By and  on July 30, 2009

Buyers at the annual swimwear trade and runway shows in Miami Beach kept to tight budgets as they searched for product with pizzazz.

They added pieces with a ready-to-wear sensibility to fully round out their stores and dropped lines that didn’t immediately resonate with customers.

Anchored by SwimShow 2010, which ran July 18 to 21 at the Miami Beach Convention Center, and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim, a nightly series of runway shows from July 15 to 19 at the Raleigh Hotel, the swimwear events drew buyers who got a first look at cruise 2010 collections from more than 400 brands.

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim drew 15,000 people, according to organizer IMG Fashion, with 20 runway shows and presentations, including Red Carter, L’Space by Monica Wise, Xtra Life Lycra and newcomer Crystal Jin.

With the economic downturn as a backdrop, buyers adopted a no-nonsense attitude.

Manufacturers such as Jo de Mer, Love True Love, Seafolly and Gottex did their best to answer the call with more fashion-conscious cover-ups, rich jewel tones and larger cup and bottom sizes.

Women’s looks were more sophisticated, and most designers stuck to proven silhouettes while punching up color, print and carefully placed detailing, such as ruffling, adjustable strap options and hardware.

Similarly, men’s offerings trended to more subtle and road-tested styles as brands such as Ed Hardy, True Religion and Red Carter showed surf-inspired boardshorts with a vintage feel.

Tattoo appliqué continued to be central to Ed Hardy swim — produced under license by Sea & Surf Corp. in Los Angeles — but the colors were more tonal and patterns, subtler.

“It’s not so in-your-face,” said Sea & Surf creative director Fawn Arthur. “The artwork feels more washed, more vintage. We focused on details like screen-printing and custom hardware as opposed to big splashy appliqués.”

Officials at Swimwear Association of Florida, sponsor of SwimShow, did not provide attendance figures, saying numbers were “basically the same as last year,” and buyers were “focused and ready to write orders.”

Mark Sidle, owner of Swim ’n Sport, a Miami-based chain with 37 stores in 13 states, bought with a flat open-to-buy and previewed many lines before the show, writing with La Blanca, Gottex, Body Glove and Blue Water and paying careful attention to price.

“There are brands out there that, over the last three to five years, have gotten carried away with their price points,” Sidle said. “That price resistance has affected the downturn in swimwear sales. I’ve been forced to raise my prices just to keep up. Luckily, some manufacturers are recognizing there is a ceiling on price, but others are still out in la-la land.”

Jennifer Cermak, owner of Nani Nalu, a Minneapolis swimwear store, stuck to core brands Lenny, Robin Piccone and Lea Gottlieb and had a hard time finding new resources.

“I usually bring in two or three new lines per season, but nothing’s wowed me,” she said.

Catering to a “more conservative customer,” Cermak responded to sophisticated plaid patterns, Grecian draping and pretty plum and red shades, while seeking out lines offering larger cup sizes.

Despite a difficult fourth quarter last year, Cermak still keeps her price points around $175 and hasn’t offered markdowns since January.

“We had a tough few months last year and the customers weren’t going to spend unless they absolutely needed to,” Cermak said. “Things have picked up since and the customer still needs the product, but instead of going to St. Barth’s for three weeks, she’s going to Puerto Vallarta for one.”

While some exhibitors reported slow foot traffic, others said they did well with set appointments, focusing on their primary wholesale accounts.

Michelle Letarte Ross, co-founder and chief executive officer of Letarte, a better swimwear line known for its unique, over-the-top styles, said buyers came back for proven bikinis and tunics, and said new accounts made up about 20 percent of her overall show business.

“With this year’s [economy] and with being a smaller company, you really have to think outside the box,” Ross said. “Buyers aren’t taking any chances and they’re really paring down the number of brands they carry.”

Moving away from the traditional trade show format, several brands held runway shows and private appointments at hotels or boutiques.

Eres showed its wide array of colors and classic silhouettes at the Webster, a new luxury boutique in Miami Beach, while Tommy Bahama set up shop at The Shore Club hotel, as did RAJ Manufacturing, which showed its lines, Guess, Ella Moss, St. John and others. Island Company, a West Palm Beach, Fla., resort firm, showed at the Ritz-Carlton.

Spencer Antle, creative director for the company, said the more intimate, brand-specific environment translated into strong buyer response.

“We didn’t really have any need to be at the bigger show this year,” Antle said. “We had a very select group of buyers that we wanted to see….We don’t generate that much paper at the show, but I think that the ability to spend more one-on-one time with our buyers allowed us to build the business we already have.”

Antle has pared down his swim offerings to 15 percent in the last year, focusing instead on apparel, accessories and a new suntan lotion line.

The company has recently opened retail components in West Palm Beach and Nantucket, Mass., and will open two more in Naples, Fla., and in the Cayman Islands in November. Antle said he’s “drastically reducing” his wholesale presence, only focusing on primary resort and boutique accounts.

“We’ve seen a lot of stores go out of business, and a lot of people didn’t come [to Miami this year] because of the economy,” he said.

However, there were notable launches on the men’s side. At Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim, premium denim brand True Religion showed its first men’s swim collection — also produced under license by Sea & Surf. Instead of iconic surf styles, True Religion mined its denim roots with jean-inspired swim trunks complete with pockets, pick stitching and even a twisted leg seam, a staple of the company’s denim.

“It’s very retro with washes and old-school prints,” Sea & Surf’s Arthur said.

Vilebrequin also showed its expanded range of men’s swim — previously regulated to printed styles with elastic waists. In a bid to reach a broader audience, the French brand unveiled both long and short surf trunks as well as more moderately priced reversible pieces.

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