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Order Writing on the Upswing at Moda Manhattan

This story first appeared in the October 1, 2009 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

After selling optimism as the trend of the moment at Moda Manhattan’s May and August editions, Britton Jones, president and chief executive officer of Business Journals Inc., which organizes Moda and AccessoriesTheShow, called the September outing “the show everyone’s been hoping for all year.”

Retailer attendance at the show, which was held Sept. 22 to 24 at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in Manhattan and featured a mostly spring market, was up 20 percent from September 2008, an increase Jones credited to an aggressive marketing campaign — print ads and partnerships with other trade shows — as well as a renewed retail attitude. “It’s not because Ben Bernanke says that the recession is likely over and everybody’s going to run out and spend,” said Jones. “But from the experience on the floor, retailers feel optimistic about the upcoming season.”

So said the exhibitors. “People are actually writing and leaving orders,” said Toby Treadwell, a sales executive at Eliza, a New York-based dress resource, adding that brights and detailed pieces were among her strongest sellers. Likewise for Cynthia Amaro, an account executive at Suzi Chin/Maggy Boutique, who said solids with a touch of novelty, such as a white dress with ruffle details, were going strong. “Last time people would buy two pieces per style, now they’re buying four to eight pieces,” said Amaro, noting Suzi Chin hadn’t cut prices — dresses range between $49 and $89 wholesale. “There’s a return of a sense of urgency.”

Amaro also praised the upgrades in Moda’s production, which featured new fixtures and a more upscale booth for exhibitors as well as a new Wi-Fi lounge and laptop service for retailers. According to Jones, investing in the exhibition space was a priority this season. “As everybody knows, it’s been a very long year in the women’s apparel market,” he said. “We thought it would be a particularly opportune time to give people the opportunity to better present their lines.” Still, for all the attention paid to the show’s appearance, Jones reported that the number of exhibitors — more than 450 apparel and accessories lines — remained flat since September 2008.

Which is not to say there wasn’t merchandise to be found. Harriet Ostrow, owner of Simcha Boutique in Oceanside, N.Y., placed an order for reversible jackets ($49.99 wholesale) from The Downtown Showroom booth, where owner Arlean Gall said striped looks from Transparente and nautical pieces from Vanilia were moving despite slightly higher prices because of the euro to dollar conversion.

As Marsha Davidson, who owns Body Talk in Avon and Westport, Conn., said after walking out of the Downtown Showroom, “I found a little levity, a little kick. The attitude is better, people are more positive, and it looks like [trends] are going back to easy dressing and less structure, which makes fit and sales a lot easier.”

— Jessica Iredale

Busy Booths at Coterie

Retailers were pleased with the mix at the spring 2010 edition of ENK International’s Fashion Coterie, while the 1,400 exhibitors were kept on their toes with busy booths. The show at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center ended its three-day run Thursday.

“I’ve been finding a lot of things and the prices are so great this time, which has been such a nice surprise,” said Stacy McAller, co-owner of the Reisterstown, Md.-based Little Luxuries boutique. “It was definitely worth the trip.”

Rani Somayaji, president and buyer for the Williamsville, N.Y.-based Tony Walker & Co., which carries a range of contemporary lines including J Brand, Citizens of Humanity and Juicy Couture, also was upbeat about the show.

“I’m loving almost too much of what I’m seeing this time,” she said while standing on line to get into the Elizabeth & James booth. “I have to hold back a lot.”

Rachel Mansfield, a buyer for Emma’s Closet in East End, Ark., said she was walking the show looking mostly for immediates.

“I’m not quite ready to order spring, but what I see looks really pretty,” she said. “I was hoping to find more immediates, but haven’t had as much luck as I would have liked. But overall, this is a great show.”

On the exhibitor side, designers offered a range of items to fit into a variety of stores for spring. The New York-based Kimberly Taylor, making its Coterie debut, showed a mix of items — from silk jersey pants in basic black and white to all silk bright pink, yellow and blue tops, as well as an edgier silk white vest and black jacket with exposed zippers, leather trims and ruffle details. She also showcased her new accessories collection consisting of studded belts and cuffs.

“It was important for me to have some edgier pieces to wear with the softer, more girly items in my line,” said Kimberly Gindi, owner and designer of the brand. The Kimberly Taylor collection wholesales from $90 to $135.

