By  on August 17, 2009

Contemporary and young contemporary brands again this season aim to whet retailers’ appetites with bold novelty styles and lots of merchandising options.

Although buyers continue to whittle their budgets, cut back on trade shows and exercise extreme caution when writing orders, manufacturers agree that playing it safe right now is counterintuitive to keeping their businesses afloat. Instead, brands head to WWDMAGIC armed with spring and immediate offerings designed to entice buyers with newness and visual interest.

Roseanne Morrison, fashion director for The Doneger Group, noted several major trends in the market, including “tough-girl chic,” Eighties-inspired motorcycle jackets and skinny legs à la Patti Smith, a “pre-World War II, cafe society” trend toward feminine — but not frilly — frocks and an emphasis on “mountain lodge” looks such as heavy cardigans, boyfriend denim and plenty of plaid.

“We’re definitely seeing a lot of really strong, well-defined trend stories this season,” said Morrison, adding that spring looks are heavy on details, albeit carefully placed, such as texture, zippers, mixed media and embroidery.

Shanon Martin, sales manager for LA Made, said buyers can expect trendier offerings from the traditionally basic line — a move facilitated by the economic crisis.

“We are finding that buyers are focusing more on fashion styles than basics and we have had to adjust our designs accordingly. There is a lot of competition [in the market] and everyone is paying more attention to details. We are no exception. People are looking for newness,” said Martin.

To this end, the line is adding more texture and surface interest for spring, including twill tape and mesh details on T-shirts, visible elastic, a group of chambray styles and a mix of knit and woven fabrics on select dresses.

Wholesale prices start at $10 for basic T-shirts and tanks and $22 for dresses. A range of sweaters sells for $30 and cashmere styles start at about $70.

Hype, a line of custom-printed dresses and tops priced at $44 to $88 wholesale, also is using more embellishment for holiday and spring, such as embroidery on prints, sequin trim on silk chiffon bodies and jeweled buttons.

This attention to detail has helped boost sales figures, according to Lucy Thompson, a sales representative for the brand.

“I believe the increase has been mainly due to our offering of key pieces made special by adding embellishment. This has been our survival strategy [during the economic downturn],” said Thompson, who declined to provide numbers.

Standout styles for spring and resort include an embroidered mesh dress with cutouts at the back, a one-shoulder, silk and chiffon ruffled top and a group of sequin silk georgette dresses and tops.

Charlotte Tarantola, owner and designer of a namesake sweater and top line that sells to 4,000 specialty and major doors, said she has sold more novelty pieces than basics or solids since the economic falloff, and now is focusing on details for spring, offering brighter graphic prints, nautical appliqués, ruffles, shirring and knit mixing, echoing the need to lure customers with more bang for the buck.

“I think consumers want to pay less than they used to and get more for it. If we don’t give that to them, they can get what they need at lots of places for very little money, so the pressure is on to deliver a product that can’t be beat in this price point,” said Tarantola, whose Culver City, Calif.-based line runs from $19 to $72 at wholesale.

Similarly, Allen Allen, a 23-year-old contemporary company, is bringing holiday and resort immediates that focus on lots of color, tie- and dip-dyed washes and more embellishments.

The firm has narrowed its offerings by about 25 percent, according to national sales manager Kari Carpino. Its looks trend toward the fashion-conscious, with motorcycle jackets, swingy tunics, tie-dyed skirts and boyfriend Henleys among its key styles, and fabrics provide special effects with ombré and plaid burnouts. The line wholesales from $19 to $54.

Like many other manufacturers, Allen Allen is stocking less inventory and doing more cut-to-order pieces, said Carpino.

“From an operation standpoint, our strategy is to be as efficient as possible and continue to stick to the core of our business by offering a high-quality product at a value price,” she added.

Charged with the task of penetrating an increasingly shaky marketplace, newer brands are coming out aggressively, much like some more-established lines, equally as determined to offer buyers product that pops.

Jumping on spring’s Eighties-inspired denim trend, Kensie Denim, a division of Vancouver-based Kensie and its sister brand, Mac & Jac, heads to WWDMAGIC with fashion-forward denim jeans, shorts and dresses in a range of washes, cuts and treatments. Core styles in straight and skinny legs and medium-to-dark rinses prevail, but get a healthy dose of novelty from looks such as distressed denim harem pants, an acid-rinse tulip skirt, halter and harem jumpers and dressy, high-waisted pants and shorts. Wholesale prices run from $30 to $45.

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