Practicality Reigns at L.A. Market

Buyers picked up easy sells at Designers & Agents, Brighte Companies and the many showrooms in Los Angeles.

LOS ANGELES — Many buyers at the market that ended here Tuesday opted for easy sells in the $50 to $150 retail price range, such as cotton dresses, T-shirts and blouses and scarves, as well as items for immediate delivery.

This story first appeared in the August 14, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Both retailers and vendors recounted a familiar recession landscape of scaled-back inventories, cautious buying and lower price points at Designers & Agents, Brighte Companies and the showrooms housed in the California Market Center, Cooper Design Space and New Mart.

Just three weeks before the start of WWDMAGIC, Project and a spate of other trade expos in Las Vegas, the Los Angeles-based show saw fewer retailers than in previous years as the economic slowdown forced buyers to restrict their travel budgets.

“The majority of my customers are skipping this show and going to Project,” said Heidi Eisinger, co-owner of a showroom called West Bank Clothing.

“I came here to find what I don’t have, lines I haven’t seen before,” said Meggie White, whose namesake boutique opened in December on Union Street in San Francisco. “I’m here writing some holiday items. Gift-type stuff is always an easy pickup for customers, and you tend to not have to mark it down.”

Hiroka Takahashi, owner of Sanina boutique in Hermosa Beach, Calif., sought bright colors and bold prints. “Those are popular because the Eighties are still a big trend,” she said.

“Tops do really well for me,” said Judith Gordon-Lawson, who has owned her boutique, Mountain Mama, in Auburn, Calif., for 35 years. “That’s the one thing my customers will consistently pick up, because it’s easy to integrate with existing pieces.”

With denim resurgent and consumers searching for more outfits to wear from day to night, vendors received a positive response from retailers for silky tops to pair with jeans, as well as dresses that could be dressed up or down with accessories. Bright colors, ranging from yellow and green to coral and blue, caught the attention of many buyers.

Michelle Jonas did well with a $130 Modal and lace minidress in teal, Prodigal Daughter attracted buyers with a $79 cobalt blue minidress in sandwash silk and Mark and Estel dyed a $115 floor-length kimono dress in turquoise.

Retailers also liked embellished details as seen on the ruffles of Fifteen-Twenty’s $82 yellow silk blouse, Roberta Freymann’s $87.50 azure smock top enhanced with beads, paillettes and embroidery, and Calypso St. Barth’s $112 navy silk doupioni frock accentuated with organza and bead flowers along the neckline.

Denim label Dégaine responded to buyers’ need for tops with a new collection of cover-ups made of bamboo, including a $78 shawl cardigan.

There also was room in the contemporary market for Australia’s Flannel to make its U.S. introduction for the upcoming spring season with its neutral palette in natural fibers like silk, cotton and linen. Day-to-night dressing proved universal as Flannel offered a $77.50 cotton-linen drop-waist tank dress, $195 silk jumpsuit and $282.50 silk crepe de chine minidress with a knit bodice.

“To me, it conjures comfort,” said designer Kristy Lawrence, noting her goal is to allow women spanning different age groups to layer items for any occasion.

In the accessories markets, vendors and retailers continued to focus on what price points would spur consumers to buy handbags during difficult times. Amanda Bowen, West Coast handbag sales representative for New York-based accessories firm Donald J Pliner, said the brand has lowered its average retail handbag price about $50 to $350. David Weaver, visual merchandiser for Hobo International, said the Annapolis, Md.-based handbag brand reduced the wholesale price of its perennial best-selling framed clutch called Lauren to $40 from $49.

Accessories vendors also offered buyers a variety of material and size options to excite consumers. Daren Carter, owner of the CMC showroom Darenkirk Accessories, pointed out that Vernon, Calif.-based Vieta, a PVC line of handbags wholesaling from $28 to $35, was gaining traction. Venice, Calif.-based handbag designer Beth Springer used goat leather in small bags wholesaling from about $85 to $192.

“People have definitely embraced the smaller size,” Springer said.

In jewelry, stones took a backseat to metal at Philadelphia-based Marlyn Schiff and Charlene K from Beverly Hills. Mixes of silver and rose and yellow gold in necklaces wholesaling from $17 to $128 were top selections at Charlene K, and hematite-hued multistrand bracelets wholesaling for $20 were popular in the Marlyn Schiff collection, which has been picked up by Neiman Marcus, Metropark and Martin + Osa.