By  on February 12, 2009

Project will debut a smaller, more focused show at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas this year, which organizers say perfectly suits the results-driven business

The new venue is about 30 percent smaller than last year’s edition at the Sands Expo and Convention Center — down to about 350,000 square feet from 550,000 square feet. Running from Feb. 18 to 20, the show remains a strong men’s wear forum, although the number of women’s lines continues to grow, accounting for approximately 35 percent of the exhibitor base this year.

A number of streetwear vendors have moved over to MAGIC, said Sam Ben-Avraham, founder and president of Project Global Tradeshow, which is owned by Advanstar Communications Inc., also parent company to MAGIC.

“We began this initiative before the economic crisis,” he said of the movement to MAGIC, “but the new format makes so much sense with what’s happening in the retail environment and with stores narrowing down the number of vendors they do business with.”

Jennifer Getlan, vice president of wholesale for New York-based men’s label Kidrobot, said she thinks the new Project format will be much easier for buyers to shop. “I remember when it was only 80 or so vendors, and I liked the intimacy of it,” she said. “I think it did get too big and repetitive….This fits with where the industry is going, less cherry-picking and more buying narrow and deep into brands that buyers know do well.”

Kidrobot has adjusted its pricing by about 10 percent so that nothing retails for more than $150, a move Getlan hopes will propel higher sales volume, albeit at smaller profit margins. She’ll bring new categories like men’s fall wovens and cardigans to the show, as well as traditional crested polos, rugby shirts and hoodies, at a wholesale range of $23 to $83.

For their part, vendors said they are bringing their A game — retooled price points, depth in styles that are most meaningful for consumers and a variety of service initiatives (from lowered minimums to plans to travel more often to their specialty customers).

With its timing ahead of New York Fashion Week and Coterie, many vendors said they will break fall looks at Project. “This is a big thing for us,” said Ben-Avraham, who also owns stores in New York and Miami. “I know as a store owner in this environment, I’m trying to be in my store as much as possible. If we have fall goods, it becomes more meaningful to buyers who aren’t making as many trips.”

A dozen-member UK retail contingent, including Flannels, Selfridges, House of Fraser and Microzine, will attend next week. Nylon magazine is once again producing its gossipy, tongue-inc-heek show issues. But the party scene will change a bit — instead of a huge bash, the opening party will be cocktails at Mandalay Bay, a forum which Ben-Avraham believes will be more conducive to conversation. (Those who want their club fix can head over to an after party at Lavo at The Palazzo, where Steve Aoki will DJ.)

“It’s so good to touch base in times like these,” said Stacy Morgenstern Igel, founder and creative director of Boy Meets Girl. “I’m looking forward to having a drink and being with other creative spirits.”

Although she has fall appointments with Bloomingdale’s (the brand recently launched in six of the department store’s doors) and others, she predicted that 90 percent of her orders would be on immediate goods.

Backed by Oved Apparel, which acquired her label in August, Iger has expanded beyond the casual knitwear for which she is best known into lifestyle pieces like fake leather leggings.

To deal with the tough economy, New York-based contemporary line Ali Ro has ramped up p.r. and marketing. When the brand gets editorial placements, staffers are vigilant about spreading shopping credits among their specialty stores.

“We’re not just promoting the brand, we’re promoting our partners,” said Stacy Esser, Ali Ro’s president of sales. “Clearly, we understand it’s tough for everyone. We know they are traveling less, and so we are going out to stores more often.”

The company has always focused on a young contemporary price point. For example, $89 to $125 wholesale is the sweet spot for dresses, a core of the line. Now more fully into “recessionista” mode, the brand has scored with its interpretation of high-end trends, such as a cinch-waist anorak with gold buttons at $110 wholesale, and has expanded its presentation of tops and jackets.

“Retailers tell us they’re selling seven tops to one bottom,” said Esser.

Michel Berandi, designer of an eponymous men’s wear line, will show outerwear that combines leather with boiled wool and cashmere, as well as a range of knitwear. Wholesale prices range from $30 for a T-shirt to $300 for a leather jacket; long coats with customized hardware top out at $600.

He’d like to sell department stores and hopes that efforts to lower prices — done by reducing his overhead and using freelance design assistance — will make his proposition more attractive.

Project is “a crossroads for many national and international buyers,” said Berandi. “You can get a taste of the market climate and information that helps you move forward, both artistically and economically.”

“We’d love to see what our peers are doing to power through these difficult economic times,” said Project rookies Kevin Carney and Brandon Day, co-founders of The Generic Man, who will be showing fall-winter footwear for men and women.

At Emma & Posh, a contemporary division of New York-based Knitworks Inc., the company has lowered wholesale prices about 30 percent for fall, opting to take a hit on margin.

“We don’t want to be greedy. We want to make it so we can continue to work with everybody,” said Albana Eberli, the label’s director of merchandising.

The company’s 12-gauge 100 percent cashmere sweaters, sold to Henri Bendel and others, are a core business. This year, they’re offering basics with updates (a poet sleeve or button detailing, for example) for $60 to $75.

They’re also experimenting with bottoms done in Japanese denim, stretch cottons and silks. “I’m looking for feedback,” she said. “It’s helpful to work face-to-face and really see what someone’s reaction is to fall.”

Javier Siordia, showroom director of Los Angeles-based For Love and Liberty, said the line has returned to its feminine roots after going “too bubblegum” young in recent seasons.

This time out, T-shirts and silk tops will make a more coordinated statement so that retailers can present them together. The label has also crafted an assortment of Empire-waist dresses in silk chiffon and other fabrics. “We’re coming back to feminine whimsy — more silks, laces, beaded trims,” he said.

Accessories vendors represented at Project are hoping they’ll pick up business. Because of their perceived versatility, accessories have tended to out-perform apparel in economic downturns.

Megan Benson, spokeswoman for jewelry firm Alex and Ani, believes that the brand’s backstory — founder Carolyn Rafaelian produces her line in her family’s Cranston, R.I., factory — is a competitive advantage as consumers look for more social responsibility in their shopping. The brand will show its new Halo collection, a delicate disk charm in gold vermeil or sterling embellished with a cherub, saint or Buddah on a 16-inch chain, wholesaling for $38.

Los Angeles accessories label Dillon Rogers — known for leather bracelets embossed with positive messages — sourced vintage dies from the Seventies and Eighties and used them to embellish a new line of leather belts.

“We were up 25 percent in 2008, and 2009 looks just as good,” noted Geoffrey Dillon, the company’s chief financial officer. He attributed the eight-year-old brand’s gains to “a very tight price point and doing all of our production inhouse.”

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