LAS VEGAS — The Doneger Group’s men’s wear overview on the opening day of the MAGIC show here is usually standing room only for retailers seeking insight into the top trends of the season.
This story first appeared in the February 25, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Not this year.
With the U.S. in economic crisis, the availability of seating was a harbinger for MAGIC and the satellite trade shows last week at the Las Vegas Convention Center and surrounding venues. MAGIC Man, the oldest and largest component of the event, was significantly smaller.
Retailers scoured the aisles for items that would provide a bit of pop on their floors and lure a consumer who is reluctant to shop. Although some have begun selling a smattering of early spring merchandise at full price, merchants are being conservative, watching their inventories and expenses closely as they seek to keep their heads above water. Open-to-buys for fall were down around 20 percent for many stores and often retailers were in the market for spring goods, which they had waited to purchase until closer to need.
Above all, the quest for value drove retail orders. Manufacturers answered the call, offering just enough tweaks and novelty details to keep things interesting.
MAGIC officials declined to provide an exhibitor count, but the 900,000-square-foot South Hall, which had housed young men’s — streetwear vendors as well as S.L.A.T.E., the progressive streetwear component of the show — was abandoned. Those vendors were relocated to the Central Hall to join the classic and contemporary men’s manufacturers. Pool, one of MAGIC’s sister shows, was also located in the Central Hall, as was Premium at MAGIC, a new subcategory that brought together vendors relocated from Project, another member of the MAGIC family.
The Central and North Halls — the latter of which housed WWDMAGIC and MAGIC Kids — are just over 1 million square feet.
The former fashion show stage was replaced by registration desks and there were several areas on the floor where retailers could sit and rest while looking over their order pads. This prompted Lazard retail analyst Todd Slater to suggest in a research note that MAGIC consider merging with another Vegas stalwart, the WSA Shoe Show, usually held within weeks of MAGIC twice a year.
“Not surprisingly, attendance was seen as significantly lower, highlighted by a material reduction in key brands and fewer specialty store buyers,” Slater wrote. “Vendors in the entire South Hall venue merged into the Center Hall. Roughly 10 percent of the space was dedicated to seating.”
Although attendance may have been off — MAGIC did not have final figures — by the afternoon of the opening day, the floors were crowded and there was a relatively upbeat mood.
In fact, several exhibitors in MAGIC Man had a strong show, including Weatherproof, whose president, Freddie Stollmack, said the quality of attending retailers was high. “We saw every major we wanted to see,” he added.
Paul Rosengard, group president of premium brands for Perry Ellis International, agreed: “MAGIC was a pleasant surprise for us, perhaps because our expectations had been managed down so low. And, in keeping with the current economic climate, we had significantly downsized [right-sized] our booth so this further played on our expectations.”
He was especially pleased to find that senior management of most of the major retailers attended the show. “The ability to sit senior management to senior management is a unique benefit of MAGIC, and we were well prepared to maximize this opportunity.”
One place where the energy was pulsating was the Project show at the Mandalay Bay. MAGIC ran shuttles between the two events. Although Project was smaller — an intentional move on the part of management to improve the focus of the event — aisles were packed with retailers.
ENK Vegas and Capsule, albeit much smaller, had a similar vibe and drew a variety of retailers. Some vendors used enticements to get retailers to their booths. For instance, Los Angeles’ Lyric Culture gave away tickets to Cirque du Soleil’s “Love” show and offered a coupon for a 20 percent discount on orders at ENK Vegas.
Retailers shopping the MAGIC component of the Vegas trade show circuit at the convention center actually had an easier time without having to make the long trek to the South Hall.
“It’s much easier for us having it all in one building, but it’s a statement about retailing in general and where we are right now,” said Scott Collins, general merchandise manager of Downtown Locker Room, a Maryland-based young men’s and juniors chain.
MAGIC president Chris DeMoulin was undeterred.
“All the retail feedback we’ve gotten has been great,” he said. “The easier we make it for them, the better. So many stores used to shop deep in a category, now they shop multiple categories, so pulling it all together made sense.”
There were other changes as well, including adding the Accessories component to WWDMAGIC, and moving the Sourcing portion to the Hilton. “We’re very happy with how it turned out,” DeMoulin said. “Everybody who is here wants to be here.…They’re looking for solutions and new products. And there’s lots and lots of buying going on.”
