By  on July 23, 2009

Classic specialty store vendors generally praised MRket’s debut in New York, where a tenuous sense of optimism pulsed through the aisles at the Jacob K. Javits Center.

Heavy on classification specialists and Italian luxury products, MRket offered retailers an artisanal counterpoint to the big brands holding court at their respective showrooms.

“The economy has prompted buyers to be more open-minded about who and what they have in their stores,” said Richard Grieco of RNG Clothing, a classic label that showed strong American suit styles — like the tan glen plaid and navy blue double-breasted pinstripe — for less than $1,000 at retail. “A lot of stores that wouldn’t look at us in the past are looking at us now.”

That curiosity was good news for niche players such as Italian leather outerwear maker Gimo’s, which emphasized novelty skins and superlight jackets. “What’s doing well is fashion, cutting-edge pieces,” said Antonio DiCapua, president of Tuscany & Co., which imports the jackets to the U.S. A 4-mm. treated goat suede bomber had the ease and hand of waxed cloth. “This is an item business.”

It was a similar story at Vigano, an Italian pants brand whose push into casual trousers has paid dividends thanks to spot-on styling in its range of Easter egg-hued cotton pants. “To get [a person] to buy full price, you have to give him something unique that he really wants,” said Vigano importer Victor Corchia.

But it wasn’t all novelty at MRket. The continued demand for “statement wovens” — à la Robert Graham — was in full force. No fewer than six brands, including Equilibrio, International Laundry and J. Campbell, made major statements with articulated button-downs. Saltaire offered versions in overdyed linen, mixed patterns and short sleeves.

Thomas Dean, a brand in its third season whose booth seemed permanently crowded, presented wovens in multistripes, jacquard-stripe mixes and exploded ginghams. “Retailers have a surprisingly good attitude today,” said principal Thomas Bonomo. “There is a sense of some stability.” The brand also revealed its first swim line, which focused on floral prints.

Overall, there was a sense that business had returned, if not to normal, then to some semblance of normalcy.

“Business conditions are the way they are,” said Britton Jones, president and chief executive officer of Business Journals Inc., which owns MRket. “But we are bullish on the specialty store business. We think right now it’s about finding what will stimulate buyers.”

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