarian styling.”

White’s store, which carries separates, private label and accessories, caters to women ages 45 to 75. “It’s a great cross-section of body types,” she said.

White also bought separates from Habitat Clothes to Live In and Iridium Apparel and sweaters from BKG & Co. “The [sweaters] are pigment dyed, utilitarian styling and very chic and complementary with the lines I carry,” said White, who added that her Christmas business was “solid.”

“We’re a little tentative about next quarter, but we’re staying optimistic,” she said. “I have a very loyal Eastern Shore base, as well as a transient customer” who vacations from Washington.

Angela Soost and Kathy Clisham, owner and buyer, respectively, of the Tana Kaya boutique in Quakertown, Pa., were pleased with the intimate nature of the show. They purchased separates and dresses from resources such as Habitat Clothes to Live In, White Rice and Earth Creations.

Arlene Ratner, who, along with Jackie Toporek, owns Jezebel, a women’s specialty store in Savannah, Ga., returned to Nouveau Collective for a second day. “I like the open venue,” Ratner said. They also praised the resource Flax, whose linen separates work well together.

Mary Johansson, sales manager of Flax, based in Spencer, N.Y., said, “Traffic was steady and a lot of buyers came to look,write paper and move on to spring.”

Johansson said the line is updated each season but doesn’t change dramatically. “This way, stores can have a fresh look without having to take a risk,” she said.

Flax, which had a separate showroom on the second floor of the Hammerstein Ballroom, had informal modeling at the show for buyers. The collection wholesales from $20 for a tank to $29 for pants.

Johansson said the show was busy, but not as busy as last year. “We’d all be in denial if we didn’t acknowledge that the economy was affecting us,” she said, adding that many of her buyers placed spring orders in September — and with February so close, they’ll come in February.

L.A. Blend, a Los Angeles resource, was doing well with dresses, French terries, poncho T-shirts and stretch poplin. “It’s a good show; I can’t complain,” said a spokeswoman for the line. “A lot of people want immediates. It’s better than last January’s show.”

Camille Lafargue, sales representative for IC Collection, said the economy was taking its toll. “In general, it’s a little quiet,” she said. “This show is so close to the holidays, and with everybody buying closer to need, some chose to come in February.” Still, she was doing well with three-piece mother-of-the-bride outfits for $89. “Price points are so key today,” she said. “We’re writing more toward April and May delivery and some immediates.”

“We’ve had a few new stores,” Lafargue said. “The climate is very careful buying. There’s more note taking, and people say they’ll revisit in February. They want to digest their holiday season. Everybody’s being very cautious, and hopefully there will be an upswing. It won’t be peaches and cream by next spring. It’ll take the country a while to recuperate.”

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