By  on September 25, 2008

With its new location at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, Moda Manhattan was able to grow its year-to-year buyer attendance 90 percent, expand its exhibitor square footage by more than 22 percent, and add AccessoriesTheShow — even as the economy sputters.

The show, which took place Sept. 14 to 16, was previously held at the Metropolitan Pavilion and Altman Building.

Colorful, multipurpose dresses and jackets for spring were favorites for buyers, who are trying to find impulse pieces that will inspire customers to open their wallets.

Marcia Kraus and her husband, Trey, own Carltons, a women’s and men’s boutique in Rehoboth Beach, Del. As business has slowed in the resort town, Kraus is approaching fall and spring’s open-to-buys cautiously and was scouting for tunics and dresses in “bright fun colors” and prints.

“I’m not even looking at basics,” Kraus said. “It’s all about novelty and wowing. Everything has to be a window piece — that’s what a woman will buy. But I didn’t see a lot of freshness or much that really wowed me.”

Jan Bilthouse, owner of the women’s store Bilt House in Atlanta, said her business was up 30 percent in August and she was looking to spend her higher open-to-buys on dresses for immediate delivery.

“We are selling every single category of dresses and looking for dresses more than ever before,” said Bilthouse. “Since we are up for the fourth quarter, we were concentrating on immediates, and were disappointed that there weren’t more immediates. Vendors are cutting closer than they ever have and didn’t have the immediates I was looking for.”

Jennifer Reale of her eponymous Boston-based better line, which wholesales from $44 to $169, said she felt the effects of the economy at the show.

“It’s not been as busy, and people coming in said they are going to write on the road,” Reale said. “People are still hesitant, and they are trying to buy closer to season, which stinks. They should definitely be leaving paper for spring, because this is the spring show.”

But other exhibitors reported strong business.

“This is the best show we’ve had in a long time,” said Firuze Hariri, designer of the San Francisco better-priced line Beluva. “There’s lots of traffic and people are spending money. They are enthusiastic to see spring, and our bright colors make them excited to buy.”

Hariri said the line’s crinkled reversible jackets, which can double for travel as two different looks and wholesale for about $100, were Beluva’s bestseller.

Lyn Lekay, head of sales for New York-based better brand Gretchen Scott, said the brand’s cotton print dresses and tunics in pink and blue were selling well for spring. “The mood is so depressing in the economy that people want an uplift with happy colors,” Lekay said.

Jeff Sher, president of New York-based better-priced knit line Bask, said business was strong, but he noticed retailers were playing it safe, reordering successful pieces more than taking chances on new items. “Store owners are going after reorders more than ever before,” said Sher.

Noriko, a new contemporary line based in New York, said business was great at its first trade show. Bestsellers in the line, which wholesales from $88 to $284, were novelty coats, like an A-line coat with big buttons.

Better dress label Donna Morgan, which wholesales from $59 to $89, did well with its maxidresses, such as one that combined ombré chiffon on the bottom with a matte jersey bodice.

“Coming into the season, because the size of our exhibit floor had grown by over 50 percent and because of all of our pre-show marketing, we were very confident that we would have a very strong show relative to the market,” said Britton Jones, president and chief executive officer of Business Journals Inc., which owns Moda. “However, with the general state of the economy and retailing in particular, we expected the market to be somewhat soft, open-to-buy to be down and buying to be cautious. What we experienced was truly overwhelming.”

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