Atelier Designers’ 50th trade show, from Feb. 22 to 24, featured 96 collections, 19 of them first-time participants.
“We have a few more collections from outside the U.S.,” said Atelier’s director, Susan Summa, sitting in a suite on the 36th floor of the DoubleTree hotel in Times Square. Summa said that some stores were hit hard by the weather this winter and forced to close for days. “They still have unsold inventory,” she said. “Some buyers said they were not going to come to the show because they don’t know how they will control their inventory. Some are holding back spending. It’s very unpredictable how the weather will smooth out. We don’t have control over the weather or the economy. But in my experience, if a buyer sees something new and fresh and different, they’ll find a way to place the order. People seek new resources. That’s human nature.”
The economy appears to be improving, according to Summa. “From talking with stores, they’re not complaining about sales the way they used to,” she said. “I’m feeling much better about the economy. Stores that closed are maintaining a private clientele. The world is just working differently these days.”
There are more bright colors in the collections, interesting textures and lots of leather and pleather used as accents this season, Summa said.
“The show has been great,” said Neetu Malik, who represents Bodil and Itemz. “I’ve done 35 shows here. The quality of the customer and product is better.” Malik said that 2013 was a great year, but as soon as January began and the bad weather hit, everything started to fall apart. Still, people aren’t holding back on buying or writing orders. “The economy is picking up,” she said. “People are loosening their purse strings. Their focus is not on price, but on unusual stuff.”
Itemz, made from French fabric, wholesales for $129 for a shirt. Bodil’s prices are $110 for a top and $110 for a skirt. M2 makes T-shirts “that fit the real woman, not a size 6,” Malik said.
Avivit Yizhar, whose apparel is described as “different yet wearable,” did “very well” at the show. “This is my second year here and I see things moving much better.” She has four groups, from casual to business to evening, all designed in Israel. Frau Blau, for example, is graphic prints on stretchy fabric. “Stores are optimistic,” she said. “Stores say the economy is better.” That is, except for retailers in California, which is “struggling a little,” she said. “They had no winter at all.”
Joanne Walter, a buyer for The Answer in Toronto, said she’s “looking for newness, which customers want now more than ever. We had the worst winter ever in Toronto. People couldn’t get out because of power failures. This [show] is very artsy. It’s not my mainstay. It’s to cover with my base. I also do plus sizes, which they have here.”
A newcomer to Atelier, Yasuko, known for hand-blocked artwork with a Japanese aesthetic, looks good on a range of body types. Another line repped by Arlean Gall, Vanite Couture, is one size fits all, which “takes the angst out of buying. We’ve been extremely happy with the show. We opened several new accounts in addition to servicing our regular accounts.”
“People are buying less,” said Robin Kaplan, who designs a special occasion collection. “They’re cautious and selective. I try to keep it as special as possible.”
The Designers show at the J.W. Marriott Essex House in New York centers on luxury resources targeted at stores such as the Lake Shop in Lake Forest, Ill., Paul Simon in Charlotte and Tootsies in Houston. Buyers from high-end specialty chains such as Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue also stop by.
Deborah Wenning, sales representative of Avolio, a collection handmade in Milan, said the brand of “haute basics and timeless pieces” hired a new designer, Fabianna Brucco, whose first collection bows this season. The collection uses a double-knitting technique to create lightweight but warm jackets, sweaters and dresses. “We’ve made the collection more ‘now,’” Wenning said, adding that the show is “a nice opportunity to show luxury goods in a very nice environment.”
Michael de Paulo, whose background in architecture gives his work a sculptural quality, has a few dresses on loan for the Oscars. “We did some Golden Globes and Emmys,” he said. “You kind of have to design with that in mind these days. We tend to have socialites always” and their taste is being informed by what’s worn on award shows. De Paulo said that the line, which is carried in 30 stores, opened 10 new accounts. “Saks came in today,” he said. “We did a trunk show at Saks Fifth Avenue in Palm Beach and I met with Neiman Marcus. People don’t want anything simple. They want something that’s going to stand out.”
Claudia Fantin, who designs the Helios collection, was a newcomer to the show. Fantin uses Agnona and Loro Piana fabrics and hired an artist to paint silk that she used for dresses, tops and jacket linings. Her pieces are embellished with embroidery, amethyst and citrine jewels, and river pearls on a wedding gown. One jacket is decorated with square sterling silver beads. “We made some interesting contacts,” Fantin said, adding, “The show was satisfactory.”