By  on January 29, 2008

CHARGED WITH THE CHALLENGE OF COPING WITH A fragile economy, erratic weather patterns and reluctant buyers, contemporary is getting practical.

For fall, fabrics trend toward year-round, silhouettes turn simple and dresses lose some of their luster in the minds of cost-cutting manufacturers. Despite the economic implications, this modesty breathes new life into the contemporary and young contemporary markets after seasons of Sixties' overload, unremitting baby-doll frocks and intimidating, for some, skinny pants. Fall's looks, while pared down, are sophisticated, colorful and seasonless — the ideal blueprint, manufacturers hope, for weathering the economic maelstrom.

Contemporary and young contemporary exhibitors arrive with airy fabrics ideal for layering; straight, fitted bodies punched up with pintucks, pleats and shirring; short novelty jackets, and plenty of immediates to address the most cautious buyers.

Fall apparel fell flat at retail last year, due to an almost total absence of true fall weather in many regions, and manufacturers are adjusting accordingly. This season, cold-weather fabrics take a backseat to lightweight knits, silk, chiffon and organza, and heavier coats and jackets are offered sparingly for later deliveries, if at all.

Orion London, a nine-year-old London company, exhibits for the second time with a new crop of lighter fabrics, in addition to its traditional mix of wool and rayon. Sheer chiffon, light silk and soft satin are used on the line's printed tunics, dresses and cardigans, priced $60 to $72 at wholesale.

For fall, 213 Industry, a young contemporary line of tops and dresses, offers chiffon, voile and lace. "We're definitely focusing on seasonless fabrics that you can wear six months a year," said company president Michelle Kim. "Chiffon is the number-one fabric and it can be layered with silk crepe or printed tunics."

The Los Angeles brand also incorporates a cotton and wool fabric into its lineup, but will reserve heavier items such as herringbone jackets and coats for October deliveries, according to Kim, in order to address the unpredictable weather patterns in the South and on the West Coast.

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