By  on October 14, 2010

Another grueling year has given way to positive expectations for FashionCenterDallas’ spring show, from Oct. 21 to 24.

The regional economy has been a bit more resilient compared with other parts of the U.S. — Texas has an 8.3 percent jobless rate versus 9.6 percent nationally, although Dallas/Fort Worth has an 18.3 percent commercial vacancy rate — and showroom sales representatives see signs of life in specialty retailing. They are sticking with strategies that are intended to meet persistent challenges. The goal is to keep a lid on prices and evolve their products in tune with the consumer’s desire for value, quality and differentiation.

And they are hoping there is pent-up demand.

Brad Hughes & Associates, which represents 51 labels at the Dallas Market Center, and Ritz Group, which shows 36, said business has picked up. They are carrying a wide range of prices as well as searching for more premium labels.

Hughes is introducing Zucchero, a subtly detailed Italian sportswear collection priced at the high end of bridge. Hughes also picked up Julia Jordan, a new updated misses dress line for specialty stores wholesaling from $59 to $110. It is produced by Studio One, a dressmaker that sells to moderate department stores.

“The metropolitan stores don’t need to dumb themselves down in price point, because it’s just as easy to sell a $400 dress as a $250 dress,” Hughes said. “At the same time, there is a whole world out there in little towns…that need $150 to $200 retail as their top end. They are the icing on the cake, and there are a lot more of those [stores] shopping Dallas than there are bridge and designer.… We want to have all price points.”

Brad Ritz, owner of Ritz Group, will launch bridge dresses by ML Monique Lhuillier, which wholesale from $160 to $350, as well as contemporary lines 2b.Rych, Shin Choi, Hunter Dixon and Britt Ryan.

“We are moving back into a little bit higher price structure in some segments of our business,” Ritz said. “I look at some of the retailers that carry branded contemporary to bridge products, and their businesses have really turned around.”

The DMC is touting the market as its largest of the year, featuring the greatest number of resources. Sales reps anticipate that novelty will continue to drive volume.

Ann Wilson, a partner at Harold Wilson & Associates showroom, which represents Emil Rutenberg, Beauty Mark by Byron Lars and others, said she was encouraged. Last year “was the worst year we ever had in this business, and we had a 25 percent increase in March, but in August we had a nice increase over 2008 [sales],” she said. “Our appointments are coming in well, and we’re working to get back to where we were in 2007.”

Harold Wilson is introducing Workers for Freedom, a casual novelty sportswear line that averages $49 wholesale and can be marked up 2.5 times. “Harold sold 10 out of 10 stores on the road,” said Ann Wilson, wife of the owner. “It’s not the price that is driving it. It’s the look and the quality.”

Tracy Holden, who reps Eva Franco, 1921 premium denim and others at the Stylelounge showroom, said retailers have been “way more responsive” compared with 2009. “Last month, as far as shipping, we had one of the best months we’ve had in a few years.”

The Style Assembly multiline showroom based in Los Angeles plans to test the market by exhibiting Leila, Feral Childe and other labels at the Scene contemporary booth show.

“As a showroom we are up about 50 percent to last year, so we are getting a much stronger response after all the difficulties, and we want to make sure we are expanding back” into regional shows, said owner Diana Vilato.

Despite the increased business activity, the middle market is struggling with price as the cost of manufacturing and raw materials rises, said Gene Gorman, a partner in Merle Gorman & Associates showroom.

“These stores don’t want to pay any more than they are paying,” Gorman said. “In some cases, the manufacturers are going to have to shave their margins a little. But most of my manufacturers have kept a pretty good lid on their prices in light of all the circumstances they are facing right now, so I’m not overly concerned about it.”

Novelty jackets and tops by Damme, wholesaling for $59 to $79, and colorful skirts, shirts and dresses by Indikka are among Gorman’s best performers.

The DMC plans to throw its largest fashion party of the year Thursday night with a bohemian-themed fete — tents hung with Moroccan lanterns, a hookah bar, belly dancers, orange and red silk shantung furnishings and drinks with lotus flowers — in the lobby of the Trade Mart, which is connected to the World Trade Center that houses FashionCenterDallas.

“We wanted to create a sensory experience that will be different from what we have done in the past,” said Alden Clanahan, vice president of visual merchandising and events at DMC. “It will be an entire immersion experience that is tied into the whole bohemian chic culture that we are seeing.”

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