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LAS VEGAS — Women’s apparel brands and retailers are trying to shake off their winter woes.
This story first appeared in the February 26, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
Scouring primarily spring and summer collections, buyers at the trade shows here looked forward to a strong few months ahead as shoppers emerge from the cold and add to their closets. There was certainly a slight hangover from the fall and winter, though, as buyers and brands started to ponder what the unpredictable business patterns and disappointing holiday season could mean for the fashion world during the second half of the year.
“A lot of women looked last year and said, ‘I don’t want to buy a lot of summer clothes because I have a short window.’ This year, I even pulled out a bunch of my summer clothes and thought, ‘These are two years old,’” said Kristina Klockars, vice president of Hot Mama, the Edina, Minn.-based women’s clothing chain with 43 stores. “I feel like our customers are going to be out for spring because they have to replace things. Wearing those clothes for two seasons, they need that updated.”
At the shows, the inclement weather on the East Coast gave a boost to fashion brands. For Renee C. from Los Angeles, sales from the first two days at WWDMAGIC increased 35 percent from the previous show. While it brought its fall collection to the Juniors section, hardly any buyers touched the rack, opting instead to snap up the vividly printed dresses and tops from the spring-summer grouping that wholesaled from $20 to $30.
“It seems like a lot of people missed the [Fame] show in January because of the weather,” said James Baek, general manager at Renee C. “People who were supposed to be in New York are here.”
Costa Mesa, Calif.-based BB Dakota also enjoyed brisk business in the young contemporary area. Booking 400 appointments over WWDMAGIC’s three-day run, it doubled its sales on day one. Buyers didn’t seem as sensitive to pricing as they had been in the past, especially when it came to a top trend like leather. Big sellers for BB Dakota included a T-shirt dress crafted from vegan leather for $38 at wholesale as well as $225 leggings cut from real leather.
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In the persistent dresses-versus-skirts debate, dresses seemed to win out at the shows. “Dresses will always outweigh skirts because they are easier to wear. We have been in a dress cycle for 10 years, and it doesn’t seem like we are going out of it,” said Andrea Braun, e-commerce merchandise manager of women’s ready-to-wear at Nordstrom Inc.-owned flash-sale site HauteLook. Expounding on dress trends, Melinda Liming, chief operating officer of Apricot Lane, a franchise-driven women’s apparel retail concept with 90 stores, said, “We are seeing a lot more variations and lengths that are more salable, some things between the maxi and the mini at knee length and even below.”
Leather, mixed media, embroidery and athletic leisure stood out as the dominant trends in women’s denim and sportswear in Vegas. At WWDMAGIC, Los Angeles-based Sisters applied fake leather as piping or on pockets for acrylic-wool sweaters wholesaling for less than $50. Red plaid yarn weave enlivened a black and white polyurethane biker jacket at Kut From the Kloth of City of Industry, Calif. Los Angeles’ Blu Pepper attracted retailers with embroidered bell sleeves and crochet cardigans.
Retailers didn’t detect movement away from the dominant skinny silhouette in denim. “The reign of the skinny jean continues. It definitely has become a wardrobe staple,” said Klockars. “I don’t see that going anywhere, but what I think is fun is the more innovative washes. Personally, I have been craving something a little wider than the boot cut, but not quite as wide as the flair.”
For many retailers, the jeans business has been slow, and they are strategizing how to make up for lost denim sales. Activewear has picked up some of the slack. “We are shifting and even creating a little active lifestyle department in our stores,” Liming said. “Yoga is huge, and [WWD]MAGIC had a yoga section this year, and I thought that was great. We hooked up with some good pieces there that aren’t necessarily technical pieces, but they are for going from a yoga class to picking up the kids at school or going to the grocery store.”
At WWDMAGIC, there were vendors that appealed to buyers who hesitated to store inventory but stressed speed to market. Pima Apparel, from Ontario, Calif., advertised that all its knit tops wholesaling from $3.25 to $9 were in stock and ready to ship. Los Angeles’ Bella + Canvas promoted the fact that it had 27 million garments in stock.
To increase their odds of reaching as many buyers as possible, several brands hosted multiple booths at different shows. Sweden’s Fjallraven displayed its rugged outerwear at Project and Liberty, while L.A.-based premium denim brand Artisan de Luxe exhibited its men’s line at Liberty and its women’s at ENK Vegas. Lacoste erected massive booths housing men’s and women’s sportswear and shoes at Project, but relegated its youthful brand Lacoste L!ve to Liberty.
