By  on August 25, 2009

CHICAGO — Taking the troubled economy into account, Midwest retailers shopping Chicago’s Stylemax this month ordered closer to season, searching for colorful, well-priced pieces designed to compel customers to buy.

“People want the trend,” said Susan Glick, vice president for women’s apparel for the Merchandise Mart Properties, which produces the trade show that ended its four-day run Aug. 11 at the city’s Merchandise Mart. “But it’s got to be at the right price.”

Trends at this market, which was designed to highlight holiday, resort and early spring, and included a mishmash of fall sweaters, glittering holiday pieces and lightweight resort looks, had a focus on tops, blouses and dresses, with a fair amount of draping, ruching and pleating detail, as well as the presence of batik and oversize paisley prints, and colorful hues such as raspberry, tangerine, turquoise, blues and purples.

James Goodman, Midwest sales representative for Lafayette 148, said Stylemax proved to be a successful market, even though he did not pick up any new accounts. Instead, Goodman used the market to meet with existing accounts.

“Because the collection was good, we had a good market,” he said, noting Lafayette 148’s strong use of colors and prints.

In particular, jackets, which once retailed for $448 to $648 and now retail for $348 to $498, are one of the line’s best-selling pieces for pre-spring.

Kellie Poulos, owner of the 17-year-old specialty store Asinamali and three-year-old Coucou in suburban Evanston, Ill., opted against traveling to New York and saved money by shopping Stylemax. Looking for dresses, sweaters and accessories, Poulos picked up plaid shirt dresses from Holy G; sweater dresses, slips, tunics, and red, brown and black leggings from Renee C, and Tano handbags for her more contemporary, younger clients at Asinamali.

For Coucou, which generally caters to older women, she ordered dresses, pants and longer vests from the Canadian line Lundström and washable alpaca wool scarves from Pour Vous, among other items.

Krista Meyers, owner of the specialty store Krista K in Chicago, also was able to stay closer to home because some lines she usually visits in New York — Velvet, C&C California and Monrow — traveled to the Windy City this year.

Ordering easy T-shirts and more casual going-out tops with some sequins and other embellishment, Meyers shopped Splendid, Ella Moss, Velvet and new line Bailey 44. In general, Meyers said she’s buying closer to season and keeping an eye on the bottom line.

“We’re even more price conscious than in the past,” she said, noting pieces have to be compelling and exciting. “I’m keeping our buy tight and trying to bring in more of what we need at the time.”

Natalie Zysko, owner of Enzee boutique in suburban Elmhurst, said, “What I didn’t see was a lot of color. Everything was gray, black and brown. I feel like the customer is looking for something to make her happy.”

She did respond to the ruffle, lace and shoulder detailing on many tops at the market, ordering tops and sweaters from Free People.

Zysko also wrote orders from Weston Wear, one of the best-selling lines at her specialty store, selecting a mix of 30 percent dresses, 10 percent skirts and 60 percent tops, many of which were embellished with jewels, ruffles or sequins.

“It’s not an expensive line,” she said, noting most of Weston Wear items retail for under $100.

“It’s safe to say people still want to come to a boutique, they want the special treatment but they want to buy something under $100 or maybe pick up two items,” Zysko said, adding she went deeper into lower-priced lines at Stylemax, buying tops from Mystery, colorful jackets from Tulle and cocktail rings from Ollipop that retail at $30 to $40 for holiday.

“My women just want to update their jeans,” said Zysko, adding her spring was even with last year.

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