By  on August 6, 2009

ATLANTA — Buyers’ moods were upbeat at The Cobb Show last week, but the optimism didn’t always translate into orders.

Retailers were on the hunt for fresh product to lure customers, but with budgets reduced by as much as half and an undercurrent of distress over embattled lenders, many played it safe by replenishing their immediate stocks and vowing to look further ahead to MAGIC or Project in Las Vegas.

Conversely, the number of exhibitor booths at the show — held July 26 to 30 at the Cobb Galleria Centre here — rose to 586, compared with 561 at the April show, said Deborah Green, marketing manager.

The almost six-year-old show, which is produced by Atlanta Apparel Exhibition Group, has seen steady growth in recent editions, primarily in Velocity, a premium contemporary area that houses resources such as Ed Hardy, Christian Audigier, Miskeen and Rivet de Cru.

Trends ran the gamut and included more cleaned-up looks; bright colors in sportswear; fashion denim with lots of pocket detailing but less overall bling, and an emphasis on men’s classic shirts punched up with stitching and embroidery from lines such as English Laundry and MEC.

Neil Rama, co-owner of Citywide Fashions, a 30-year-old family retail business with three Atlanta units, said he wrote half as many orders as he usually does.

“Business is not what it used to be. The whole year has been slow for us and we’ve been cutting back since before last Christmas,” said Rama, adding The Cobb Show is still his strongest trade show.

He noted newness in the big and tall category, picking up more “fashion” looks from new lines Hama and District 81. He went light on resources such as Cooji and Rocawear and said, “There wasn’t as much [freshness from] the premium lines in the show this time. I think all the brands are playing it safe.”

Robert Cohen, owner of the 80-year-old United Men’s Fashions in Buffalo, N.Y., said he only sought out new, exciting product in order to entice a cautious customer.

“The only thing that’s going to help end [the recession’s effect on retail] is going to be fashion. It won’t be led by price. You’ve got to really step it up. If you’re chasing price you’re wasting your time because you’re chasing a consumer who’s already broke,” said Cohen.

Some exhibitors in Velocity noted a wide chasm in buyers who normally attend the show.

“Buyers have to sift through what’s good and bad,” said Ruben Campos, founder of Rivet de Cru, a fashion-forward denim line. Campos said buyers were “definitely writing closer [to need]” and favored styles with paint-splatter effects, hardware and distressing, noting that selling the line to recession-weary buyers at trade shows has become increasingly difficult.

“The banking [bailouts] have not trickled down to our business yet. Until that happens, things will continue to be tough,” he said.

Echoing the need for contemporary men’s lines to cater to both urban and premium customers, Ed Hardy showed “Garage Parts,” a newly launched group of more pared down, sophisticated offerings, said sales rep Erin Rose.

“We’re doing less stones and more patches with this group. It’s definitely less ‘street’ than the rest of the line,” she said.

Rose reported the line has dropped its wholesale price points as a result of the recession.

“Pieces we used to sell for $85 wholesale are going for $67 now,” she said.

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