By  on July 23, 2009

With retailers hunkered down and girding themselves for an uncertain economy, Manhattan’s Lexington Avenue Armory, home of the 69th National Guard regiment, served as an apropos new venue for the Project show. The space was markedly smaller in scope than the show’s previous incarnation at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, and hosted about 150 brands, according to show organizers.

“We were a lot more focused this year, and I think the smaller space was appropriate for this new economic environment we are in,” said Sam Ben-Avraham, founder and president of Project, which is a division of Advanstar Fashion Group.

Ben-Avraham viewed the general mood of vendors and retailers as positive but tempered by the financial troubles of CIT, which finances a large swath of the independent brands and boutiques serviced by the exhibition.

“Business isn’t back to normal, but I think people have gotten past the bad energy of last season and are focused on what needs to get done,” noted Ben-Avraham. “I think things were actually looking pretty positive a few weeks ago, but the recent news about CIT has people worried. If CIT goes down, a lot of people are going to have trouble with financing.”

In that vein, a no-frills mood permeated the drill hall that housed the show, with decor-free booths and the elimination of The Area, a white-carpeted special section previously dedicated to directional brands. “They told us not to bring any props, they want all the booths to be uniform and focused on product,” said Scott Morrison, chief executive officer of Evisu.

Morrison was displaying his revamped Evisu lineup of vintage denim with downplayed branding markers. Evisu is relaunching at Barneys New York this holiday, and Morrison expects eventually to be in about 125 specialty store doors in the U.S. as he works to energize the brand here.

A cleaner denim aesthetic was on view at J Brand, where unadorned, minimally treated styles provided a counterpoint to the vintage washes that prevailed at competing brands. “We are about clean, classic and timeless,” said Illanit Semberov, men’s sales director at the Los Angeles-based label. As with many companies, lower prices were an emphasis at J Brand, where jeans were priced to retail from $169 to $198.

At K-Swiss, prices this season were lowered about 10 percent in the Sport Style collection, to be more competitive with Nike and Adidas, said a company representative. The spring collection was focused on a country club direction, and moved away from the designer aesthetic of seasons past.

A burst of color was on view at the Threads for Thought booth, where painter Tom Christopher was showcasing his vivid artwork of New York street scenes. Christopher was recruited by the New York-based company to splash his artwork onto a special line of T-shirts that will benefit the National Resources Defense Council and the International Rescue Committee. The $24 T-shirts are debuting in Urban Outfitters this season.

Appealing denim alternatives were available from J.W. Brine, an Italian pants maker founded by Giacomo Rizzo, a former designer at Mason’s. “These are very American-friendly, five-pocket pants that a retailer can use to refresh their denim departments,” said Katie Liu, co-owner of Black Dog 8 showroom, which reps the line in the U.S.

At Operations, prices were actually up slightly, according to co-founder Michael Leen, as the brand aimed to boost quality. However, in a nod to the economy and retail realities, the New York-based brand also launched a lower-priced line called Incorporated by Operations, with wovens retailing for $98 and jackets for $298, about 50 percent less than the original Operations brand. The lower prices were achieved by moving production from the U.S. to China for the secondary line, which has been picked up by Bloomingdale’s.

Retailer Blake Nieman-Davis, owner of Portland, Ore.’s Blake, was upbeat on Casio’s G-Shock watches. “We are looking for brands where the customer feels like they are getting a lot of value for the money,” he said.

Key Trends From New York Market Week

• Lived-in woven shirts.
• Casual, softly tailored sport coats.
• Fine art-inspired printed T-shirts.
• Subtle vintage washes for denim.
• Gauzy and stretched-out knits.
• Multicolored khakis.
• Tailored shorts with shorter inseams.

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