As they begin to think about fall, buyers singled out one category of particular interest: outerwear. “This year, we want to go after it more up front because of the fear of not having the inventory,” said Braun. Klockars welcomed more versatile outerwear. “Outerwear designers are getting fashionable as well as functional,” she said. “It is something that you can wear in the office and outside. That has been a really fun element because that allows us to bring in more outerwear where it is not so puffy jacket or wool jacket-based.”
Here, a look at the various shows.
Mood: Heralded by a giant four-sided sign proclaiming “INDIGO,” the premium denim compounds at Project lined one side of ENK Vegas, where they faced the much smaller booths housing women’s denim brands such as MiH Jeans, Genetic Denim and James Jeans. But some marquee women’s jeans makers were absent. J Brand decided to premiere its fall women’s collection at Coterie in New York and thus brought only men’s product to the Tents @ Project.
Buzz: With the advent of private equity firms and corporate ownership, the denim industry is evolving beyond jeans and getting a makeover. Armed with an investment from TSG Consumer Partners, Paige Denim is introducing a sportswear component with 50 stockkeeping units, ranging from T-shirts and silk shirts to leather vests and jackets. Retailing from $75 to $1,200, the sportswear is the first step in TSG’s path for growth, which includes additions to the design team and a remodeling of Paige’s five U.S. stores next year, said Paige Denim founder Paige Adams-Geller.
Outerwear is the latest market for VF Corp.’s Seven For All Mankind subsidiary, which will begin selling goat-suede biker jackets, puffer coats with fake fur-trimmed hoodies and 18 other women’s outerwear styles to Saks Fifth Avenue, Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s in the fall. Produced under license by New York-based Amerex Group, the outerwear will retail for between $295 and $895. True Religion streamlined its designs under the creative direction of Gary Harvey, who joined after TowerBrook Capital Partners acquired the company in July. Besides tweaking the tonal stitching and back pockets, Harvey replaced the Buddha logo with a clean, modern horseshoe that correlates better to the fall styles, including buttery suede bomber jackets and chambray tunics with bracelet sleeves.
Key Trends: Denim designers gave their spin to athletic leisure by adding elastic bands to the ankles of viscose pants at Hudson Jeans and offering four-way stretch in a new skinny jean called Contour 360 at AG Adriano Goldschmied. The demand for mixed media — blending different fabrics on a single item — and leather yielded combinations such as ponyskin patches with brushed suede at DL1961, and leather yokes and coin pockets with denim at Big Star. Slouchy skinny jeans were a more feminine alternative to boyfriend jeans.
Best in Show: AG pushed the boundaries of technology with an eye on the environment by digitally printing rips, patches and even coin pockets on sateen pants. Seven For All Mankind continued its collaboration with French textile mill Malhia Kent for the third season, layering intricately woven tweed atop stretch wool capri pants and coated jeans. For holiday, Seven will initiate a new collaboration with lace purveyor Solstiss.
— Khanh T.L. Tran
Mood: Although held a week earlier than Coterie, ENK Vegas was working in the shadow of the more established New York trade show that is also owned by Advanstar, and some brands decided to save noteworthy pieces for Coterie. For instance, Twelfth Street by Cynthia Vincent exhibited its apparel portion at ENK Vegas for the first time in at least four years, but waited to showcase the signature Mancatcher skirt from the fall collection at Coterie. Such developments didn’t deter Sunni Spencer, ENK Vegas’ vice president, who oversaw 550 brands, the sophomore return of Oasis with 25 brands and a new project of limited-edition pieces codesigned with six exhibitors. “[ENK Vegas] can develop as a higher-end first stop in the calendar,” she said.
Los Angeles-based Bailey44 introduced 15 styles of fashion knits, retailing from $150 to $350. Los Angeles-based She + Lo unveiled its 10 styles of leather bags for fall which retail from $118 to $298. They come in striking colors such as violet and white metal and feature details like cylinder studs and perforated leather. Cofounder Laura Darrah aims to hit $3 million in first-year sales.
Key Trends: It was Sporty Spice vs. Posh Spice. Designers presented their versions of athletic leisure with drop-crotch twill pants at Five Units, linen-cotton mesh tank tops at Eileen Fisher and black camouflage cargo pants with elastic ankle bands at James Jeans. The sophisticated lady showed up in a pencil skirt and silk blouse. For instance, KAS New York paired a collarless sheer blouse with a slimming skirt incorporating tiers of leather, black fringe, ultrasuede, silk and wool jacquard. The move for mixed media allowed for distressed denim and Aztec-inspired jacquard shirts at Rails and jacquard and ponte dresses at Greylin.
