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LOS ANGELES — Anxiety about the slowing U.S. economy sent a chill through the summer-focused contemporary fashion market that ended here Tuesday, as retail buyers narrowed their orders to easy-wearing and marketable clothing.
Casual beach clothes, loungewear, dresses, bright colors, bold jewelry and versatile bags were among the categories popular with buyers at Designers & Agents, Brighte Companies and the showrooms housed in the California Market Center, New Mart, Cooper Design Space and Gerry Building.
“Halter dresses, racer-back dresses and even strapless dresses are what sell best for me now, along with prints,” said Pilar Riskus, owner of a store called Hula Girl in Kapaa, Hawaii.
Designers tested their imaginations with prints. Los Angeles’ Myne channeled Navajo art on chiffon and silk, Glendale, Calif.-based And Cake plastered Popsicles and cupcakes on T-shirts, and New York’s Sunner offered a cheeky yellow print bursting with turquoise-tinted palm trees and pink sunsets.
Organic cotton and women’s separates designed for casual comfort were also big for buyers focusing on the warmer months, with tank tops and Bermuda shorts among the notable styles.
“I bought a lot of tops for summer in basic cotton, but brighter colors for the season, like yellows, oranges and light greens,” said Chae Young, a boutique owner from Tulsa, Okla.
Indeed, at D&A, yellow jacquard was popular for New York’s Lauren Moffatt, as were jewel tones for New York’s Foley + Corinna. At Brighte, summer marked a return to vivid hues for accessories. Green was the favored color in handbags at Los Angeles’ Hype and Beverly Hills’ SHIH by Stephanie Lin. Turquoise and cherry red were top choices at Los Angeles-based Linea Pelle, while ombré red, teal and tan were popular at Alexis Hudson, also based in Los Angeles.
Combining bright colors and stripes worked well for Three Dots, the Garden Grove, Calif.-based knit line, which unveiled three styles for the summer, including one horizontal pattern that highlights a gradation of vibrant hues like pink and yellow on Supima cotton. “It’s new and fun and people are ready to see color,” said showroom manager Lisa Rodman.
This story first appeared in the January 16, 2008 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
At the Korean line Plastic Island, marketing manager Kyutae Kim said demand for skirts was rising. “We are seeing that dresses were still strong, but buyers were surprisingly a lot more interested in bottoms,” she said, pointing out a lightweight miniskirt that wholesales for $42.
Though the line displayed only 15 summer styles, which wholesale from $36 to $62, retailers weren’t shy about a color palette saturated with oranges, reds and corals. To supplement those shades, Kim said horizontal inch-wide stripes in gray-and-white and gold-and-white also found a following.
Nonetheless, because the five-day trade show focused on one of the year’s smallest seasons, buyers complained about the limited number of collections shown. “I didn’t order anything at all; it seemed like the designers didn’t have much to offer,” said Kristen Eder, a buyer from the Chicago area, whose two shops carry lines including 12th Street by Cynthia Vincent, Nolita, Theory and Vivienne Westwood. “I’m now just going to focus on picking up jewelry and accessories so the trip isn’t a total waste.”
Mary Kawano, who owns two contemporary boutiques in Sacramento, Calif., said: “I felt it was a lot of the same things I had already seen before. My focus right now is on organic casualwear and cute comfortable tops for summer, but also some drapey warmer sweater tops for right now.”
Despite the focus on warm weather, contemporary line Ever scored with its washed lambskin leather jackets, mainly because the items, which wholesale for less than $400, sold out in the fall, holiday and spring collections. “At retail, women invest in leather and dresses,” said Kristin Barone, head of women’s sales for the Maywood, Calif.-based company.
The best way to describe what resonates with buyers is “easy statement dresses,” said Danielle Stapen, sales manager at New York’s Alice + Olivia, which showed at D&A. Top sellers included a $167 square-neck voile dress accentuated with floral embroidery and a $180 one-shoulder silk chiffon minidress incorporating details such as pintucking, pleats and eye-popping tints of kelly green and yellow.
“Buyers right now, in general, are scared of the economy being what it is,” Stapen said. “They’re careful about what they buy.”
At Marked Showroom, which represents contemporary and young designer lines, including Nanushka and Crispin & Basilio, the key factors for retailers were price, design and easy sell. “They’re definitely less willing to take risks,” said showroom co-owner Tu Tran.
In accessories, a contracting economy was also reflected in diminutive bags. Clutches of various sizes remained staples, and the satchel has come to the fore as the go-to larger bag replacing the cavernous hobo ones.
Versatility was also an important selling point for accessories. Linea Pelle gave shoulder strap options that transformed bags into messengers. Several of Alexis Hudson’s bags could be worn two or three ways. “People love the fact that you can get two bags in one. Bags are not cheap these days,” said Emily Ironi, Alexis Hudson’s owner.
In jewelry, bigger was better. San Diego-based Double Happiness Design featured 14-karat gold-filled teardrops wrapped in silk thread that wholesaled for $98. Moroccan-inspired earrings that wholesaled around $40 were a hit at Sophia & Chloé, also based in San Diego. Retailers opted “for bold statements on the ear,” Sophia & Chloé designer Nathalie Rachel Sherman said.
Sherman said jewelry has fared reasonably well despite the economy because shoppers still pick up earrings, necklaces and rings for gifts. “My stores that focused on jewelry fared better than stores that just do clothing,” she said.
Overall, vendors reported that retailers weren’t stocking up on entire collections but were choosing fewer reliable pieces. “Most of our clients weren’t looking for lower-priced items,” said Lucy Danovic, a sales representative for Hype.
Stephanie Wells, Double Happiness’ designer, added, “If they are going to buy, they are going to buy [for] quality.”
— With contributions from Rachel Brown