By  on June 17, 2009

LOS ANGELES — Low inventories in stores spurred retailers to shop for immediate orders as well as holiday collections that were unveiled during the market that ended here Tuesday.

At Designers & Agents, Focus Apparel and Accessories Tradeshow, Brighte and the showrooms housed in the California Market Center, New Mart and Cooper Design Space, buyers seemed to be in a more positive frame of mind, although they continued to write orders with a discerning eye on prices in light of slimmer budgets.

“I can’t just buy whatever I want to,” said Mary Kate Dupont, who was shopping for her soon-to-open boutique in San Francisco. “It’s not the way it used to be, when people were spending a lot of money. I have to buy only what I absolutely know will sell.”

With retailers in the mood to shop, vendors got a boost.

“They [buyers] must have nothing in their stores if they haven’t been buying, so they need something,” said Amy Hall, creator of handbag line amykathryn, adding that business has picked up since March.

For the holiday season, novelty was key, as seen in touches of bead work, sequins, crystals and metallic materials. For instance, French Connection made miniskirts pop in blue and silver sequins, Anticipating the need for dresses to be worn at parties, designers offered cocktail dresses drenched in jewel tones, one-shoulder frocks and strapless styles.

“The cheaper and the more novel, the better,” said Heather Moeck, who handles sales for Dolan, which received favorable responses for $139 silk chiffon dresses accentuated with rows of swinging tassels.

Designers adapted to retailers’ growing need for lower prices. Mason by Michelle Mason avoided using more expensive stretch leather by giving support to a $275 strapless minidress cut out of conventional leather with wide elastic straps in the back. Retailers wanted “anything short and sexy,” said Tish Young, who handles Mason’s sales.

Leggings remained a fashion fixture, as seen in the debut of footless tights at Trina Turk ($67 in ponte) and Use Unused ($69 for a polyester blend emboldened with sheer netting). Ava Grace updated equestrian pants in $88 fleece leggings sewn with leather patches. In denim, legging jeans wholesaling from $114 to $172 did well for James Jeans.

Another strong trend was eco fashion, which received a boost from new entries by style stalwarts at D&A’s Green Room. Danish fashion brand Vadum spun off 15x15 by Buskvadum, which fashions patchwork-style dresses, vests, tanks and rompers out of leftover fabrics from European fashion houses such as Roberto Cavalli. Prices ranged from $89 to $199.

Los Angeles-based Alicia Lawhon returned to designing after a four-year absence with Reclaimed in L.A., a line built around recycled fabrics and reconstructed garments. She lopped off the sleeves of men’s suits into $475 vests accented with brooches, and transformed cashmere sweaters, including some orphaned knits from Missoni, into $150 tube tops and $575 ponchos. Retailers who have bought the line launching for the holiday season included Fred Segal Flair in Santa Monica, Calif., Sirens & Sailors in Los Angeles and First Impressions in Lafayette Hill, Pa.

“All I want to do is beautify what people aren’t using,” Lawhon said.

Despite the evolution of environmentally sustainable fashion, several buyers preferred to stick to the basics, including denim cut into skinny and boyfriend styles.

“For fall, we’re still doing a lot of denim and, of course, plaids are huge right now,” said Penny Cox, a buyer for the boutique For Her in Seattle.

Erin McPherrin, women’s buyer for E Street Denim in Highland Park, Ill., opted for silk tops by RaMona LaRue that could be paired with jeans.

Julie Kamins, who was buying for Chic Chic in Las Vegas, couldn’t place enough importance on a well-priced casual look.

“Casualwear — especially anything less than $50 — is what’s really moving right now,” she said. “Still, a lot of my shoppers really look for something special [and] different. It’s a tough balance to maintain in retail — special but inexpensive.”

Despite the challenging economy, new brands made their debut in Los Angeles. At Focus, Danish accessory brand Becksöndergaard Copenhagen, known in Europe for eel skin handbags wholesaling from $30 to $280, made its stateside debut. With Tamara Pearmine, Puma’s former North American design manager, tapped as creative director, Portland, Ore.-based men’s brand Defyance presented its premiere collection of sportswear incorporating activewear materials wholesaling from $22.50 to $155.

Brands branching out to the West Coast found a receptive audience. First-time Los Angeles exhibitor Rebecca Ortiz, designer for Austin, Tex.-based jewelry line Rebecca IsaBella, said buyers were drawn to statement necklaces with large agates wholesaling for $125. Of one buyer from LF Stores who ordered the piece, Ortiz said, “She put it on, and it changed her entire outfit.”

Echoing their counterparts shopping for apparel, accessories buyers considered price a priority.

“People can spend $15 or $30 on something, but $300 is going to have to wait,” said Tucson, Ariz.-based Original Sin Jewelry designer Margaret Aden, who singled out earrings wholesaling for $12.50 as popular picks.

In handbags, Emily Nagy, West Coast sales manager for Los Angeles accessories company Linea Pelle, said bags selling for $500 or less, including the brand’s signature Dylan style that tops out at $205 at wholesale, sit in the sweet spot for buyers.

For fall, gray was the color of choice in handbags at Mount Kisco, N.Y.-based Tano. “It is a nice option as a neutral instead of doing a black or a brown,” said sales representative Nikki Sanders.

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