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A sense that better times were coming prevailed at the fall II and holiday market that ended its four-day run June 7 at FashionCenterDallas.
Retailers reported a surprising uptick in April and May, as shoppers opened their wallets for feel-good fashions at reasonable prices. But with last year’s inventory glut seared into their minds, buyers concentrated on lower price points and keen editing with budgets, which ranged from flat to shrunk by 40 percent.
“Everyone is more conservative, but people are shopping again,” said Tomas Estebes, co-owner of St. Thomas, a special-occasion store in Austin, Tex. “They are looking for something fun to wear now and nothing over $500 retail.”
Estebes said the store’s open-to-buy for designer is half what it used to be, but spending is up 30 percent on dresses in the $300 to $500 range. He said sales representative Brad Hughes “had a great dress line, Jax, that looks like Hervé Léger and has great prices.”
Estebes and other buyers favored fall and holiday dresses with intricate seaming and defined waists. Many checked out fill-ins for summer and fall, and some wanted to peek at early spring, so the market actually spanned four seasons.
“Attendance was up over last year, and many showrooms reported stronger-than-expected sales,” said Cindy Morris, chief operating office of the Dallas Market Center, which operates FashionCenterDallas. “The mood was positive, traffic was steady and…buyers showed up ready to place orders. The middle of the country remains better off than anywhere else and we anticipate a strong second half of the year.”
FashionCenterDallas specializes in bridge, contemporary and updated misses’ fashions, as well as loungewear, accessories, bridal, prom and shoes.
In addition to dresses, buyers invested in novelty tops, skirts with fullness and details, trouser and boyfriend jeans and lifestyle dressing such as cardigans over leggings. Top accessories included mock patent crocodile handbags in rich colors, layered bracelets and necklaces, and oversize chandelier earrings. Eighties-inspired electric blue made a big comeback and plum maintained its popularity.
“Things are starting to percolate again,” said Pam Kramer, co-owner of Ferrell & Kramer showroom, which represents lines such as Michael Michael Kors. “I feel more optimism among retailers and manufacturers. It’s starting to turn the corner.”
Business “is actually very, very good,” at Moseley & Hollard, a men’s and women’s store in Lafayette, La., said Sara Leboeuf, women’s buyer and manager. “People are going on vacation and they need new things. You do have to work harder, but they are coming in.”
With a holiday budget equal to last year, Leboeuf focused on “standout dresses” by the likes of Chetta B and Bianca Nero.
Jennifer Smith, women’s apparel product manager at Fossil, and Laura Vandagriff, women’s designer, picked up a teal holiday party dress with a ruffled neckline from Theme for $16. They planned to sell it in under the Fossil label in its nascent fashion line.
“Because of factories closing, we need merchandise for quick turn,” Smith said. “Business is getting better, surprisingly. We’re pretty excited about the women’s line.”
Women’s apparel is also new and growing at M. Penner in Houston, an upscale men’s store that branched into women’s two years ago.
“February, March and April were good, and dresses, especially Nicole Miller, saved me for May,” said Steve Skoda, women’s buyer and manager, as he wrote an order for Miller’s black and ivory geometric-print stretch-silk twill shirt dress and other looks. “Her metallic dresses sell and sell. I’m also looking for fun little items.”
Skoda picked up Finley’s black cotton blouse with an attached obi belt in tomato and orange, and studded skinny belts by Suzi Roher.
Kathy Means, owner of Kathy’s Boutique in Athens, Tex., said her business has been equal to or slightly ahead of last year. As she selected organic cotton cardigans from Eco Centric, Means noted she specializes in casual sportswear for baby boomers and retirees from such as Nic & Zoe and Ingenuity.
“Athens is a state-certified retirement community that draws people from all over the [Dallas-Fort Worth] Metroplex,” Means said. “It’s dressy casual. We want to be comfortable but look right.”
Christine Albers, who shuttered her namesake label in 2001, was back with an updated sportswear line she is designing for Kyela, a South Korean manufacturer. Her bestseller was an olive cotton poplin smocked swing jacket wholesaling at $75.
“It’s for a woman who is not 18, but is still hip,” she said. “I picked up customers I had 10 years ago and some new ones, so it has been a really good market for me.”