Some of that buying was for immediate merchandise. Rather than showing their fall women’s collections, Helmut Lang and Original Penguin featured only spring-summer pieces that could be delivered immediately at ENK Vegas and Project, respectively.
Courtney Smallbeck vied to cap retail prices at $75 for tops and $125 for dresses for contemporary lines that she’s adding to her women’s specialty store, Drama, in Minneapolis. “They’re still looking for unique items,” she said of her customers. “They’re looking for a deal.”
Some women’s vendors found the right formula. Vancouver’s Kersh said it expects sales to increase as much as 25 percent this fall from a year ago because of items such as a $60 printed paisley sweater accentuated with short kimono sleeves in navy, brown and purple.
“Anything in color and real fashion novelty is what sold,” said Sandy Dombroski, Kersh’s sales and marketing director.
The celebrity quotient was dimmed because of the economy and timing. MAGIC was sandwiched between New York Fashion Week and the Oscars.
Instead of Beyoncé Knowles and Sheryl Crow plugging their clothing lines, Charlie Sheen introduced a line of bowling shirts for DaVinci at the Rock & Roll Religion booth at MAGIC. Whitney Port of MTV’s “The City” appeared at Project to promote her brand, Whitney Eve. Actress Tara Reid promoted her swim and casualwear line, Mantra, in a backless minidress and platform heels.
— Jean E. Palmieri, Khanh T.L. Tran and Brenner Thomas
As its name suggests, Capsule was small and easy to digest in its first outing in Las Vegas. The two-day show, which originated in New York in 2007, was staged at the Hard Rock Hotel and featured about 40 brands.
“I really like the intimate nature of the show,” said Stefan Miljanic, who was there with his Gilded Age collection a few days after staging a presentation during New York Fashion Week. In a nod to the economy, the upscale, artisanal collection featured denim that retails for $200, down from a previous entry price point of $288.
Denim, T-shirts and watches were among the strongest categories, with lines like Naked and Famous, KR3W and Supra seeing interest from retailers. Buyers from Saks, Bloomingdale’s and Target walked the show, noted Deirdre Maloney, a partner in BPMW, the sales and public relations firm that founded Capsule.
“We were braced for the worst, but traffic has been great,” she said. “We’ve always said this was the antidote to the big trade shows.”
While foot traffic at Capsule may have been solid, persuading retailers to make firm commitments to merchandise was another matter, with many taking a wait-and-see approach.
“I just come out to see what’s out there, what people have and then I make my buying decisions when I get back home,” said Scott Downing, a partner in Seattle’s Goods boutique. “In the economy, I have to be more cautious about how I spend, so I need to think it over.”
Caution aside, the architectural outerwear from Eubiq was garnering interest from buyers, said Paul Fleming of Joey Showroom, which reps the line. Also eye-catching was the range of money clips, tie clips and rings fashioned from 19th-century spoons at Barking Irons.
— David Lipke and Anne Riley-Katz
Pool was integrated into the MAGIC floor space for the first time, luring strong foot traffic to the show touted as “the place to find emerging art- and design-driven brands.”
Pool drew about 200 exhibitors — an assortment of women’s and men’s fashion and accessories brands a well as several unisex T-shirt labels. It also launched a “cash and carry” area where buyers could buy goods for immediate delivery, a popular buying method with inventories tight amid the recession.
In men’s, the show drew Fireflite, which exhibited its Western-inspired woven shirts, as well as Benthrasher, a men’s collection sportswear resource whose non-denim pants and woven shirts connected with buyers, said owner and designer Benji Thrasher. “The show was busy for us — knock on wood,” he said.
One unusual exhibitor was 01 The One Watches, which offered an assortment of its timepieces with LED displays and a new time-reading system based on the binary code.
The largest men’s exhibitor was Ben Sherman, which offered men’s and women’s apparel and accessories.
The fall delivery, said sales rep Gareth Baxendale, consisted of three deliveries for men. The first had a laid-back vibe that included a subdued color palette and items that included shirt jackets with zippered accents and woven shirts ($159 at retail) with separate patterns on the inside and outside.
The second delivery was cleaner and more sophisticated. This included a wool-blend coat in a three-quarter-length for $299, cotton or flannel plaid shirts with zipper pockets and a Western-inspired shirt with snap closures.
