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Subtle Elegance Underscores Designers at the Essex House

Architectural silhouettes, luxury fabrics and subtle beading were among the top trends.

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Architectural silhouettes, luxury fabrics and subtle beading were among the top trends at the Designers at the Essex House trade fair in Manhattan.

The long-established fair, which closed Monday, specializes in upscale ready-to-wear, cocktail dresses and evening gowns and caters to high-end specialty boutiques as well as major stores.

Addressing retail turnout at the Essex venue, Daniel Saxon, executive director of the show, said, “We do not tabulate or register retailers at our show. Never have. Why? Because the Essex House does not allow this type of activity in the lobby since they are a very deluxe, noncommercial hotel.

Nevertheless, we estimate that our retailer attendance was better than normal, and we are astounded since the economy is at a low level, along with the recent devastating hurricane that somewhat ruined consumer buying and retail store sales along the East coast.”

Saxon further noted, “Aside from our usual American buyer attendance, we did have buyers from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Canada that I personally ran into…Attendance on Saturday and Sunday was good. A number of our people came in earlier and opened on Friday by appointment. Among the stores that came in by appointment were Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman.”

From a designer’s perspective, Michael De Paulo, who specializes in luxe evening fare, commented, “The Essex house show brought out lots of high-end boutiques and retailers. Buyers were interested in unique and special pieces that are both sophisticated and dramatic. Price was less of a concern compared to the past few markets.”

He singled out two top-booking gowns for fall 2013: a black leather and beaded item with an architectural silk gazar ball skirt, which wholesales for $1,400, and a strapless black satin number with Chantilly lace insets, for $1,575. Also in demand was a black tulle bolero, wholesaling for $375.

“Buyers were drawn to my sculptural silhouettes and bold gowns and cocktail creations,” said De Paulo.
Gerard Vallecello, stylist for the Michael De Paulo brand, said buyers “responded well” to a new idea to promote order taking at the show.

“We offered an incentive of 10 percent off if you leave an order today. It’s been a great idea, and people are like, ‘OK, I’ll go to lunch’ and then they come back and buy,” said Vallecello.

De Paulo’s collection wholesales from $700 to $2,000.

Andrew Scott, director of sales for Tom and Linda Platt, agreed that “anything architectural,” was a top idea.

“My women have their own jewelry, they don’t have to look like a piñata,” said Scott. “My buyers want a clean foundation, they don’t want contrived, busy or noisy.”

The Tom and Linda Platt collection wholesales between $500 and $3,500.

Designer Lourdes Chavez said retailers wanted fashion but were “a little more conservative” in their selections.

“Retailers loved styles that were different, unique and very exclusive looking. Their choices were a little bit safer, but they still wanted gowns, cocktail dresses and suits with interesting detail and a subtle elegance,” said Chavez.”

She added that a number of stores were buying dresses in the $750 to $800 wholesale range for fill-in stock.

‘They were buying colors they think are interesting and unusual, but at the same time, not enough to go out on a limb. Details and fabrications were very important,” noted Chavez.

Key examples of best-booking looks by Chavez include a red tulle gown with Chantilly lace detailed with layers of cut-off silk chiffon, which wholesales for $2,900, and a black gown of flat double-faced wool accented with embroidered chenille thread, for $2,800.

The fall collection by Lourdes Chavez wholesales from $650 to $5,000.

“Retailers are being careful but very specific in this uncertain economy — they know who their customer base is and what they need,” said designer Frank Agostino.

Agostino described little details like hand-tucking and hems that are bound and finished by hand as very important.

“Stores have really responded well to my bubble-effect skirts and three-quarter bubble sleeves,” said Agostino, noting that 95 percent of orders were for short dresses for day and evening.

Agostino’s collection wholesales for between $600 and $3,80.

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