Best in Show: Stefanie Biggel’s deconstructed silver leather bomber jacket, and Calvin Rucker’s pencil skirt with fake fur, in black or olive. “Skirts are coming back,” said cofounder Joie Rucker. “We’ve had a lot of interest in them.”
Mood: Pool’s move to the lower level of the Mandalay Bay Convention Center was not met with enthusiasm from vendors. Anita Deri, designer and owner of Huntington Beach, Calif.-based jewelry brand Anci Décor, which was selling rings and bracelets in yellow and rose gold fill, sterling silver, silver fill and brass from $8 to $110 wholesale, criticized the location for being too out of the way for buyers. Despite the complaints, brands were pleased at the quality of the buyers who did show up. Deri mentioned that there was a strong international retail presence at Pool and that Anci Décor had nabbed Japanese retailer United Arrows at the show.
Key Trends: Women’s apparel brands attempted to outfit Coachella girls who have grown up a tad. Amanda Clarke, a sales representative for L.A.-based NewBreed Girl, said the brand, carried by ModCloth, Urban Outfitters and Topshop, is introducing loose dresses popular when grunge was the preeminent trend, singling out an aqua tank dress with a lawn gnome and flamingo print. The brand’s items range mostly from $12 to $22 wholesale. A Seventies vibe prevailed at another L.A. brand, Lip Service, where sales rep assistant Theresa Farber suggested fake fur jackets, lacy kimono-style pieces and leather pants were ideal for boho rocker looks. “It’s very Stevie Nicks,” she said. Lip Service’s wholesale prices were largely $15 to $125. A standout jewelry brand was L.A.-based George & Laurel, which showed a collection full of California iconography, including necklaces and rings with grizzly bears from $7 to $51 wholesale.
Best in Show: Two-year-old Pennyroyal Design brought classic leather handbags that were handmade in Sonoma County, Calif. Top styles included a weekend bag for $850 wholesale and a fringe tote for $240 wholesale. French brand Faubourg du Temple, which is available at Nasty Gal, Karmaloop and Nordstrom, and retails for $30 to $160, showed white polyurethane jackets with square punch-outs.
Mood: Vendors were pleased with buyer traffic and were also generally upbeat about overall business prospects this year. But questions remained about the impact of severe weather and the problematic holiday shopping season. In an atypical response to tough holiday conditions, Michael Kang, owner of Caribe, said he aims for the L.A.-based women’s apparel company to be profitable for nine months of the year, but is content to break even for the fall-holiday months because shoppers aren’t buying apparel for gifts the way they used to. “People who commit heavy money in the winter season, they have such a short window and may be caught with a lot of inventory they have to sit with,” he said.
Key Trends: Sweaters and tunics were on the longer side. At L.A. brand LV Collection, where they were priced from $35 to $49 wholesale, sales manager Jeanette Arana explained, “The women in the 30 years and up age range that we target don’t like to show much.” V-shaped hems and cowl necks were prevalent at Canadian brand Jana, where they wholesale for $41 to $47. Leggings, notably ponte varieties wholesaling for $31 with lace and fake leather accents at L.A.-based Last Tango, were prevalent. Color at WWIN tended toward the safer choices, with black and white remaining strong performers.
Best in Show: Full Figured Fashionista presented tuxedo blazers with stretch sleeves and high-waisted jeggings wholesaling from $25 to $50.
Mood: Since changing its name from Moda last year, the show seems to have upped its mix of fashion-forward lines and expanded its fall outerwear offerings to more on-trend leathers and shearlings in the contemporary price point, in addition to its more expensive fur offerings.
Key Trends: Reversible shearlings in shades of gray and plum; pleather-accented dresses; cocoonlike coats with oversize collars; tweeds with a hint of Lurex thread for sparkle.
Best in Show: Coral Gables, Fla.-based Filomena Fernandez’s brocade and metallic tweed moto-inspired jackets ($150) and kimono-print jumpsuit ($119); Hide Society’s shearling and silver fox-trimmed long coat for $2,699 and reversible Toscana shearling jacket in plum ($1,499); DS Dress’ fitted dresses with fake leather trim ($60-120), designed by Debbie Shuchat (who also designs for Gwen Stefani’s L.A.M.B.).