The final delivery offered tailored vests, chunky knit cardigans for $149, and blazers. There was also a higher-priced capsule collection of sport shirts, in collaboration with Canclini, with $169 button-down shirts with cutaway collars and other subtle details.
Women’s trends included long jersey Ts, sweater vests, graphic Ts, skinny jeans, silk dresses with a Sixties sensibility and leather jackets.
— A.R.K. and J.P.
Across the troubled retail landscape, accessories have outshone other categories — and buyers at WWDMAGIC and the ancillary trade shows moved to leverage their relative strength. They reported delving into accessories selections more freely than apparel and mentioned using underperforming floor space for accessories.
“Accessories is better than before because [customers] can afford it more,” said Jean Jarrett, owner of BJ’s Closet in Bingham Farms, Mich. Accessories at the store are mostly priced from $35 to $45, while a clothing outfit can cost $150.
Buyers and vendors made it clear that costly “It” bags have given way to functional alternatives that appear expensive, but are not. Accessories vendors pursued various strategies, including switching manufacturers, launching inexpensive secondary lines and adding details without raising prices in an effort to appeal to consumers.
About seven months ago, when Sherman Oaks, Calif.-based accessories company Rough Roses launched, vice president Ling Wang said Saks Fifth Avenue declined its handbags because at roughly $300 to $400 at retail, they didn’t fit with the department store’s pricier merchandise. Now affordability has become vital to handbag purchases, she said, and Saks is revisiting Rough Roses, which is carried at Nordstrom, Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s.
At Art Deco Atelier, based in Lafayette, Colo., director of marketing and development Hillary Campbell noted a spike in sales, especially of cocktail rings selling for less than $100, after the brand moved factories and cut prices in half. Agoura Hills, Calif.-based jeweler Sheila Fajl introduced a line called Breeze by Sheila Fajl with 18-karat gold-plated rings retailing from $60 to $70, compared with $150 to $200 for Fajl’s namesake line.
Overall, the booths at WWDMAGIC and AccessoriesTheShow weren’t brimming with copycats of the latest Balenciaga and Prada styles as in past seasons, although key trends, particularly fringe, were certainly represented. The relative dearth of exceedingly trendy pieces reflected a thirst for items with shelf lives longer than one season.
— Rachel Brown
The recession made the Off Price trade show a popular place to be.
T-shirts in bright colors, summer dresses and denim were some of the most sought-after categories among buyers looking to save a buck.
Although other shows were scaled back, Off Price drew lots of bargain-hunting buyers because of its focus on discount apparel and accessories.
“If I can keep my prices low, I’ll make it through the next six months, which will be the hardest,” said Shawn Bell, owner of Blush boutique in Bellflower, Calif. “Right now I’m OK; business is steady.”
The show moved to ballrooms on four levels of the Venetian from its former home at the Sands Expo and Convention Center.
“I think it’s harder to navigate now, but we’re still doing well,” said John Pak of Super Line, which was selling cotton T-shirts and tank tops in bright colors such as yellow, turquoise and purple in the $2 to $6 wholesale range.
Few Off Price vendors had minimums on orders, and as the trade show closed Thursday, some were making deals as fast as possible to move the merchandise.
“You find real wholesale prices here….Right now, it’s about margins. You have to make money where you can,” said Manny Romero, owner of the five-year-old Oceania in Miami.
With Lingerie Americas folding, CurveNV had a monopoly on the Las Vegas lingerie trade shows.
The trade show’s operator said 150 brands exhibited at CurveNV and 1,764 buyers attended, an almost 12 percent increase from last year.
Vendor activity was feverish on two fronts: shapewear and lines geared toward Generation X and YouTube consumers, which are proving to be performance bright spots. Lingerie stalwarts, including New York-based Wacoal, are striving to grow their shapewear presence, while category pioneers such as New York’s Yummie Tummie are upping the fashion quotient.
Dance and activewear firm Eurotard of Alpharetta, Ga., showcased its new shapewear line Julie France, retailing on average for $55, and Miami-based Cosabella introduced seven shapewear styles made of bamboo and priced from $49 to $62 at retail.
“This is real true everyday shapewear,” said Guido Campello, Cosabella’s vice president of branding and innovation. “We listened to women about the problems in current shapewear to fix them.”
