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NEW YORK — Retailers know the delivery issue is a crucial one.

Some top executives have declared that wear-now merchandise is the way to go as an overall strategy. As reported, Allen I. Questrom, chairman and chief executive officer of Federated Department Stores, said last week that the retailer had adopted a wear-now focus, allocating more merchandise to the between-seasons periods of the first and fourth quarters.

The matter is not so clear for those executives concentrating on the upper tier of the market. They still feel there is an early shopper to go after, although some note there is nothing wrong with having the earliest shipments of a season reflect a transitional mood.

“We’re still anxious to have early delivery,” said Joan Kaner, senior vice president and fashion director at Neiman Marcus, noting that under the current sales calendar, the later the merchandise arrives, the less time there is to sell it. “For the most part, though, there are more and more fabrications that are 11-month fabrics,” Kaner continued. “When I was younger we changed our closets with every season. People don’t do that anymore.” Ellin Saltzman, senior vice president and fashion director for Bergdorf Goodman, pointed out that it is important for a store such as Bergdorf’s to be first with new collections.

“It’s important for us to present designer collections as early as possible,” she said. “But to me the future will be more wear-now than wear-then.”

“There are people who like to shop early, and certain parts of the country get warm early,” said Rose Marie Bravo, president of Saks Fifth Avenue. “But we have seen that manufacturers have changed fabrications. They’re more into transitional colors and fabric weights appropriate to the delivery of the clothes. The fabrics that will arrive in July are much lighter than we’ve seen for fall in the past.”

“The advanced customer always shops with an eye to the future,” said Susan Falk, president of Henri Bendel. “It’s more about shipping more new merchandise into the stores on a regular basis. Designers aren’t shipping their heavy wool in July anymore, but it’s up to us to figure out a way at retail to always have fresh merchandise that can move at full price.”

“The earliest delivery is always the bestseller for us at full price,” said Benny Lin, fashion director of Macy’s East. “In bridge, it’s being adjusted to be more wear-now, so the manufacturers will deliver wool crepe in February. With summer delivery, the collection would have to be 30 percent less in price than spring because it’s being sold against spring markdowns, with 40 percent off at the first shot.”

Who, then, is the customer who shops early?

Says Bravo: “They’re busy women who think about their clothes and don’t want to take the chance of not getting what they want and they don’t want to have to run out on the first cool day to buy a fall suit.”

“It’s the true designer customer who’s trained to shop early to get her size and exactly what she wants,” said Lin. “It’s the designer customer,” said Kaner. “From the bridge customer on down, it’s definitely more wear-now. She buys what she needs and can wear immediately.”

Added Saltzman: “It’s the designer customer who’s concerned that if she doesn’t get it early, it might not be available. But for the contemporary customer, or businesswoman on the go, wear-now is increasingly important.”

— M.G.