— Marcy Medina
Mood: The show floor was buzzing on Monday, the day before MAGIC opened, with buyers looking for midpriced items (smaller costume jewelry in the $8 to $20 range and larger handbags and accessories in the $55 to $100 range).
Key Trends: Costume jewelry in shades of turquoise, mint and yellow; cotton voile, gauze and linen scarves in bright tribal and tropical prints; organic-looking stones like geodes and uncut crystal.
Best in Show: Konplott by Miranda Konstantinidou’s colorful statement necklaces made from Swarovski crystal or faceted glass beads from India for $130 to $172; Social enterprise and California-Brazil artisan co-op brand Escama Studio’s hand-crocheted bags featuring recycled soda-can tabs, $21 to $66; Zenzii’s bib necklaces from $67.50 to $87.50; Kathy Hilton’s new evening bag line, $48 for lace and sequin clutches to $225 for crystal minuadieres.
Mood: Buyers were given extra attention by ever-present Curve staff on the floor who facilitated brand intros and asked questions about retailers’ needs and clients. “We consider ourselves a workshop boutique show,” said Curve chief executive officer Pierre Nicolas Hurstel, who estimated 2,000 buyers crossed the floor over two days. “Most buyers who invest in the tools we offer see an average of 50 contacts per show and 30 percent in new orders.”
Key Trends: Transparency, as seen with all-mesh bras, panties and bodysuits with colorful embroidery and lace details, mesh insets, stretch satin, soft-cup bras.
Best in Show: Nantes, France-based Lúli’s Cecile embroidered set for $22.50 per piece; Addiction’s new micro-Modal loungewear from $29 to $58; Jenna Leigh’s Malawi sets from $17 to $45; Samantha Chang’s crinkle chiffon floral-print kimono robe for $132.
Mood: The sophomore show opened strong with an international offering of mostly men’s wear denim and outerwear and the return of California-based unisex favorites Earnest Sewn and Ever. A new, open-style section in the center of the floor called Freedom Hall, curated by The Brooklyn Circus founder and designer Ouigi Theodore, featured 20 directional brands to watch. Also in the mix were leather travel and cross-body bags, shoes, hats and sunglasses.
Key Trends: Black denim and sportswear dominated over colors; fur-trimmed parkas and puffers; moto-inspired leather and leather-combo jackets.
Best in Show: G-Star Raw women’s black perforated denim jacket; Neuw Denim’s details like darts on the hips of boyfriend jeans and denim blended with cashmere threads for a softer hand ($65 to $75); LaMarque Collection’s oversize hooded cape ($250) and leather moto jackets ($250 to $300); Copenhagen-based designer Henrik Vibskov’s color-blocked printed dresses ($90 to $150); Mackage’s leather hobo ($283).
Mood: The show felt awash in a California surf and skate vibe, with bare concrete floors and loud music evoking the show’s roots in San Diego. The new WMNS section featured Cali brands Love + Made and Hlz Blz, as well as lines from Bali and Warsaw. Attractions like Reebok giveaways and free barber shops kept the crowds coming, too.
Key Trends: All-over prints on matching tops and bottoms; sports-inspired jerseys with mesh accents; photo-printed T-shirts; sunglasses with colored mirrored lenses; printed backpacks.
Best in Show: Van’s knit printed sleeveless skater dresses for $30 and Nordic-print accessories for $25; Nixon’s Kensington watches ($125 to $175) in scaled-down boyfriend size; Hlz Blz’s four-way jacket in all-over print ($148) and matching crop top and pants in a sublimated rose print, a collaboration with Bay Area artist Naturel ($28 to $68).
Mood: The show seemed to benefit from the new pass-through doorways to Liberty and Agenda, with many up-and-coming women’s wear designers manning their own booths.
Key Trends: Pink and other pastel shades for winter; original prints, from Christine Alcalay’s word-find game pattern to Samantha Pleet’s enlarged stained-glass graphics; graphic sweaters; leather-sleeved crewneck tops and T-shirts; fur trims; cotton slub-knit and tweedy textures.
Best in Show: Loup’s black fake Persian lamb pullover with ultrasuede button placket ($64); 10 Corso’s moto-inspired jacket with embossed woven leather texture body and heavyweight wool sleeves ($300); Samantha Pleet’s washed silk broadcloth cutout dress with rope detail ($193); Surreal But Nice pink wool-blend overcoat ($356).