Wacoal launched b.tempt’d, its line for the younger set, last season. Joe Smith, manager of international logistics and specialty stores sales manager, said the line has been garnering a 6.4 to 8 percent weekly sell-through. Jezebel, Chatsworth, Calif.-based Felina Lingerie’s line, aimed at shoppers 18 to 30 years old, is recording double-digit comparable-store sales increases, said John Adams, vice president of sales at Felina.
New York-based Natori reduced the prices of Josie to $40 to $50 from $50 to $60 at retail to suit the budgets of 15- to 25-year-olds. “There has been an opportunity in department stores [for youth-oriented lines,] and we thought that if we came out with a lower price, we could penetrate the market,” said Carly Gomez, West Coast specialty account executive for Natori license holder Dana-co Apparel Group.
Magia at MAGIC
MAGIC highlighted the Hispanic market with a new section, Magia, that drew about 10 exhibitors and offered three seminars. Gabriel Márquez Michel, director of textiles and dressmaking for COFOCE, a business promotion organization within the government of the Mexican state of Guanajuato, found the $6,000 or so for a booth in the Magia section worthwhile to spotlight Guanajuato’s apparel and shoe companies, including Je-Ver Boots and Brisco Jeans.
One of the most popular seminars, “Forces Affecting the Apparel Landscape for the Hispanic Consumer,” featured a wide-ranging conversation about Hispanic consumption habits. Kim Rayburn, a senior vice president at BIGresearch in Worthington, Ohio, painted a picture of these shoppers as Internet-savvy, fashion-forward, influenced by ads and typically nine years younger than non-Hispanic shoppers, with an average age of 36.
“They take a lot of information in before they purchase,” she said.
Rayburn also drew attention to findings from the research firm’s recent monthly survey suggesting that brands should target Hispanics during the recession. These consumers, the survey revealed, are three times more likely than non-Hispanics to “live for today” and are more willing to buy big-ticket items in the next six months. “Hispanics are much more confident because they are younger,” Rayburn said.
Women’s Wear in Nevada
Many of the almost 1,000 exhibitors at Women’s Wear in Nevada in the Rio hotel and casino were acutely aware of the age factor. They stressed that, as women get older, they don’t want to age themselves with clothes. Thus, exhibitors are reinterpreting fashions intended for younger consumers to satisfy a desire for updated styles in the misses’ and plus-size categories.
Charlotte Clacker, a sales representative for Canadian brand Cartise, pointed out that jeans mirroring designer designs, such as a Cartise pair retailing for around $130 with gold-thread accents, were popular. Of women in their 50s, she said, “We don’t want to look like our daughters or our mothers.”
New York-based KSDL’s misses’ and contemporary line Caite, largely available in catalogues such as Casual Living, was finding an audience from specialty shops for its embroidered rayon Lycra cowl-neck dresses retailing for $88 to $98, said KSDL owner Karyn Seo.
“Plus sizes don’t ever get this look,” she said, giving a reason for the dresses’ success at WWIN.
The layering trend that’s wound through designer and contemporary markets didn’t skip WWIN. At Sympli, a Vancouver-based brand known for figure-forgiving tunics, kimono jackets, skirts and tops in a polyester-spandex blend, priced mostly from $90 to $300 at retail, marketing manager Abbey Stimpson said it has caught on because “people like to be able to customize more than before.”
Moda Las Vegas
At Moda Las Vegas, which had almost 60 juried ready-to-wear exhibitors, standing out from the pack with novelty was the modus operandi.
Buyers said their orders were indeed swayed when extra touches distinguished brands. “People aren’t going out and spending money on run-of-the-mill [items],” explained Catherine Wood Hill, chief executive officer of La Grande Dame, a Web retailer for plus-size women launching March 20.
Montreal-based Dino Gaspari displayed rex rabbit furs’ versatility in its jackets, which retail from $325 to more than $5,000, by interweaving chiffon and adding rosettes. New York-based Tanatar America Corp. did the same for shearling in trapeze coats, often in yellow, purple and orange, priced from $1,500 to $6,000 at retail. “I think fur this year is going to do better than last,” said Tanatar vice president Candan Yurdakul. “The retailers can’t show the same stuff in their store for two years.”
The brand Identify, owned by Vancouver-based Marquis of London, attempted to make leather appealing to discerning buyers with wrinkled textures and garment washing to create a soft finish. “Plain old leather is being sold at so many price points, that if you want to move up [in price], you have to have something unique,” said Mustafa Khan, who was manning the booth for Identify, which sells leather pieces from $285 to $875 at retail.