By  on August 21, 2008

DALLAS — Caution was the theme of the day at the four-day fashion market at FashionCenterDallas here.

While retailers in Texas and nearby states said business remained good because their areas so far have escaped the economic downturn, buyers generally were watching their dollars and looking for items that would excite their customers.

“Attendance was slightly down over last year; however, we were pleased with the overall numbers and good attendance from our region,” said Cindy Morris, chief operating officer of the Dallas Market Center and FCD, of the show, which closed Aug. 18. “We’re fortunate to be in an area of the country that is faring better than the rest of the United States, and Dallas continues to be a cost efficient travel choice for buyers.”

Because market spanned Texas’ annual three-day tax holiday for clothing priced under $100, some retailers kept to their stores to capitalize on the traditionally busy weekend.

Traffic may also have been affected by the overlapping show at AmericasMart in Atlanta. The Dallas Market Center hosted a prom show the three days preceding the fashion market to avoid conflict with Atlanta. (See sidebar, this page)

“Some very good stores were there, but everyone was very cautious — some expressed downright fear about the current slowdown in business,” said designer Carol Peretz, speaking after market ended. “I heard negative comments about the sameness of lines and the multitude of markets — New York, Dallas, Las Vegas, New York again — in the space of five or six weeks. But at the same time, they were figuring out how to survive until things improved or how to make things improve.”

Still, there were bright spots.

“Overall when I talk to accounts I hear more positives than negatives,” observed Brad Ritz, owner of Ritz Group multiline showroom. “Traffic was off a little bit, but we ended up flat to ’07 and considering these economic times, I’m very happy with that.”

“We had a good show,” said Allison Lee Cooke, owner of Launch contemporary showroom. “The maxidress was the single biggest trend. They all wanted that — and bright colors.”

Retailers have been buying more selectively all year, and at this show they responded to floral and leaf prints, both fitted and easy silhouettes, slim jeans, safari jackets and jewelry with turquoise and other semiprecious stones. Most said their budgets were flat as they sought to finish holiday or check out resort and spring deliveries.

Business has been “phenomenal” at Tina’s in Galveston, Tex., said Tina LeCornu, owner. The coastal city benefited this summer from a greater number of visitors from Houston, Louisiana and Oklahoma as people vacationed closer to home, LeCornu noted.

As store manager Boyce Pryor ordered Sandra Ling’s goldplated and semiprecious bangles, she noted their customer “doesn’t mind spending the money if it looks good.” At the same time, however, she was seeking well-priced accessories that offered a greater markup to counter rising fees for freight and handling.

“Elite metallic python-print totes are an incredible price — $39,” she said.

Pryor was also enthusiastic about AM Alberto Makali’s printed tunics and dresses plus a new line of easy linen and cotton sportswear called Cannise.

“It has a beautiful hand and a rich look,” she said. “Our customer wants to feel good about herself. We don’t buy trendy.”

Debbie Downs was finishing her holiday buy and picking up accessories for My Secret Closet in Dallas. The store presents new contemporary merchandise in the front and resale at the rear, and both areas are posting double-digit increases, she said.

“My customers are not caring about prices, but I have a wide range — tops from $42 to $150,” she said.

For younger clients, Downs picked up colorful printed dresses and tunics with touches of beading from Blissitude and Joyous & Free. She also invested more heavily in Eva Varro’s printed knit tunics that can be worn as dresses or tops because they appeal to women over 40.

“Eva Varro retails around $110 to $130, and we sell out of it,” Downs noted. “We never seem to have enough for the mid-40-plus who want something hip with a bit of a sleeve.”

Downs also bought Nakamol’s goldplated and semiprecious jewelry featuring circles lined with semiprecious stones and peace-sign necklaces by Funky Junque.

Maxidresses caught the eye of Alice Winders, buyer for Susan Marie’s misses’ and contemporary store in Salado, Tex., the picturesque village where Jenna Bush held the rehearsal dinner for her wedding in May.

“We are really trying to find new and different things for 10/30 and 11/30 deliveries,” Winder said. “I love the patio dresses — they are very flattering on people. Joyous & Free has great ones.”

She also praised Dolce Cabo’s lavish fur-trimmed cashmere wraps.

Business has also been solid for Miriam Garvey, whose namesake contemporary store is in Fairway, Kan., a suburb of Kansas City. “Business is good,” Garvey said. “Kansas City has one of the most stable economies in the country.”

Garvey said she was shopping for more recognizable brands as she wrote an order for JW LA’s black embroidered three-quarter sleeve blouse and mixed print drawstring Empire tiered dress in rayon georgette. She also checked out new washes from Seven For All Mankind, noting the label’s “Ginger” jean with a narrow leg and flare was a bestseller.

It has been a little challenging at Polly Adams, an upscale store in the border city of Laredo, Tex.

“Every sale takes a lot of energy,” noted Lisa Miller, buyer. “It has to be very special these days, but not so trendy that you can’t wear it more than one season. It has to be worth their money.”

Shoppers from Mexico are spending more freely, she added. “Our first customer yesterday [from Mexico] spent $2,000,” she said.

As she ordered a crosshatch denim jean from Cambio, Miller noted, “My customer wants things to the body. She does not want the baby doll.”

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