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NEW YORK — While most experts on the economy are forecasting continued difficulty, contemporary designers and executives at fashion labels see glimmers of hope as they prepare for the Fashion Coterie show.
Many exhibitors at Coterie, which is being staged at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center from Sept. 21 to 23, are portraying a level of confidence not seen in fashion since before the financial crisis began in 2008. They based their mood on myriad factors, from recent summer trade fairs where buyers placed healthier orders than in past seasons, to trends that home in on color — just the kind of stimulant many say is needed in these grim times. That said, the recession blues aren’t going away quite yet, and a slew of executives said caution remained high when discussing their spring outlook.
Many concurred that there is business to be had, but it takes much more work to get it. As a result, several Coterie exhibitors are using the show to introduce new elements to their business. They include:
• Expanding the range of wholesale prices to offer retailers lower entry price points.
• Increasing the size of their booths to heighten exposure, bring more samples and enhance the comfort level for executives.
• Adding more items to the collection to allow buyers more versatility in their buying strategy.
• Incorporating special details such as embroidery and embellishment to heighten the perceived value of clothes.
“For events or something special, women are still willing to spend,” said Los Angeles-based designer David Meister, who is known for his extravagant evening gowns and dressed reality TV star Whitney Port for her red-carpet moment at the 2010 CFDA Fashion Awards in June. “It really has to look new. The clothes have to have something to make it the wow factor. I am finding that clothes need to have a little embellishment. Simple, chic, understated doesn’t fly out of stores.”
Spring looks range from vintage preppy styles to pieces with innerwear details, such as lace trims.
Show produce ENK International is launching its “Tomorrow” concept at Coterie. A spokesman noted that initially this section was originated at the ENKNYC men’s show and was a highlight of the show for retailers looking for emerging talent. Tomorrow at Coterie will include 12 new and emerging U.S. and international designers in a select atmosphere where these new talents can meet and present their collections. The designers were hand-picked by a select jury of industry notables.
Cynthia Rowley’s spring lineup, which she unveiled during New York fashion week, featured many clean shapes in sherbet colors, accessorized with bright sparks of geometric jewelry.
“Based on the preliminary responses from our wholesale accounts, we’re feeling very positive about spring,” Peter Arnold, president of the New York-based label, said of his anticipations for Coterie, where the New York brand will be an exhibitor.
Pricing, he noted, continues to be a key issue for most stores.
“Like the buyers, we are very price sensitive,” Arnold said. “We are showing a broader assortment than in the past and including more specialty pieces, as well as bags, shoes, eyewear and legwear, at a variety of price points. Our retail customers are very item-driven and, as we’ve seen in our own stores, that merchandising model has proven successful.
Arnold added that, “e-tailers like Gilt Groupe and Rue La La have made the customer more price-conscious,” noting that this environment requires such moves as a sharper pricing strategy, a wider assortment and quicker production turns.
Nicola Guarna, chief executive officer at Los Angeles-based Robert Rodriguez, the contemporary sportswear and eveningwear label that was acquired by Jones Apparel Group in February, expressed a sense of optimism.
“Our businesses are positioned well in the market and we have looked at each collection as an opportunity for growth either by expanding into new product categories or intensifying existing categories that are consistent with current trends,” Guarna said.
He added that the Robert Rodriguez collection will showcase a strengthened focus on tailored dressing and will launch suiting at Coterie.
“We feel suiting is a natural extension for the brand and Robert has added some amazing design details that make them special,” Guarna said.
The Robert Rodriguez Black Label, which Eva Longoria Parker recently sported on the red carpet, will be at Coterie for the first time, and the company will also be showing its lower-priced Robbi and Nikki collection.
Meanwhile, New York-based, multiline showroom The Isabella Co. is bringing nine European lines to Coterie: Annette Görtz, Bianca, Gerald Darel, Creenstone, Javier Simorra, JA by Simorra, Marc Cain, Phard and Sita Murt. Howard Aubrey, president of Isabella Co., noted a “slight improvement” in the overall mood, with greater increases in the Southeast and Southwest.
“We are coming off August regional markets in Dallas, Atlanta and Las Vegas where we enjoyed significant increases in our spring 2011 orders and noted a more optimistic attitude amongst retailers,” Aubrey added. “In light of the orders already received in our New York showrooms and at the regional markets, we are anticipating an enthusiastic reaction to the collections. In addition to benefiting from the increased weakness of the euro, our brands are presenting exceptionally strong collections. This should translate into increased orders.”
Strenesse ceo Gerd Strehle cited ongoing growth for the German label in the U.S. market. Strehle said last season Strenesse was “able to gain several new accounts and our existing customers increased their orders, which has had a positive influence on this year’s preorder mood. Buyers are entering our showrooms with numbers showing that the product is performing and their loyal customers are beginning to come back to the stores.”
He added that compared to the past, the term “crisis” is less common in conversations.
“We are now focusing on the future and our potential,” he added. “This time has given us the chance to think of new ways to gain market share and spread further into international markets. We have done our research and communicated with international sales managers to build on a collaborative relationship. This work helps us and our customers have a more positive outlook for our future.”
Proactive outreach continues to be a key strategy for many contemporary sportswear labels.
“We have noticed in all the markets that attendance is down, but we are making our numbers by selling bigger orders to fewer people,” said Monica Belag Foreman, president of Magaschoni. “We have to make it up one way or another and often visit the buyers we are not catching. We have to study our customers’ shopping habits more closely.”
Nicky Zimmermann, head designer and creative director of Australian label Zimmermann, said the mood is brightening.
“We will be looking to build on some of our existing relationships and develop some new ones that can keep our business building,” Zimmermann said. “We aren’t ever in too much of a hurry so we would just like to build on what we were able to achieve from Coterie last year.”
Cashmere label White + Warren is expanding its space at Coterie to accommodate for an increased assortment of sportswear and “to increase both domestic and international distribution through exposure at the show,” founder Susan White said.
Pauline Nakios, owner and creative director of Lilla P., said that her contemporary brand will also be launching a larger booth, which will have features such as video streams and the space to accommodate two sample sets for buyers. Lilla P.’s spring collection has grown 25 percent with an increased dress offering.
Nakios said last year “was a very touch-and-go year for all, and luckily we ended year down just a stitch, but we have so far had a fantastic 2010.
“I feel a great sense of improvement overall,” she added. “Certain areas of the country are having a harder time and we feel the housing market, and the Gulf Coast region was affected by the oil spill because they didn’t get the tourists they normally do. But it’s a totally different ball game this year. Consumers are not buying as much, but they are spending again.”