Next to Gindi was David Lerner, who had a busy booth with retailers ordering his signature leggings — from basic black styles to lace trimmed and acid-washed. The one-year-old company is based in Los Angeles but is in the process of moving operations to New York.

“I do all of my production in Brooklyn, so it’s a lot easier to base here,” Lerner explained. The collection, which has become known for its leggings, has grown for spring, offering burnout T-shirts and tanks in basic white and black, as well as fitted dresses and skirts. The David Lerner line wholesales from $30 to $75.

Rebecca Minkoff, known for her handbags, also had her newly expanded apparel collection with her at Coterie. While the designer lured in buyers with a mini oven filled with freshly baked Otis Spunkmeyer cookies in her booth, they seemed taken with her collection of silk dresses trimmed in lace, bright floral maxi dresses, pleated leather skirts and motorcycle jackets, all wholesaling from $155 to $395.

“We’ve signed on some great new stores,” Minkoff said.

At the Los Angeles-based Saivana, sales representative Joni Barnebey showed off the brand for the first time at Coterie, highlighting silk chiffon tops accented with beading and embroidery in colors from basic black and white to sage green, blue and light pink. There were also a range of day dresses, accented with the same beading and embroidery.

“We are really known for the embroidery and detailing,” Barnebey said. The Saivana collection wholesales from $58 to $73.

— Julee Kaplan

Focus on Fill-Ins, Value at Nouveau Collective

With a new location and 48,000 square feet of vendor space, the Nouveau Collective sought to shake off the buyer hesitancy and vendor anxiety of the previous season during the three-day trade event in New York, which ended on Sept. 24.

“Traffic is certainly off because of the economy,” said show director Joanne Feinstein, who noted 1,100 buyers visited the Penn Pavilion on Seventh Avenue and 33rd Street, about 10 to 15 percent fewer than a year ago. The number of exhibitors held steady at 120.

Feinstein said the worst is over for the buyers and vendors at Nouveau, which serves primarily women’s specialty retail stores.

“It’s like you’re swimming in a pool, and you hit the bottom,” she said. “We’ve hit bottom. It’s a huge adjusting period. The stores are working off of receivables, and not projecting as far ahead. But [buyers] want fresh goods in their stores.”

Many buyers and vendors echoed her assessment, noting that immediate orders in smaller quantities were common.

“I’m being a lot more careful about my selection, but I love Flax,” said Mary Butler, the owner of MAJA in Baltimore, pointing to the Spencer, N.Y.-based women’s apparel resource whose booth occupied the most prominent space at the show. “I am definitely going to buy Flax. I buy Raiment, too” — referring to Raiment Fashions, another women’s apparel company showing at Nouveau — “but I’m aware of the number of companies I’m buying, as well as their value. It’s necessary, because you can’t seem to forecast [right now].”

Linda Goldman, who owns a namesake boutique in Haverford, Pa., said she attended Nouveau for the first time to increase her mix of high-low offerings, as well as to see Mel Katz, the president of Mel & Lisa, a women’s apparel company with wholesale prices ranging from $29 to $115.

“I’m trying to make the mix as interesting as I can,” Goldman said, noting she carries more expensive lines such as Etro in addition to Mel & Lisa. For his part, Katz said his business is doing well because of the lower prices and sophisticated look of the clothing — tailored jackets, trousers and blouses, which appeal to a working woman.

“The buyers have become more aggressive over the last 12 months because of the price point,” Katz said. And Goldman noted, “When [customers] see something they like, they go for it. I found that this fall I really underbought, and I don’t have enough merchandise, so I’m having to fill it in.” Accessories, she added, “are selling fabulously.”

— Sarah Haight

Retailers Shop D&A for Well-Edited Contemporary Styles

Shoppers may not have returned to stores in full force yet, but recent activity on retail floors — however small it may have been — gave vendors and retailers at Designers & Agents in Manhattan much hope for a better spring.

Spirits at the show, which ended its three-day run on Sept. 22, seemed high, and while many noted business is still far from where it was before the financial meltdown last September, they expressed optimism that customers are slowly emerging from their recession shells.

Many said their open-to-buys were on par with last spring’s showings, and some even noted that buyers from a smattering of new boutiques or stores about to open walked the show’s floors at The Starrett-Lehigh Center and The Chelsea Art Museum.

