By and  on October 14, 2009

LOS ANGELES — Spring trends and retail buyers’ moods both took a lighter turn at the L.A. Majors Market, with companies more upbeat about business in the coming year.

At the three-day show that ended Oct. 7 at the California Market Center, buyers noted that spring had a decidedly sweeter side than fall, with romantic and feminine looks taking center stage. Floral patterns, embellishments like beading and nailheads, and rosettes emerged as a clear trend for spring, with ruffles, soft draping and sheer, lightweight fabrics dominating retailers’ lists. The trends shifted away from last year’s bright neon and Eighties-inspired gritty styles to vibrant green, purple and pink, in a way reflecting a more positive outlook about the economy among buyers from major retail chains — including J.C. Penney, Kohl’s, Nordstrom, Ross Stores, Sears, and Canada’s Bluenotes — attending the market.

“It’s a lightening of mood,” said Elaine Espinola, a buyer for TJX Cos. Inc., which owns T.J. Maxx and Marshalls. “Things are more optimistic now, and the look seems to be moving from hard and edgy to more romantic. I think people are starting to turn the corner and have fun again.”

Joyce Torres, a buyer for Bealls Outlet, a 500-store chain with locations in Florida, Georgia and Arizona, said two distinct tracks were evident, with the edgy bohemian aesthetic still clearly visible and romantic feminine emerging in the apparel collections.

“There’s a lighter feel to the textile,” Torres said. “I’m seeing a lot of sublimation of silhouettes and rhinestones.”

Nicole Wachs, a buyer for Arden B., noted a dearth of tie-dye and a plethora of tops, dresses and skirts. “There’s a definite feminine aesthetic,” she said.

However, lingering effects of the economic downturn mean leaner budgets and smaller inventories. Coming off a disappointing back-to-school season, buyers said the juniors segment of the market seemed to be the strongest.

“It’s definitely become an item-driven business at this point, and it’s harder to find things that stand out because people haven’t been taking chances,” said Kirklan Wells, a buyer for San Diego-based Charlotte Russe. “We’re seeing a lot of cute jumpsuits, some rompers and long dresses with elastic waists, lighter fabrics and washes.”

Manufacturers continued to resort to embellishments such as beads, chains and stones as a way to enhance the value of clothing. If the trim was removable, it was even better. For instance, Self Esteem tied ribbons adorned with chunky jewels onto long tanks retailing for $24.99.

As leggings and skinny jeans are the pants of choice for teenaged girls, brands offered variations on the long top that flares into a full skirt and can be worn over them. Manufacturers also pushed the trend for mixed media by alternating fabrics and prints for such tops. Miss Chievous placed polkadot sleeves on a $19.99 ditsy print tunic. Fang attached a $24 racer-back tank weathered by a crystal wash to a challis cotton skirt printed with a colorful ethnic pattern.

Ethnic prints imbued with vibrant hues of purple, pink, green were prevalent, as were rompers and jumpsuits. Miken cut a cotton printed with a colorful ikat print into a zip-up jumpsuit with droopy pockets retailing for about $25.

But the print of choice was one with flowers. Los Angeles-based Fire offered a variety of vintage, tropical and oversize floral prints in bright colors that helped make their dresses the top sellers at the show.

In denim, skinny silhouettes and shorts of varying lengths were popular, especially with distressed treatments. See Thru Soul doubled to 30 the number of shorts retailing for between $48 and $58. Its array encompassed cutoffs dotted with studs along the seams and a shredded style made of seven-ounce denim.

Challenging economic conditions helped expand the market for moderate-price jeans.

Jake Jeans, a Van Nuys, Calif.-based label started by former executives of Fire, made its first delivery in September to retailers such as Tilly’s and Wet Seal. With retail prices averaging $44, Jake wants to generate first-year sales of $6 million by appealing to the fashion-conscious teen with cutoff shorts trimmed with lace, shredded skinny jeans and overdyed colored denim.

“One day she might want to be a little more casual, one day crazy and another day sexy,” design director Kelly Moustris said of the customer for Jake Jeans.

Kohl’s, Sears and Penney’s picked up another new line, Hollywood Jeans, which is based in Montreal and sets its retail prices at about $60.

“Right now it’s about premium goods at value prices,” said Hollywood Jeans sales representative Lori Lerner.

In addition to juniors lines, buyers shopped for the missy customer, who, like the teen girl, wants fashion to have good value.

Los Angeles’ Mu Jeans accentuated denim leggings wholesaling for $48 with covered buttons lined up above the heel. Chalet, also based in Los Angeles, crinkled a cotton-rayon blend and then cut it into cropped palazzo pants and sleeveless cowl-neck tunics, all wholesaling on average for $30. New York’s Luna Luz marketed dresses that meld a cotton jersey tank top with a tie-dye skirt that can be straightened or rumpled via strings tied under the skirt; wholesale prices run from $78 to $84. Los Angeles’ Bleu added a bonus to a polyester chiffon peasant blouse in a chocolate brown leaf print with a removable necklace of metal leaves and fake gray pearls, while keeping the wholesale prices under $51.

“No matter how cheap it is, if there’s no value in it, they’re not going to spend the money,” said Michelle Lee, Bleu’s founder and designer.

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