By  on April 2, 2009

ATLANTA — Retail buyers struggling with tepid sales turned out in force for The Cobb Show here in search of deals to entice shoppers.

“Consumer spending has tightened up considerably,” said Marvin Lee, vice president of Manhattan, a retail store in Greenville, S.C., “It’s a tough pill to swallow.”

Exhibitors, particularly in the show’s Velocity area that houses premium urban and contemporary brands, said they did well and buyers wrote orders for immediate, summer and fall. The Cobb Show, the largest men’s show on the East Coast, was held March 29 to 30 at the Cobb Centre. The exhibition has been growing and targeting premium contemporary lines, which now comprise more than one-third of the Velocity area, said Deborah Green, marketing director.

Overall, the show had 561 booths, compared with 572 a year ago. New exhibitors Ed Hardy and Christian Audigier contributed 22 of those booths. Other newcomers included Verdi, Justing Jeans, Art Vandelay, Faca, Rebel Spirit and Paco Chicano.

Art Vandelay, based in Miami, has been out for a year and offers men’s and women’s tops in retro hip looks. Faca, also based in Miami, offered hand-printed T-shirts with an artistic South Beach-Lincoln Road influence. Justing Jeans is a European denim brand introduced to the U.S. in February at MAGIC. Rag Dynasty, which debuted at MAGIC Premium, features knit and woven tops with artwork based on ancient cultures, as well as rock ’n’ roll imagery.

Blu Martini launched in the suit area. Creator George DeMesquita said it is targeted to the fashionably sophisticated mature man who wants to look elegant in a casual setting. The label includes dressy jeans suits.

For the most part, buyers sought clean looks. “I tried to stay away from anything too crazy, because people are being conservative,” Manhattan’s Lee said. He bought polo knits in solids and basic stripes and woven tops with a little fashion. Most of the denim he booked was plain.

Lee said sales at his four stores are down about 40 percent, and he has cut back buying by 20 to 30 percent.

Felix Fanti, co-owner of from Vega Alta, Puerto Rico, said his sales increased 3.5 percent in 2008 and were up this year as well. “Business is good because we’ve got what the kids want and the competition has been slow getting into it,” he explained. In addition, merchandise at his 35 stores, which sell hip-hop and surf looks, is heavily skewed to lower prices.

Fanti booked about 90 percent of his open-to-buy for immediate delivery and about 20 percent of fall for straight-leg jeans in baked looks, bright colors in tops, basic polos and printed T-shirts. His top lines included California Hub, Ecko, Rocawear, Baby Blues, Dickies, Miskeen and Spiritex.

Monique DeClerico, buyer for Forman Mills, an off-price retailer with 25 stores based in Pennsauken, N.J., booked goods for May and June deliveries and back-to-school. Looking for deals in the Velocity area, she picked up cargo shorts with bellowing and stitching, premium looks in denim, woven tops with piecing and appliqués, knit tops with intricate details and lightweight jackets. Her brands included Kanji, Miskeen, Rocawear and Hama.

“We’ve seen a pickup in denim the last two months,” she said. “People are looking for value for their money.”

Joe Levenson, owner, Mayo Suit City in Sumter, S.C., shopped for fashion suits, dress shirts and ties. He said tailored clothing is selling “nicely,” but he has cut his buying by 20 percent. The fashion suit market is cleaning up and becoming more mainstream with one-, two- and three-button jackets, he said. Piece goods include glen plaids and windowpanes. Part of the influence is coming from President Obama, he said. He booked his top brands, Stacy Adams and Falcone, as well as Blu Martini.

“We’re living in challenging times,” Levenson said. “We’re having to work harder. We have more promotions and we’re advertising more, but I have a positive attitude.”

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