“As the economy seems to be improving, the business has gone hand in hand,” said Michael Pickart, who co-owns the Intoto boutique in Minneapolis with Karen Heithoff. “Early fall sales have been good. We are looking for a lot of accessories, such as scarves. We have found quite a lot of new things at D&A.”

Heithoff added that designers have stepped it up for spring. “I think the merchandise has become more interesting,” she said. “Designers are putting more into their pieces and are caring about their price points. We are moving in the right direction, and when all is said and done, we will be stronger.”

That sentiment was echoed throughout the show, which featured an assortment of upscale contemporary labels, including many sustainable lines.

Carl Dias, women’s buyer at Traffic, a Los Angeles-based retailer with three units, was checking out the leather goods at Jerome Dreyfuss. “Business has been good,” Dias said. “People are looking for something new and special. They have to have a reason to buy.

“I feel very positive about spring,” Dias added. “I am not buying less than last spring, but I am making sure I maximize on what I buy. It’s much more focused.”

Leran Hadar, owner and buyer for H-L-N-R, the West Hollywood sister boutique to the H Lorenzo shops in Los Angeles, said that after a dip in sales, “it’s going back up and normalizing.”

Hadar was at the show looking for “practical” items with an edge. “People don’t want something they can only wear for one season, but it should also be something unique,” Hadar noted.

Mary Herff, co-founder of the Herff Christiansen line, agreed business has picked up from this time last year. “Budgets seem to be increasing, but there are also more options again,” Herff said. “I had stores that were opening or new.”

Bestsellers at the label included a classic white shirt for $45 at wholesale, Pima cotton harem pants for $45, and a lightweight woven cotton draped dress for $80 at wholesale.

— Marc Karimzadeh

The Train, The Box Bring Continental Touch to Market

Organizers for The Train and The Box trade shows had a specific goal — to bring a sense of Paris to the New York trade show circuit.

They infused a cool, boutiquey feel to the shows, which were held in the block-long lobby of the Terminal Warehouse Building — former home of the Tunnel nightclub. Spa services were available for buyers, who could get their hair blown out by Philip Pelusi or massages by Equinox, and Quintessentially had a concierge service. There was even an after party at Citrine with music by celebrity DJ Paul Sevigny.

The ambience and amenities, however, did not distract from the business to be conducted. Over three days ending Sept. 22, about 5,300 visitors passed through the venue, which featured more than 100 designers and labels from Europe and the U.S. at The Train, and about 35 accessories exhibitors at The Box.

Terri Gillis, owner of the TG170 boutique in New York, said she approached the market looking for “a little bit more sophisticated” looks, while paying close attention to price points.

“I didn’t really buy on the spot, which is what I would usually do,” Gillis said. “I mainly took notes to review and compare people’s product according to the value and the price. There is a lot of overlap with designers right now. The customer is very smart. They know they can go other places.”

Gillis said she was looking for more versatile pieces that can work with various age groups or for different occasions.

Keith Lissner, who was a participant on Bravo’s “The Fashion Show,” offered two collections at The Train’s “The Engine” area, which focused on emerging talent. He showed his namesake designer collection, wholesaling from $900 to $3,000, and a contemporary line called Keith, which wholesales for $90 to $260.

Abby Lutz, who designs the Institute of Dress collection, said, “It’s been a definite improvement from last season.”

She noted that buyers have sharpened their focus not by buying fewer designs, but by reducing their sizes. “They are definitely buying less extra-small and extra-large sizes, probably because the bulk of customers for my line is somewhere in the middle,” Lutz said. “They will also buy lighter colors in smaller sizes and take more of the larger sizes in darker colors.”

As part of a partnership with Gen Art called “Fresh Faces,” The Train highlighted the work of New York label Cloak & Dagger. The brand’s sales manager, Caitlin McConnell, noted the presence of many European buyers. “The show has given us exposure to a lot of clients we wouldn’t necessarily have had exposure to before,” she said.

Bestsellers at Cloak & Dagger included a Bourbon band jacket in the style of a Sergeant Pepper jacket for $390 at wholesale and a knit racer-back dress for $130.

“A lot of people are talking about the recession,” said Lyle Reimer, who designs the Evan & Dean label with Raymond Boutet. “But we had a good show. The budgets seem to have been on par with fall, if not a little higher, and stores are looking for more special pieces.”

— M.K.


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