By and and  on September 10, 2009

LAS VEGAS — There was a renewed pulse at MAGIC.

An updated layout, new showcases and a diverse vendor mix helped generate the energy. Retailers and vendors praised the evolution of the three-day show here, and appeared buoyed by the hope of better times.

“It feels much more upbeat this season,” said Ed Gurdak, executive vice president of Marcraft Apparel Group. “Instead of playing defense, retailers are looking for something new.”

A sense of newness permeated the show last week at the Las Vegas Convention Center, including the debut of an overhauled Men’s area — traditionally the home of dress-up manufacturers and classification players. But last week it housed an eclectic mix of sportswear brands such as DKNY, progressive niche European brands like Arn Mercantile, and traditional category powerhouses such as Phillips-Van Heusen Corp.’s furnishings division.

The exhibitor lineup, despite creating a few awkward adjacencies, pleased exhibitors who said the show floor offered retailers more variety and better reflected modern merchandising.

“The outlook was significantly better,” said Ken Giddon, the owner of Rothman’s in Manhattan. “Business hasn’t turned up dramatically, but there was a sense that people who have survived this downtown so far will survive.”

Overall square footage for all the shows — MAGIC Men’s, WWDMAGIC, Project and Pool — was up 7 percent and the exhibitor count rose 17 percent, said Chris DeMoulin, president of MAGIC International, adding the number of new exhibitors increased more than 50 percent.

“It indicates the resiliency of this industry,” he said. “Our attendance was up every day of the show versus last year and there was a tremendous amount of energy and business being done.”

Specific attendance figures were not available.

At the booths, vendors offered focus and finesse and strived for value to entice frugal consumers.

DKNY, in its second outing at MAGIC, showed its sportswear collection separate from the jeans line. Among the key items: cotton suit separates, a modern polo with a wider arm brand, athletic-inspired knits, retailing for $49.50 and bright solid T-shirts, $29.50.

“Things are more cleaned up and professional this year,” said DKNY vice president of sales Ken Fleishman.

Dockers, which for a few seasons had emphasized the breadth of its offering from work slacks to golf gear, touted a focus on its core khaki program for spring, led by the launch of a soft khaki range in nine colors, retailing for $52.

“We want to bring life to the casual pant category and disrupt the sea of beige you see in a traditional khaki area at retail,” said Jen Sey, vice president of global marketing for Dockers.

Fit maintained its status as a key trend for dress-up players such as Marcraft, which talked up the youthful silhouettes of its Tommy Hilfiger clothing, particularly the item-oriented jackets. Trimmer styles were was also a highlight at PVH, which showed its first range of Tommy Hilfiger slim-fit dress shirts.

MAGIC’s premium showcase, driven by denim and embellished sportswear, found its footing in only its second season. The area was galvanized by the Christian Audigier compound, a 30,000-square-foot fiefdom of booths for Ed Hardy licensees that featured a towering skull and cross bones with electronic flames shooting out of its head.

Audigier’s showmanship appeared to work. There were throngs of buyers and he was mobbed by autograph seekers wherever he walked on the trade show floor.

Asked about supposed plans to create a clothing line with reality television star Jon Gosselin of TLC’s “Jon & Kate Plus 8,” Audigier said: “There was never, ever a plan for a Jon Gosselin line.”

However, the designer said he was proceeding with a cobranded Michael Jackson collection on which he and Jackson collaborated. They “went back and forth” on design ideas for Jackson-themed merchandise until “we found the right one,” Audigier said.

In the aftermath of Jackson’s death in June, “We are working with lawyers to try to get the line ready in a month or two,” he said. “The product is ready. We need authorization to promote it and sell it” from Jackson’s estate.

Near the Audigier section, Las Vegas-based hat maker IMTD — the acronym for I’m Totally Different — was seeking to outdo even Ed Hardy with its gaudy trucker hats. The creations featured foil prints, chains, embroidery and floral prints, all on one hat, with the retail price of $15.

Hats were also the main attraction at Buffalo, N.Y.-based New Era, which has become a staple of the streetwear market and is the official on-field cap of Major League Baseball. Last month the company signed an apparel license with MLB to use team logos and insignia on a sportswear collection, including T-shirts, hoodies and polos.

At Sean John, fits were noticeably slimmer, including ripped-and-repaired denim, chambray shirts and a delivery of mod-inspired designs, which included bright yellow chinos with curved seams. Striped cardigans and a funnel-neck vest evinced a decidedly contemporary attitude.

“Spring is really the culmination of a yearlong rebranding effort,” said Dawn Robertson, president of the New York-based company. “We’ve refined the collection, moved it toward a contemporary direction and things have really taken off.”

The new direction in streetwear was the focus of the S.L.A.T.E. show, a subsection of MAGIC. Labels such as LRG, Obey and Live Mechanics target youthful, multicultural consumers who don’t fit neatly into categories like urban, skate or street.

“This customer is looking for something that isn’t formulaic,” said Scott Sasso, founder of 10 Deep. “Our fits and attitude towards branding is a lot different from some of the big, established brands.”

That approach to streetwear was evident at Crooks & Castles, where speckled fleece hoodies retailing for $80 to $100; plaid wovens, $80; T-shirts, $34, and a new line of cotton canvas or suede footwear, $125, emphasized cleaner, less graphic-based designs. The company has gained a following among streetwear connoisseurs with its sophisticated ethos, and in July opened its second Los Angeles store on Sunset Boulevard, stocking a full range of lifestyle items such as branded candles and bathrobes

Fewer graphics and logos and a trimmer fit also marked the offerings at Rocawear, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary with a special collection bearing the roman numeral X.

Founder Jay-Z “wanted something more sophisticated, clothes that he himself would wear,” said Lauren O’Rourke, director of merchandising at Rocawear.

A simple but modern aesthetic was also a key message at Mango HE, the men’s offering from the Spanish retailer Mango, which is wholesaling its collection for the first time this fall. Offering mostly immediates, Mango’s selling staff showed destroyed denim in acid washes, multistripe cardigans for layering and a moto-inspired leather jacket.

“Retailers don’t know what is going to happen in six months,” said Erwin Moreira, head of U.S. retail for Mango. “They want to buy now to capitalize on what’s selling in stores today.”

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