By  on January 11, 2008

NEW YORK — Contemporary vendors at the Designers & Agents show, which ended its three-day run at the Starrett Lehigh Building here on Tuesday, marched to the beat of their own drummer.

The extreme floral prints that permeated the spring designer runways and the much-hyped green dress Keira Knightley wears in "Atonement" made way for a slew of charming summer dresses, shirts, tunics and T-shirts in light fabrics and bright colors.

The summer show, which is smaller than its spring and winter counterparts, attracted 68 exhibitors, compared with 64 in 2007, and 1,246 attendees, up from 956.

Sandra Wilson, accessories fashion director of Neiman Marcus, said she looked for new opportunities and talents. "I always find interesting resources at D&A, and it's easy to look because you are not inundated with so many of them, and there are several people from California that I don't have the opportunity to see otherwise," she said.

Based on her findings, Wilson said she anticipated a strong summer season. "We have so much color to report and I feel strongly that our customer loves color and that it's an emotional response. And with prints and this global infusion, which we have not had for a while, emerging as another trend, we have quite a bit to talk about. It's newness for the customer, and it will be a good season because of that."

Henri Bendel fashion director Ann Watson, who said holiday business was "phenomenal," came to D&A looking for something new.

"One of the exciting things we saw at the show was the continuation of color," Watson said. "I liked the yellows and blues and greens, and I also liked the summer lifestyle trends, like Letarte offering bathing suits and cover-ups, and everything you need for your summer wardrobe."

Watson cited items such as Tracy Watts' fedora with a fish-printed scarf banded detail, LNA's colored tanks and butterfly rings from Nola Singer as among the standouts.

"I was hoping to see a bit more newness," she noted. "I was looking for easy breezy summer dresses and wanted more people to respond to the floral prints trends and decorative hair, and more jewelry. It wasn't there, but we will back there in three-and-a-half weeks."Designer Charlotte Ronson said it was a good show. "People are still looking for buy-now, wear-now pieces," said Ronson, whose top sellers included a sailor blue striped dress for $83 wholesale.

Bangkok-based Senada Theory, new to D&A, offered a vintage-inspired collection of dresses and skirts with artisanal details. Bestsellers included a silk-tiered dress with ribbon halters for $186 wholesale, long cotton silk skirts with yellow piping for $178 and a silk blouse with braiding detail across the front and tiered cap sleeves for $108.

"I have noticed that buyers are really homing in on the more monochromatic pieces with details like bows," said Jennifer Yung, who heads the label's U.S. sales. "I think they are trying to play it safe because of the economic uncertainty for 2008."

At Maui, Hawaii-based Letarte, top-selling pieces included an unfitted cotton voile shirt with gold embroidery for $86 wholesale and a safari print silk shirt with crochet and brass details for $96.

"Because we have immediate product, there is inventory," president Michele Letarte Ross said. "Coming off of Christmas, a lot of stores have told me that they were going into the holiday season unsure of how much inventory they would have. Now they got through well, and many have open-to-buy."

Barbara Kramer, who coproduces D&A with Ed Mandelbaum, echoed the sentiment. "With the economy, people were nervous and some retailers said they didn't buy heavily last year. They are now out of merchandise and looking to fill their inventories."

Kramer and Mandelbaum pointed to three elements that could drive increases this year: the growth in attendance of international buyers because of the strength of many foreign currencies against the dollar, the rising popularity of green-themed collections and the overall strengthening of some collections amid a tougher climate, "because they have to," Mandelbaum said. He likened 2008 to a survival-of-the-fittest year. "It won't be a big expansion year, but the year of making improvements."

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